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Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers

GAO-09-719T Published: May 19, 2009. Publicly Released: May 19, 2009.
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GAO recently testified before the Committee regarding allegations of death and abuse at residential programs for troubled teens. Recent reports indicate that vulnerable children are being abused in other settings. For example, one report on the use of restraints and seclusions in schools documented cases where students were pinned to the floor for hours at a time, handcuffed, locked in closets, and subjected to other acts of violence. In some of these cases, this type of abuse resulted in death. Given these reports, the Committee asked GAO to (1) provide an overview of seclusions and restraint laws applicable to children in public and private schools, (2) verify whether allegations of student death and abuse from the use of these methods are widespread, and (3) examine the facts and circumstances surrounding cases where a student died or suffered abuse as a result of being secluded or restrained. GAO reviewed federal and state laws and abuse allegations from advocacy groups, parents, and the media from the past two decades. GAO did not evaluate whether using restraints and seclusions can be beneficial. GAO examined documents related to closed cases, including police and autopsy reports and school policies. GAO also interviewed parents, attorneys, and school officials and conducted searches to determine the current employment status of staff involved in the cases.

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Child abuseChildrenChildren with disabilitiesEducational facilitiesEmployee trainingEmployeesPost-traumatic stress disordersPrivate schoolsPublic schoolsRisk managementSafetySchoolsSpecial educationTeacher educationTraining utilizationWrongful death