All statistics mentioned in this article are taken from The ICARS Report into the use of restrictive practice in England, information take from The Equality and Human Rights Commission, Human Rights as detailed by the United Nations, and The Royal College of Psychiatrists.
There is a growing belief in the world that the use of corporal punishment, ranging from smacking a child through to more archaic forms of punishment, are unacceptable. While this is a good thing, to me it shines a light on the hypocrisy that is currently at play.
While remaining a global phenomenon, restrictive practice is still widely used, and in particular it can be found in specialist settings where people work with disabled students who more likely than not have experienced a great deal of trauma. Autistic people in particular are likely to be traumatised, this is because of the way that the world is designed. There are myriad ways that the world does harm to us.
This becomes deeply problematic when we consider the way that restrictive practice takes place. While used as an intervention for perceived “challenging behaviour”, it would be more accurate to view restrictive practice as an intensive intervention for dysregulation.
Allow me to take a step back and consider the nature of such practice. Restraint is the use of techniques that restrict a person’s ability to act freely. Often when we consider such techniques, we imagine people being held to the floor, but we can see not just the use of mechanical restraints, but also chemical restraints in healthcare settings. Such restraints are employed by the use of drugs that inhibit a person’s ability to act freely.
As you can see from the off set, restrictive practice represents a significant issue in the human rights and ethics of working with disabled people. The hypocrisy lies with the people who speak out against corporal punishments while employing the use of restraint. While such practices are supposed to be “last resort”, 78% of those included in the ICARS report reported that their child had been a victim of restraint prior to the age of 10 years old.
Another concerning statistic is the number of children who were harmed by restraint. The ICARS report found that 97% of respondents were harmed, while restraint was only recorded 59% of the time (breakdown of statistics below). My interpretation of this data is that restraint is being performed dangerously, in a punitive context, and improperly recorded.
The implication of children experiencing punitive restraint flies in the face of a society that is trying to move away from corporal punishment. Such brazen abuse of the position of trust and power that schools are privileged to have is simply unacceptable. Children have died and been significantly traumatised by restraint. This is, quite simply, not a practice that should be occurring in this day and age.
We must also consider the fact that restrictive practice feeds into a self-perpetuating loop, in which the child is constantly being exposed and re-exposed to the trauma of restraint. Dysregulation creates challenges, which are approached with restraint, causing trauma that once again results in dysregulation. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that is fueled by societies pervasive desire to assimilate children’s behaviour into an “acceptable” standard.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the UK has made a commitment to create an inclusive education environment and protect disabled people from all forms of violence and abuse. I would challenge our governments commitment to this convention on the grounds that the punitive and improper use of restraint is a direct violation of both of these commitments.
According to a report made in 2018 for the UNCRPD, 75% of Autistic students, and 70% of those with a physical disability reported bullying in school, compared with 50% of those with no disability. How can we reduce interpersonal bullying among students peers in an environment where adults are actively harming children with restrictive practice? We have, in effect, normalised the mistreatment of disabled children on the grounds that disabled embodiment is a challenge to be intervened on rather than addressing issues with the wider environment that are creating traumatised and dysregulated children.
The Universal Human Rights Index specifically mentions concerns over the UK’s use of restraint on children, stating;
“The Committee is concerned that the State party is still using techniques of restraint that aim to inflict deliberate pain on children in young offender institutions, including to maintain good order and discipline“UHRI (Accessed May 3rd, 2023)
This indicates that the UK government is failing in it’s duty to prevent torture and ill-treatment of it’s citizens. This raises further questions about the fact that this failure specifically pertains to disabled children, a notably marginalised group in our current society.
The truth of the matter is that children’s lives are being endangered, if not by the restraint itself, then quite possibly due to it’s correlation with the 9x increase in suicide risk seen amongst Autistic people (RCPSYCH, 2018) and the significant over-representation of Autistic people in demographics that have been victims of restraint.
Disabled people deserve compassion and equal access to the world. All of the time that we are holding the threat of dangerous restrictive practice over their heads, this has not been achieved. we need to create a world in which disabled people thrive, are not met with the threat of pain and violence. Restrictive practice needs to be seen for the toruturous practice that it is, and not normalised as a means of forcing the behaviour that institutions arbitrarily believe is acceptable.
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