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Why Are Treatment Facilities Using Restraints on Our Children?

Why Are Treatment Facilities Using Restraints on Our Children?For many parents, caring for a child with special needs, disabilities, or a mental health disorder is difficult and emotionally draining. The ultimate goal is to keep their children at home and under the care of the family. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, some children need more intensive and round-the-clock care, and some parents make the difficult decision to place their child into a residential treatment facility (RTF).

A residential treatment facility provides assessment, diagnosis and care for children and adolescents in need of mental health treatment. Many families throughout South Carolina have found these types of programs a lifesaver for their children, who would otherwise be unable to function in the outside world without this treatment. However, other children are suffering in silence as they endure abuse and assault at the hands of untrained or predatory staff.

One of the more insidious ways child abuse occurs within RTFs is through the use of restraints – both physical and chemical.

What are restraints? How are they used?

Far too many residential treatment facilities rely on the use of restraints to sedate or calm patients; not for the patient’s own safety, but to make it easier for staff to manage the residents. Remember, these are children who may be unable to make their own decisions and much powerless against authority. RTFs typically utilize three types of restraints:

  • Physical. Physical restraints restrict the movement of the body with various devices. These can include devices like leather restraints on the wrists and ankles to confine a child to a chair or bed, a vest that does the same, and other similar apparatuses. Physical restraints should be designed to be safe and comfortable for the patient.
  • Chemical. Chemical restraints involve the use of medication to moderate a patient’s behavior. Chemical intervention should be used only when other methods fail, and used with extreme caution. Medications utilized for chemical restraints can include sedatives and antipsychotics, administered either orally or via injection.
  • Seclusion. Seclusion or isolation is placing a child in a locked room by themselves. Staff is supposed to keep watch on a child in seclusion at all times.

A 2015 report from Propublica points out there are few federal requirements providing oversight and protection for children in these residential treatment programs across the country. It’s nearly impossible to track abuse and neglect allegations, and provider and industry groups continually lobby Congress to ensure federal oversight remains lax. One story out of Florida is particularly chilling, where a 14-year-old girl died after a night during which she was tied to a bed and chair.

What are my child’s rights?

Mental Health America, a nationwide nonprofit organization, works to protect the rights and dignity of individuals in treatment facilities. Their formal position on seclusion and restraints as therapy is as follows:

Seclusion and restraints have no therapeutic value, cause human suffering, and frequently result in severe emotional and physical harm, and even death. Therefore, as a matter of fundamental policy, Mental Health America (MHA) urges abolition of the use of seclusion and mechanical restraints and prohibition of the use of sedatives and other medications as chemical restraints and elimination of the use of physical restraints except for very brief periods and only when necessary to prevent imminent physical harm.

Further, under South Carolina Section 44-22-150, “No patient residing in a mental health or alcohol and drug abuse facility may be subjected to mechanical restraint, seclusion, or a form of physical coercion or restraint unless the action is authorized in writing by the attending or on-call physician as being required by the medical needs of the patient and unless the use of the restraint is a last resort in treatment.”

If you believe your child is being abused or wrongfully restrained in a residential treatment facility, it is imperative you seek legal assistance. The attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC are dedicated to holding these centers responsible for abuse and mismanagement.

To schedule your free consultation with one of our South Carolina injury attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.