The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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August 25, 2008

State bans restraint technique that can cause death

ALLENTOWN (AP) — The state Department of Public Welfare has decided to prohibit youth treatment centers from using a restraint technique that has been blamed for the deaths of dozens of children.

The “prone restraint,” in which the child is held face down and immobilized, has been blamed for the deaths of more than 70 children across the country since 1993.

Richard J. Gold, the state’s deputy secretary for children, youth and families, said the ban will make youth treatment centers safer — both for the youths and the employees.

“At this point it would be wrong for us to ignore the fact that (the prone restraint) has been involved in so many deaths,” Gold told The Morning Call of Allentown. “There are better, safer ways to handle these situations.”

But some say the new state policy will leave workers at Pennsylvania’s 922 youth treatment centers unable to deal effectively with violent children. Critics include Jennifer Gray, a former counselor at KidsPeace near Allentown, who quit last year after being assaulted by a 15-year-old girl.

“All this is going to do is cause more injuries to counselors and kids,” Gray said. “The restraint is not the problem; it’s the untrained people performing the restraint that are the problem.”

The state is offering free training on other methods that will be allowed.

First, the state advises techniques to avoid situations where restraint is needed. As a last resort, the child can be restrained while standing, either against a wall or if absolutely necessary, on the floor facing up.

KidsPeace is ahead of most youth treatment centers in complying with the new rules. The state shut off new admissions to KidsPeace in September 2007 after seven youths suffered broken bones while being restrained at the group’s main campus.

KidsPeace worked with the state to change its policies, ending the use of the prone restraint. Since that change, total number of restraints was down 54 percent in the first six months of this year, according to Leah Yaw, KidsPeace’s vice president for strategic advancement.

“We’re in full agreement and partnership with the state,” Yaw said. “We believe this will substantially increase safety for kids.”

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