Parents and teachers not aware of seclusion room alternatives, expert says

Edmonton Public Schools should focus more on proactive problem solving and less on restraints and seclusion rooms, which could be traumatizing kids, an expert on the subject says. 

A recent report prepared for trustees showed seclusion rooms had been used 716 times in September alone.

Despite vocal opposition from some parents at a four-hour Edmonton Public School Board meeting Tuesday night, the board said it will continue using seclusion rooms in schools.

“If I could have it my way, we would be being so proactive in identifying and solving the problems that are causing us to do all those restraints and seclusions in the first place that there would be no need for restraint and seclusion,” clinical child psychologist Ross Greene said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Wednesday.

Reaction to the Edmonton Public School Board’s decision to keep using seclusion rooms. Psychologist Ross Greene explains what alternatives are available to teachers. 7:35

Students reportedly chose the seclusion room as a way of managing their own behaviour in 468 of the 716 cases. In the other 248 cases, the report shows the same 88 students were placed in seclusion rooms as a crisis response.

In all but three cases, parents had provided their consent for the use of a seclusion room.

‘Not always aware’ of options

“Just because parents are not exactly sure what to do instead doesn’t mean that parents are in an educated way consenting to something that might actually not be good for their kid and it might actually be traumatizing their kid,” Greene said. “Sometimes parents of behaviourally-challenging kids are not always aware of what their options are, just like sometimes teachers are not aware of what their options are.

“I also know that there are many facilities that I and my colleagues have worked with that are now at zero restraints and seclusions.”

The American author spoke at the Innovations in Practice Conference at the Edmonton Inn and Convention Centre this week, a conference that focused on developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder including mental health in children and adults. 

A lot of the use of restraints and seclusion rooms comes down to the expectations being placed on some of the most vulnerable kids, expectations that they can’t meet, Greene said.  

Safety concerns

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Thursday that seclusion rooms are necessary as a last resort for the safety of staff and students, and can be used as a “calming space” in schools. 

“The whole policy of inclusion is something that we’re supportive of but we need the right supports in the system to make that work,” Schilling said. “And we know that sometimes situations happen in class where kids are unable to regulate themselves and control their emotions and sometimes it can get fairly aggressive and we have to ensure that teachers and students in those classrooms are safe.”

Teachers who are restraining and secluding kids should be trained more on proactive ways to solve problems, so the behaviours needing de-escalating don’t occur in the first place, Greene said.

Greene said the goal should be to get restraints and seclusions to zero. 

“You’re setting the bar at zero because that’s where you want to get to. The other side of that coin is that so long as restraint and seclusion are an option, people will use them,” he said. 

At the school board meeting on Tuesday, Edmonton Public Schools Superintendent Darrel Robertson brought up both sides of the debate.

“Our staff do not want to place any child into a seclusion room, but we’ve also heard from our staff that a crisis management plan needs to be put in place,” Robertson said.