Protecting our precious children

Kim Sanders

COLUMN

Looking at the world today, it may seem like our differences outweigh our

similarities, but there is one fundamental commonality that binds nearly everyone: our desire to nurture and protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

Last month, New Zealand took a historic step to better ensure the safety of its children by eliminating the use of seclusion as an acceptable form of behavioural management in its schools. This is an example that many other countries — the United States included — should follow.

Research indicates that interventions such as seclusion actually cause, reinforce and maintain aggression and violence. In fact, using this technique in an attempt to make the classroom safer is misguided. When a child is placed in a seclusion room, past suffering resurfaces, causing him or her to act out even more, and fuelling a cycle of long-term trauma.

Yet in the US, seclusion is still very much a reality. Children are restrained or secluded over 277,000 times each year in the country’s public schools.

Sadly, the majority are children with special needs. And those are only the reported cases; it’s likely that the actual number of seclusions is even higher.

Unlike New Zealand, US government oversight has only led to a patchwork of state laws regulating the use of seclusion. Teachers are left without clear guidelines or proper training. Often, our teachers are trained that if verbal de-escalation doesn’t work instantly, children should be restrained or secluded. There is no space between; no pause during which to manage the situation.

Training will be a key component to the successful elimination of seclusion in New Zealand, as it would be for any region taking on this task. It will be critical that educators are given the proper tools to de-escalate conflicts and manage behavioural issues in a way that is safe for both the student and themselves.

Looking ahead, it may be helpful to refer to recent studies of schools that have successfully reduced or eliminated the use of seclusion. For example, 10 years ago, Grafton Integrated Health Network — a US-based organisation that serves children and adults with autism and co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses — issued a mandate to eliminate seclusions and restraints without compromising employee or client safety.

Since that time, Grafton has reduced the use of restraints by more than 99 percent and has eliminated seclusion, while also reducing workers’ compensation policy costs and employee turnover. Most importantly, it significantly reduced the number of injuries to both clients and those who care for them.

Grafton trained staff with both conceptual ideas — such as trauma-informed care and conflict resolution — as well as the physical techniques that minimise the need for restraints and seclusion. The organisation named the training model “Ukeru” — Japanese for “to receive”. Today, I have the honour of sharing this approach with other organisations worldwide in the hopes of creating more seclusion and restraint-free environments.

Recognising that people the world over have a shared desire to protect and nurture our children, I am optimistic that, with the right tools, more organisations, communities and countries will follow the exemplary lead of New Zealand.

Children are our most precious resource; they must be treated accordingly.

Looking at the world today, it may seem like our differences outweigh our

similarities, but there is one fundamental commonality that binds nearly everyone: our desire to nurture and protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

Last month, New Zealand took a historic step to better ensure the safety of its children by eliminating the use of seclusion as an acceptable form of behavioural management in its schools. This is an example that many other countries — the United States included — should follow.

Research indicates that interventions such as seclusion actually cause, reinforce and maintain aggression and violence. In fact, using this technique in an attempt to make the classroom safer is misguided. When a child is placed in a seclusion room, past suffering resurfaces, causing him or her to act out even more, and fuelling a cycle of long-term trauma.

Yet in the US, seclusion is still very much a reality. Children are restrained or secluded over 277,000 times each year in the country’s public schools.

Sadly, the majority are children with special needs. And those are only the reported cases; it’s likely that the actual number of seclusions is even higher.

Unlike New Zealand, US government oversight has only led to a patchwork of state laws regulating the use of seclusion. Teachers are left without clear guidelines or proper training. Often, our teachers are trained that if verbal de-escalation doesn’t work instantly, children should be restrained or secluded. There is no space between; no pause during which to manage the situation.

Training will be a key component to the successful elimination of seclusion in New Zealand, as it would be for any region taking on this task. It will be critical that educators are given the proper tools to de-escalate conflicts and manage behavioural issues in a way that is safe for both the student and themselves.

Looking ahead, it may be helpful to refer to recent studies of schools that have successfully reduced or eliminated the use of seclusion. For example, 10 years ago, Grafton Integrated Health Network — a US-based organisation that serves children and adults with autism and co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses — issued a mandate to eliminate seclusions and restraints without compromising employee or client safety.

Since that time, Grafton has reduced the use of restraints by more than 99 percent and has eliminated seclusion, while also reducing workers’ compensation policy costs and employee turnover. Most importantly, it significantly reduced the number of injuries to both clients and those who care for them.

Grafton trained staff with both conceptual ideas — such as trauma-informed care and conflict resolution — as well as the physical techniques that minimise the need for restraints and seclusion. The organisation named the training model “Ukeru” — Japanese for “to receive”. Today, I have the honour of sharing this approach with other organisations worldwide in the hopes of creating more seclusion and restraint-free environments.

Recognising that people the world over have a shared desire to protect and nurture our children, I am optimistic that, with the right tools, more organisations, communities and countries will follow the exemplary lead of New Zealand.

Children are our most precious resource; they must be treated accordingly.

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