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Crafting Better Behavioral Plans


While I was away, the Government Accountability Office released its report (pdf) on restraints and seclusion used on students. What was noteworthy to me was what how much the government does not know: There are no federal policies on the use of such techniques, and there is not one entity that collects information on all of these cases, though the GAO found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse over the past 20 years.

Though there's no nationwide recordkeeping, a handful of states keep their own statistics on how often restraints and seclusion were used on students. According to the GAO report, from September 2007 to June 2008, Texas officials said they restrained 4,202 students 18,741 times. During the same time period, California officials said they used restraints, seclusion, or emergency interventions 14,354 times on an unspecified number of students.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also made a statement before the House Education and Labor Committee, after the GAO report was released:

The attention on restraint and seclusion may leave some educators wondering what they can do to work with children with severe behavior problems.The blog Disability Scoop has a couple of useful entries on how to address problem behaviors in children, both here and here.

Written by Deborah Lipsky, a counselor who also has autism, they offer some insights in dealing with challenging problems, though it's clear to me that children with entrenched behavior problems are not going to be "fixed" overnight. But restraining 4,200 children more than 18,000 times—which indicates that at least some children are being restrained again and again—doesn't seem to be fixing any problems, either.


Welcome back and thanks for the links to the articles. One thing is very clear. Responsible responses to the behavior of all children, and especially those who are particularly vulnerable due to disability, require careful thought and a thorough background in both the specific disability and behavioral techniques.

I will stand up and cheer for any federal or state efforts to improve the reporting of restraints and seclusion. But--what is more important is to deepen the understanding of the people who are working with kids every day. It is so easy to slip into misunderstandings of what is going on (s/he could control it if s/he wanted to, or s/he just wants some attention, or s/he shouldn't be here--they don't belong)--and to be overcome by frustration and arrive at the conclusion that "nothing works." If one's belief set is either that "nothing works," or that anything that might work is far too much effort for the setting, then any attempts are likely to become an empty chain of failures documented for the purpose of forcing a move.

I think Lipsky is among the best I have read in terms of looking under the behavior to understand what the behavior is communicating. Without this, we end up with plans to respond to hitting in the lunch room only to be confronted by pinching on the playground. Both may be responses to the same set of frustrations--not recognized because the problem has been defined as how to get the kid to stop hitting.

I really do "get" why so many teachers give up, or think that they need to have the locked time out room. But, there are more lasting and effective solutions.

Treating people with respect goes a long way in decreasing the "need" for seclusion/restraint. An interesting experiment is to taken any random day, and jot down comments all day on what people say to youth. Then, at day's end, look these over. How many are respectful? How many indicate really listening to youth? This may sound mushy/gushy, but the power of the relationship goes a long way. To paraphrase the proverb, "...a dog knows the difference between being stepped on or kicked." In my opinion, we need to stop kicking and start humbly asking kids what they need. Then we need to respectfully and reasonably act on what they tell us.

Kim--my district did something similar to what you suggest. At least, they paid an outside entity for an "audit" of middle schools. In addition to logging classroom visits, the visitors noted that respect for students was frequently sorely lacking in the interactions that they observed.

As far as I know, any change spurred by the audit results has long ago been tabled--which is too bad as middle schoolers are such a vulnerable group and we so often lose kids at that point. There were many other helpful observations and recommendations (some having to do with the overall unengaging nature of teaching strategies and over-reliance on teacher lecture followed by worksheets.

If I had my 'druthers, these are the kinds of things that teachers would be evaluated on--with thoughtful follow-up and support. Sigh.

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