What Are Your Child’s Rights When It Comes to the Use of Restraint?
Children with autism may engage in problem behaviors that pose a danger to self or others (e.g., physical aggression, self-injury, elopement, etc.). Unfortunately, when these behaviors pose a significant risk to the child, school personnel may restrain and/or seclude a child with autism to prevent him/her from harming another student, staff, or him/herself (Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007).
The thought of the use of these restrictive procedures can be concerning for parents. Additionally, parents may question what their rights are to help protect their child from the misuse of these procedures in school.
Within the legal realm, the issue of restraint and seclusion use in schools has been a popular topic over the past decade (Marx & Baker, 2017). With the absence of federal legislation regulating the use of restraint and seclusion procedures, many states have passed laws concerning these procedures in schools (Ryan, Robbins, Peterson, & Rozalski, 2009; McAfee, Schwilk, & Mitruski, 2006).
However, not all states currently have legislation, regulatory guidance, or policies on the use of restraint and seclusion procedures in schools. To date, 38 states have legislation on restraint and seclusion, while 45 states have policies on restraint and seclusion procedures (Marx & Baker, 2017).
As a parent of a child with autism, it is important to know what your rights are when it comes to the use of restraint and seclusion. Parents should first identify whether or not their state has a legislation, regulatory guidance, or policy in place regarding restraint and seclusion use in schools. A document called, How Safe is the Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies is a good place to begin identifying this information (Butler, 2017).
The language in the legislation will often provide valuable information as to what the school is responsible for doing when it comes to using restraint and seclusion with a student, documentation, and reporting to parents. The following are some additional considerations of what rights you might have as a parent:
1. Consent to use of restraint and/or seclusion
There are different ways in which consent may be obtained for restraint and seclusion use with students. Consent may or may not be needed depending upon state legislation or school policy. Therefore, it is important to review the state law (if there is one) and to read carefully through school policy handbooks that parents might sign off on that they have received and reviewed. If restraint and seclusion use are included in school policy and a parent signs that they have received and reviewed the handbook, then the parents are aware that restraint and seclusion may be used with any student in the school.
If consent is not obtained through school policy, then consent should be obtained for the use of restraint and seclusion as part of a Behavior Intervention Plan or Crisis Intervention Plan that would be included in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Parents will want to read these plans carefully. Additionally, parents may wish to ask school personnel to demonstrate the restraints or show images or video clips of what the positions look like in order to fully understand what restraints they are consenting to use with their child.
Also, parents have the right to ask to see what the seclusion room space looks like in the school. Furthermore, a behavior or crisis plan should detail how and when the seclusion space will be used and what the criterion is to be released from the room. Remember, parents also have the right to deny use of restraint and seclusion procedures with their child or even certain restraint procedures (e.g., standing restraints a parent may be fine with, but the parent could be against face down prone restraint).
2. Timely notification of incidents requiring restraint and/or seclusion
Parents have the right to be notified of incidents that require restraint and/or seclusion to be used with their child. How quickly a school must notify a parent will often be dictated by the state law and/or school policy. The notification window of time could range from the same day to 24-48 hours after the incident. If a school is not notifying a parent about restraint and seclusion procedures being used on their child, this would be problematic as a parent should be told in the event of child injury and also so a plan can be made to help reduce the need for these procedures.
3. Documentation of restraint and/or seclusion use
Parents are entitled to receive a copy of written documentation about restraint and seclusion use with their child. Again, how quickly documentation is provided will be influenced by state law and/or school policy. However, parents can request for the documentation to be provided to them within a 24 hour period and ask for the documentation timeline to be included in the child’s IEP. If a school is not documenting the use of these procedures with a child, this would be concerning because incident reports not only provide legal documentation of what occurred, but also evidence of what transpired before the behavior happened and what took place after the incident. This information is vital in then understanding patterns of behaviors that are leading to crisis incidents or are maintaining problem behavior, which can be used to revise behavior plans to aid in the reduction of these procedures with a child.
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4. Right to effective behavioral treatment
In behavior analysis, there is a 1988 seminal article published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, called The Right to Effective Behavioral Treatment, which is followed by behavior analysts today (Van Houten, Axelrod, Favell, Foxx, Iwata, & Lovaas, 1988). In this article, it outlines that individuals have the right to: (1) a therapeutic environment, (2) services whose overriding goal is personal welfare, (3) treatment by a competent behavior analyst, (4) programs that teach functional skills, (5) behavioral assessment and ongoing evaluation, and (6) the most effective treatment procedures available (Van Houten et al., 1988). When examining restraint and seclusion use in schools, parents have the right to ensure that their child is receiving quality behavioral treatment that aligns to these six areas. If restraint and seclusion are constantly being done to a child with autism or any other disability, this is a failure of the treatment process. Therefore, parents have a right to question if the correct professionals are treating their child and whether or not the appropriate treatments are in place to reduce the challenging behavior that are requiring the use of restraint and seclusion.
5. Change of educational placement
As mentioned in the previous point, parents also have the right to the appropriate therapeutic environment or educational placement for their child with autism. If the treatment team of a school is not taking the necessary precautions or steps to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion with a child, then a parent may want to question whether or not the placement is appropriate. If the educational placement is only performing restraints all day long on the child, then the child is not being afforded the appropriate educational opportunity. Therefore, parents may want to consider changing their child’s placement to a more suitable therapeutic environment with behavior analysts who are well versed in treating problem behavior.
These are only some rights that parents of children with autism have when it comes to restraint and seclusion use with their child. For more information, parents may wish to look at the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (2016) document, Fact Sheet: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities. Parents might also consider looking at the United States Department of Education (2012) Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document for more suggested guidelines and best practices that schools should be following on restraint and seclusion use in schools.
Butler, J. (2017). How safe is the schoolhouse? An analysis of state seclusion and restraint laws and policies. Retrieved from http://www.autcom.org/pdf/HowSafeSchoolhouse.pdf
Marx, T. A., & Baker, J. N. (2017). Analysis of restraint and seclusion legislation and policy across states: Adherence to recommended principles. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 28(1), 23-31.
Matson, J. L., & Nebel-Schwalm, M. (2007). Assessing challenging behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28(6), 567-579.
McAfee, J. K., Schwilk, C., & Mitruski, M. (2006). Public policy on physical restraint of children with disabilities in public schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 29(4), 711-728.
Ryan, J., Robbins, K. Peterson, R., & Rozalski, M. (2009). Review of state policies concerning the use of physical restraint procedures in schools. Education & Treatment of Children, 32(3), 487-504.
United States Department of Education. (2012). Restraint and seclusion: Resource document. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/seclusion/restraints-and-seclusion-resources.pdf
United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. (2016). Fact sheet: Restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201612-504-restraint-seclusion-ps.pdf
Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J. S., Favell, J. E., Foxx, R. M., Iwata, B. A., & Lovaas, O. I. (1988). The right to effective behavioral treatment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 21(4), 381-384.
Brian Conners, EdS, BCBA is a New Jersey Department of Education certified school psychologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He originally developed the graduate program in Applied Behavior Analysis at Seton Hall University. He has worked within various sectors as a behavior analyst and consultant including public and private schools, psychiatric hospitals, and community agencies. He specializes in crisis intervention and providing behavioral treatment for clients with severe problem behaviors, such as physical aggression and self-injury. He has presented at state and national conferences and has published articles and book chapters in school psychology and special education on multiculturalism and diversity issues in behavior analysis, behavior management strategies, crisis intervention, and restraint and seclusion practices in schools.
This article was featured in Issue 84 – The Journey to Good Health and Well-Being