Kids wearing a hoodie and handcuffs
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Impact: Restraints on Children

For many, elementary school is synonymous with colorful classrooms and playgrounds bustling with children of all ages. However, the unfortunate reality is that it can also be a site of unnecessary traumatization for many children. Far too often, schools rely on harmful and outdated methods of restraint and seclusion for children who may exhibit behavioral issues without consideration of the children’s experience or the consequences of such disciplinary methods. In schools across the United States, children as young as seven years old have been tased, handcuffed, and knelt on for minor infractions such as failure to adhere to the dress code, sleeping in class, and other non-violent behavior. Sadly, this is the reality of restraint practices in schools currently:

According to the Federal Bureau of investigation over 3,000 children were arrested in 2018. Of those 3,000 incidents, only 300 were deemed serious offenses, leaving over 90% of children to be detained for less than serious offenses. Similarly, in 2015-16 over 290,000 cases in schools were referred to law enforcement or resulted in an arrest. Unnecessarily, children are subjected to dangerous restraint methods in an attempt to curb behavioral issues, despite data from the Department of Education that discounts any effort that these measures reduce students’ bad behavior on campuses, demonstrating instead how restraints severely harm the children they are practiced upon. In a place where students are to learn and grow, they are instead subjected to unsafe restraint methods and are subsequently more likely to suffer physical harm and develop life-altering trauma.

One of the most obvious implications of adverse restraint tactics is the physical harm it causes students. The U.S. Department of Education issued a report, warning that restraining students can, in some cases, lead to deaths if improper techniques are utilized. While there may be a variety of methods used, they often fall under three categories: physical, mechanical, and chemical restraint–all of which harm students and have the potential to create lasting trauma. 

Physical restraint methods, which are the most common, are characterized by restricting a person’s ability to freely move their legs, arms, neck, or torso by holding a part of their body. Mechanical and chemical restraint involves the usage of other materials; mechanical restraint uses devices such as rope, handcuffs, or zip ties, while chemical restraint employs irritants such as pepper spray or unprescribed sedative medication. The usage of these methods has resulted in children with bruises, and broken bones, and in some grim cases have resulted in fatalities. During the 2017-18 school year alone, over 100,000 students across K-12 schools were restrained— including 70,833 students who were subjected to 101,990 physical restraints and 3,619 students who were subjected to mechanical restraint. 

Despite making up only 13% of the school population, students with disabilities make up an approximated 80% of all restraint cases.Not only are they disproportionately impacted by this practice, but as many are nonverbal, they are unlikely to communicate to parents and guardians about the physical harm they have sustained.6  Furthermore, the use of physical force as a form of discipline can teach children that physical force is the best way to settle a dispute, warranting increased aggression and violence in their lives.6   

Aside from the obvious physical harm caused by restraint and seclusion, it can also result in a variety of mental and emotional issues in children who have experienced it. In one instance, a seven-year-old boy was hospitalized after he exhibited suicidal ideation days after being restrained and handcuffed in school. As horrific as this is, it is not an isolated occurrence. In the 2017-2018 school year, 70,833 students were subjected to physical restraint, and 3,619 students were subjected to mechanical restraint. 80% of the 74,000+ students subjected to physical restraint had disabilities.6  The use of such methods poses threat to young children and their welfare in school settings. If you are passionate about child welfare, please consider donating here: to advance legislation that works to ensure your child’s welfare in our schools. 

In the immediate aftermath of physical, chemical, and mechanical restraint methods, children have an increased risk for short-term problems in sleep, learning, relationships, and trust. Furthermore, the use of restraint and seclusion methods causes a severe stress reaction in young children shifting them into survival mode, the ramifications of which can take years to recover. The adverse aftereffects are not limited to the children who are restrained, instead, children who witness arrests or accidents are just as likely to experience emotional distress. The consequences of restraint take a significant toll on the mental and emotional well-being of children and the trauma they acquire has profound impacts that can interrupt childhood brain development, impeding their development especially when experienced at an early age such as elementary school students.7 ​​ The use of these outmoded methods to address behavioral issues not only has short-term consequences but also creates problems for children that will persist long after they leave elementary school halls.  

Schools are supposed to teach our children foundational knowledge and social skills for the next stages of their education, not traumatizing them for the rest of their lives. We must protect our children from the negative consequences of restraint and instead work to ensure the safety of all students by prohibiting the use of these tactics for students under the age of ten. When thinking back to your childhood, inevitably there were times when you were distracted, doodled on instead of following directions, or got upset at a fellow classmate. In that situation, no child would want to be restrained for something that may be perceived as “acting out.”

Nearly everyone knows at least one elementary-age child and has seen them do silly things or even make mistakes, this should not result in them being reprimanded with harsh restraint methods that can have an impact on the trajectory of their life. A six-year-old child with autism who throws a tantrum because he is overstimulated and throws tissues at his teacher should be consoled–not held in a prone restraint position. Because of this, it is essential for the well-being of children that school resource officers and educators no longer use potentially lethal restraint methods on our children, and our policy does just that:

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