After reading an article in the Iowa City Gazette, Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services owner and clinical director, Dr. Jacob Boney, discusses the issue and prevalence of seclusion rooms in schools. Many parents have no idea that these rooms even exist, let alone that one is being used to control the behavior of their child, without their consent.
Seclusion rooms, which are very small rooms often no larger than 4′ x 6′ that are padded or have surfaces that cannot be damaged, are intended to be safety rooms for children who become a danger to themselves or others and need to be put in an environment that is safe. These rooms are a lot more widely used than many realize and are found all over the country. According to the Iowa City Gazette article:
Elementary students were put into seclusion rooms for behaviors that included kicking, biting, hitting and throwing chairs, books and computers, according to The Gazette’s review of more than 125 reports covering the first month of the 2015-16 school year in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City districts.
But the reports also show times when staff put kids into seclusion for non-violent acts like refusing to trace in pencil, stepping out of line at recess and pouting.
The article went on to talk about how shocked parents and grandparents were that they were never informed such a room existed or notified that their children were being put into these rooms without parental consent permission. This was true even of children without special needs. Some school districts have policies against the use of seclusion and restraint, but many of the districts in Arizona do not.
Dr. Boney has a great deal of experience with seclusion rooms and the issue of restraint having been hired as a professional consultant in litigation or due process cases with certain school districts in Arizona. Children can be harmed by the use and especially the overuse of restraint. They can be injured or traumatized.
“As a parent, what should I do? What are my child’s rights?”
Many parents call Dr. Boney asking for advice. What should they do? Who should they call? What rights does their child have?
This is a far more common issue than many parents realize and is certainly something that they should be concerned about. Basically, in the state of Arizona, schools are allowed to place certain children in seclusion rooms for the purpose of safety, their own or others. Without administrator approval, a child can be secluded for up to 60 minutes. With administrator approval, there is no limit on the amount of time. There is no requirement to seek approval or even notify the parent until afterwards.
What parents can and should do if they think that a seclusion room is being used:
- Check your school district’s policies on whether seclusion rooms that are used and what policies guide that use. Parents need to be aware and informed. Be proactive.
- Request a meeting with your school’s administration and with your child’s IEP team, if your child has an IEP team. Ask what the plan would be if your child had to be restrained, and, if your child has been restrained or has been secluded in this room, ask about the plan moving forward to basically address those behaviors to reduce and eliminate the use of the seclusion room.
- Make sure that seclusion is being used only in the event of danger to self or danger to others. That should be the only criteria for your child being placed into such a room. If that is not the criteria, then you need to get some major clarification from your child’s team as to what the criteria is. You need to know exactly what entry criteria is and what the exit criteria is.
School districts that overuse seclusion rooms and restraint do so for a couple basic reasons. One, it’s often just the easiest thing to do. Secluding them does not require a lot of staff training or a lot of effort. This is easier to do than to manage the problem behavior directly. The second most common reason is that it provides the appearance of keeping the child safe and keeping the staff safe. The problem is that there is not a replacement plan and the staff can quickly become dependent upon the use of seclusion and restraint to calm the child down. A child can also become dependent upon the use of the safety room to become calm. This may seem reasonable in theory but that safety room is not a transferable stimulus, which is what a child requires to be safe and calm. A safety room cannot go everywhere the child goes. Eventually the child has to learn how to become safe and calm without the use of a safety room.
Literally, a safety room should only be used when the child is a danger to themselves or to others without the use of that safety room. To get a child to comply, calm down, follow directions, or regain control are not acceptable justifications for the use of a safety room
Dr. Boney’s biggest recommendation for parents is to make sure that your child has an FBA, functional behavior assessment. It is a federal legal mandate that when behaviors are involved, especially behaviors significant enough to get your child put into seclusion room, there must be a functional behavior assessment in place that includes a plan to increase behavioral deficits and to decrease behavioral problems. If the staff at your child’s school does not have an FBA in place, that basically says that the staff is trying to haphazardly manage your child’s behavior. If you are not sure that the FBA is adequate or if your child is not making progress in decreasing and eliminating time spent in seclusion, you should contact a professional
Utilizing evidence based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and local community organizations to provide these services. If you have any questions about your child’s ABA, the use of seclusion or restraint techniques or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at [email protected], or click here for our convenient online form.