How does seclusion, restraint educate?

Jun 23, 2013 by

tomwatkinsToday, in a Michigan school and in schools across America, children are being placed in physical restraints and inhumane seclusion.

These so called “treatment options” are degrading, barbaric, inappropriate, unnecessary, counter-therapeutic, harmful and in the extreme result in serious injury and even death. They should stop.

What makes this insidious behavior difficult to detect is that it is often out of sight of public view and, perversely, often sanctioned by parents, guardians, and credentialed professionals as a proper therapeutic technique meant to control or modify behavior. It is nearly always abusive, traumatic, and unnecessary.

While some school districts do not use it at all, it is abused in others and there is no central state reporting mechanism to know for sure.

In Michigan, in the second decade of the 21st century, there are no policies or laws to stop it.

There is a need to make the general public and policymakers aware that these practices still are being carried out in far too many neighborhood public schools. But more important than simple awareness is the need to demonstrate it does not need to take place. People working with persons who have intellectual and developmental disabilities need training in the proper techniques for preventing the issues from escalating to a perceived need for such interventions.

There are examples of students being secluded and restrained in schools staffed with highly educated professionals, yet this type of “intervention” is deemed unnecessary in that same person’s group home which is staffed with trained, high school educated para-professionals.

The first step in problem-solving is problem identification particularly in the case of seclusion and restraint. Before even identifying the problem, parents, policy and lawmakers need to be convinced that this IS a problem.

These same sanctioned behaviors taking place in some schools today, when done by parents in their own homes, also would constitute abuse.

The battle to enable persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live their lives their way — with dignity, respect, and rights afforded to ALL citizens — is not over until the abuse ends.

We would all like to wave a magic wand or sprinkle some magic fairy dust to eliminate these abusive practices. But it is not that easy.

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli in his book, “The Prince,” offered this analysis to the political theater we are still witnessing today as advocates in Michigan and across the country attempt to pass laws, enact policies, and outlaw these practices:

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this ‘lukewarmness’ arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

As a state we must demonstrate that there can be a new order of how developmentally challenged people are treated.

The reality is that abusive seclusion and restraint being used on our children today is cruel and unacceptable.

In reality, it our responsibility to change it!

WWYD — What Would You Do?

Will the governor, state Board of Education or state Legislature step up to address this abuse? What would you do if it were your child being secluded or restrained?

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools, 2001-05 and deputy and director of the Michigan department of mental health, 1983-90. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant and can be reached at:

via How does seclusion, restraint educate? | Lansing State Journal |

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