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Lawmakers Hear Reaction to Child Advocate Report on Restraint and Seclusion

NHPR Staff

Lawmakers heard reaction on Tuesday to a recent report from the Office of Child Advocate that found widespread use of restraints and seclusion on children in behavioral health facilities in New Hampshire.

The report released earlier this month found that restraints and seclusion, while declining overall, remain widespread in New Hampshire, with more than 20,000 incidents reported between 2014 and 2018.

It also raised concerns about how well the state is monitoring the use of restraint and seclusion at private facilities and included recommendations aimed at ultimately ending the use of those techniques in New Hampshire altogether.

On Tuesday, senators on the Health and Human Services committee heard from the report’s author, Child Advocate Moira O’Neill, as well as from treatment providers and state officials.

Nancy Rollins, a former Director of the Division for Children, Youth and Families who is now with Easter Seals, told senators that while her organization has been able to reduce the use of restraints by 70% over the last several years, there remain circumstances where it is needed to provide safety.

“We must find a balance of providing safe, nurturing, treatment-focused programs for children, balancing that with the safety of staff,” said Rollins.

Rollins also said the last time Easter Seals used seclusion was as a “last resort” in 2016 on a 20 year-old patient who Rollins described as being six-foot-five and 350 pounds.

“Over the course of the week he had hurt staff. There were 11 concussions among staff.”

Current DCYF Director Joe Ribsam also spoke before lawmakers. He echoed earlier written statements regarding the report in which raised no serious objections.

“When I see the recommendations that come within the Office of Child Advocate's report,” said Ribsam, “I'm glad to see that pretty much everything in there is stuff that the providers and the department have already identified and have been working on.”

On the report’s finding that potentially lethal prone restraints are still in use at some facilities, Democratic Senator Tom Sherman asked Child Advocate Moira O’Neill how senators might address that in law.

“We would recommend that we just list that prone restraints are prohibited,” said O’Neill. “Make it as simple as that.”

The report will also be discussed by the DCYF Advisory Board next month.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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