New Hampshire could be on the cusp of reforming its restraint and isolation practices in residential treatment facilities for youth.
New policies would require state-contracted treatment facilities to establish “zero restraint practice,” and develop specific guidelines around the restraint and seclusion of youth, as well as a method of review to make sure progress is being made toward this goal.
In New Hampshire, recent data shows almost 2,000 incidents were reported for restraints across the state’s residential treatment facilities for children between July 2020 and June 2021, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
State law defines restraint as “immobilizing a person” by physically holding or pinning a child to the ground, using handcuffs or other shackles to limit free movement, or through medication. New Hampshire law prohibits restraint that “obstructs a child’s respiratory airway or impairs the child’s breathing or respiratory capacity.”
Such restraints have resulted in the deaths of teens in these facilities in other states. In 2020, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick died after staff of Lakeside Academy in Michigan restrained him for 12 minutes. Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old foster youth was similarly killed while held at a juvenile intake center in Kansas last fall.
In a December review of the services provided by the Nashua Children’s Home, New Hampshire’s Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) found that facility staff used restraints on children when it wasn’t an emergency, NHPR reported.
One 8-year-old boy was the subject of at least 27 restraints and removal to the “Quiet Room” — which the report described as “a wall of telephone-booth-sized stalls” with dividers between each child — during a 6-month period.
The report also noted a 16-year-old’s case: He was held face down for 80 minutes by three adult male guards who were sitting on or straddling him, impairing his ability to breathe.
While data suggests New Hampshire facilities relied on restraint less often in 2021, reporting standards are inconsistent, NHPR reported. Additionally, enforcement standards for facilities pursuing a “zero-restraint practice” are vague, and can only be enforced by the state’s Bureau for Children’s Behavioral Health. Neither the state’s child welfare department nor the OCA have legal authority to enforce contracts.
This week, a lawsuit was filed against Nashua Children’s Home, among other youth facilities, on behalf of a man who says he was physically and verbally abused there after entering state custody in 2009.