New York State’s child welfare agency has proposed banning restraining kids face-down on the floor at all foster care settings — bringing relief to youth in group homes and advocates who have long condemned the potentially deadly maneuver.
The use of “prone restraints” has been shown to be dangerous, leading to serious injury and even the death of minors in New York and across the country, experts say.
The restraint changes were part of a set of proposals issued Nov. 18 by the state Office of Child and Family Services that would also bar the use of isolation rooms — where a child can be placed alone as punishment.
Instead of isolation rooms, the state will now allow so-called de-escalation rooms, meant to be “calming” rather than disciplinary, and the children must consent to entering the room.
The proposed changes would become official on Jan. 2, pending any modifications following a 45-day public comment period.
“The use of prone restraints on children in any setting has always been an inhumane and barbaric practice, capable of inflicting significant harm and trauma,” said Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice.
“The Legal Aid Society lauds Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and OCFS for making the right and moral decision to eradicate this practice for good,” she added.
The Administration for Children’s Services prohibits the use of prone restraints in its own foster care facility, The Children’s Center in Manhattan. But many foster youth from the five boroughs are sent to OCFS-licensed group-home programs outside of the city where the technique is allowed, advocates note.
‘I Couldn’t Breathe’
That was the case in Westchester, where 17-year-old A.L. was sent — and it was a shock, she said. Before her move to the out-of-town residential treatment center, she recalled that staff at previous foster residences “couldn’t even touch us.”
It was different upstate.
“You’ll be resisting and they will go ahead and kick your knees and your legs so you can extend and then force your body, put your stomach on the ground, your face down. And they would keep your arms down and have their knee on your back,” said the teen, whose full name is being withheld due to her age and involvement in the justice system.
Her mother consented to the interview.
“Most of the time when I was in restraint, I couldn’t breathe,” the teen from Brownsville told THE CITY. “And when I would say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ they did not take that into consideration. They went ahead and said, ‘Well, if you’re speaking, then you can breathe.’”
In the wake of recent high-profile police brutality cases where officers have allegedly made similar statements, medical experts have said the ability to speak does not equate to the ability to breathe.
A.L. was glad to hear of the proposed ban on prone restraints, but was angry that she and others, including a friend with asthma, had been subject to the holds. She said her body would ache for a whole day after being restrained.
“They don’t de-escalate the situation at all,” she said.
Earlier this year, advocates in New York City renewed pressure on state leaders to end the practice after three workers at a Michigan group home were charged in the April killing of 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks.
Three staff members charged in death of 16-year-old who went into cardiac arrest after being restrained at facility: https://t.co/KOG0BEyi9c#CorneliusFredericks #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/TFVKm2RCCc— Fieger Law (@FiegerLaw) June 25, 2020
The teen went into cardiac arrest after being held by guards in a prone restraint for nearly 10 minutes as punishment for allegedly throwing a sandwich, according to reports. He was taken to a hospital where he died two days later.
Still Used in Detention Facilities
In June, the Legal Aid Society wrote a letter to the state demanding that the practice of using the risky restraints “be ended now.”
The letter noted that as recently as 2019, a developmentally-delayed New York City foster child in a residential treatment center “suffered devastating and catastrophic injuries, including quadriplegia.”
In 2006, Bronx teen Darryl Thompson died at a now-shuttered juvenile facility in Johnstown, N.Y., after being held on the bathroom floor by multiple adults.
Meanwhile, the ban on prone restraint would only apply to foster care settings, while allowing its continued use at ACS-run city secure juvenile detention facilities as a so-called transitional hold. Several states have completely banned the practice.
Marisa Kaufman, a spokesperson for ACS, said the “safety and well-being of New York City youth in residential treatment centers is our top priority. We support ending the use of prone restraints and look forward to reviewing the state’s proposal and working with the state toward that goal.”
The proposed statewide regulations are part of an “ongoing transformation” of the child welfare system that recognizes “the trauma youth have experienced who are in the care of programs we license and certify,” said Monica Mahaffey, an OCFS spokesperson.
“Adoption of these regulations will codify our focus on crisis de-escalation and non-physical interventions,” she added.