This week, the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released videos of children being restrained and placed in seclusion at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), the state’s locked facility for boys, and the Pueblo unit at Riverview Hospital, the state’s locked facility for girls. The videos are a disturbing reminder of how our state fails some of our most vulnerable children. The videos make clear that restraint and seclusion are regularly practiced protocols for refusal to follow staff direction. This is not about safety. These are not incidents where the children are out of control, screaming, or threatening staff. To the contrary, the children are calm and four to six large, usually male, staff methodically tackle the children, lay on top of them, shackle them, and put them in a locked empty padded cell as punishment for refusing to follow staff direction. They are then charged with disciplinary infractions and sometimes crimes for assault, creating a disturbance, and harassment. Take a look at Eleanor’s video. Ask yourself why she needed to be restrained and what warrants the charges listed at the end of the video. In another video, the so-called “defiance” that triggered the restraint was a suicide attempt. The child was lying in his bed with a shirt tied around his neck. Rather than getting a mental health professional to help the child, he was restrained then placed in a padded cell for over an hour. The OCA’s report shows that some children have been isolated in padded cells for more than 8 hours.
To be sure, children at CJTS and Pueblo are there because they have committed a crime. Equally true is that they are children, many of whom are mentally ill. Many have been victims of crime themselves – physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, and more. Most have experienced violence and trauma that would de-rail any adult. Many have educational disabilities that impact their ability to be successful in school.
These children do not need highly punitive, traumatic, and unnecessary restraint and isolation. They need to know what we want all our children to know: that they are worthy of love, care, and compassion, that adults keep children safe and can be trusted, and that violence is not a means of conflict resolution. They need to connect with other human beings, develop healthy relationships, and develop skills to cope with the difficult lives they have had in the past and will likely have in the future. Most importantly, they need to leave CJTS and Pueblo with mental well-being and a sense that they have a future. None of these things will happen if the methodical use of unnecessary restraint and seclusion continues.
This practice needs to end now.
Connecticut has long failed to provide adequate mental health treatment for children. The unnecessary restraint and seclusion of children at CJTS and Pueblo is yet another stark example. The Department of Children and Families, which runs CJTS and Pueblo and is our state’s children’s mental health agency, needs to get its act together and figure out how to deliver high quality mental health treatment to children in the community and in our state run facilities.