Monday, October 31, 2005

Parents Fear School Abuse Of Special Needs Children


In April of 2001 the State of Massachusetts enacted a much needed regulation (603 CMR 46) specific to use of restraint in public and private approved special education schools in Massachusetts. At the time there were many other regulations in Massachusetts regarding restraint that pertained to nursing homes, hospitals, group homes but none for public school programs. All other agencies such as the Department of Mental Retardation, Department of Mental Health and those that pertained to hospitals, nursing homes had regulations prohibiting restraint used for anything but an extreme emergency for safety purposes. They also made sure that those using restraint on children in any educational setting could not use dangerous potentially deadly restraint. This also and that they had to be trained. They also limit the use of prone face down restraint and or restraint that can cause pain. Even before these new regulations were enacted these Massachusetts agencies did not allow restraint for punishment or for the purposes of behavior control or modification. The Department of Mental Retardation had small portion of their regulations that allowed "“holding" if written into a behavior plan but NOT EVER the use of any restraints that were for pain compliance holds or potentially deadly.

These new restraint regulations were a direct result of my showing a video of my child, Abbie with autism and mental retardation, being restrained in a very dangerous and abusive way to our state representatives and senators. The video had been made of my child by her teacher and staff to show Abbie'’s doctor what she was doing in the classroom. This video was requested by her private doctor to help her behaviors but I was not aware of these restraints and aversives until I saw this video for myself.

This video was presented to the Massachusetts State Legislature by The Disability Law Center in Boston to the Massachusetts legislatures and the MA Department of Education. I also spoke at these meetings and at conferences while this video was being shown. The video showed my child in this public school program using potentially deadly restraints on my child for behavior modification purposes rather than safety.

This video was taken in a public school program in Centerville Elementary School for children with autism and related disorders when she was age 10 years old.

We Felt Our Child Was Being Abused!

In the video, Abbie was forced to the floor face down, very violently, for not sitting in her chair, not blowing her nose, and not getting off the floor when instructed to by the teacher. The teacher twisted her wrist back to get her down on the floor on a dirty rug with her head up against a wall and at times pulled her around the room like she was not a living person. She only hit and or pushed the teachers when they became physical with her but was not being a danger to her or others. Even if Abigail had been aggressive enough to warrant restraint the standard of care at the time was to use a crisis prevention program that used de escalation. The video shows that the type of restraint they were using was extremely dangerous and could interfere with breathing. As parents, my husband and I, both felt that the type of forceful restraint technique as shown on the video, rose to the level of assault and battery and that Abbie was being abused.

We did not see the whole video until the end of the year and at that time we had experts look at it more closely. Another parent also had a video of the same classroom with the teachers restraining her son in the same violent way. His video was made by the same teachers and staff to show others how to restraint the boy if he was non compliant or showed any aggression from not wanting to do his school work. They called this " “Compliance training or Compliance Drills ". It was quite obvious to me that the more I examined these videos, the behavior plans and found out the background of the staff that this was a form of aversive therapy using these methods to so children would comply and be "“ trained ".

This was not the standard of care then and it is not now even though in 2005. The people involved are still defending their actions and denying that it was dangerous. During that same year (end of 1998 and 1999) reports of children and adults being killed in restraints or injured were coming out in the news and in May of 1999 our state'’s Commissioner of Human Services issued a warning to all agencies about restraint, clarified its use and the type of restraint prohibited such as half or full nelsons etc.. This warning did not go out to Public schools as they were not part of the regulations at that time. However it did go out to the May Institute and since they were helping set up public school programs they should of known better. Even their own regulations at the time did not allow for this kind of violent method of behavior modification.

All the experts that we showed the video to felt that restraints shown on the video were unjustified, unethical, excessive, improper, and abusive. Even the company that teaches crisis prevention and proper restraint called CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) told me this and use the pictures and the video to this day in their RISKS OF RESTRAINT educational program as an example of the most abusive, most deadly and most painful kind of restraint methods. Abbie as shown in the video is placed in a prone physical restraint position five separate times during a fifteen minute period, all for repeated acts of non-compliance. Abbie at age 10 years old, was restrained violently a total of 15 times in a 40 minute time frame. These procedures were not restraint for safety but most were pain-compliance techniques, often used by police in the past in correctional facilities. As I said before not only one but two crisis prevention companies (CPI and MANDT) and a restraint death expert who is an EMT are using the still pictures from the video and the video. These companies use the video and pictures to show the most potentially deadly form of restraint (face down prone restraint that can result in "“positional asphyxia"” and a painful wrist twist to show an example of pain compliance).


In Feb of 1999 I gave a copy of this video which of my child showing Barnstable school staff using these methods on Abbie to the Barnstable Police Detective Reed Hall. We were very shocked when told that this was a "“civil matter"” by the police and that the "“case was closed" sometime in March of 1999.

It was not disclosed to me at the time why the local District Attorney Michael O' Keefe told me "“ it must be some kind of method they use on those kinds of kids "“ and I had not seen any police report that they generated. As it turned out there was a secret evaluation of the video at the Children'’s Cove(*)Children's Cove
The Cape and Islands Child Advocacy Center
Box 427
Superior Courthouse, Barnstable, MA. 02630
telephone: (508) 375-0410 or (888) 863-1900
Fax:(508) 375-0409

(*)Children's Cove is a freestanding, child friendly facility designed, staffed and equipped to provide comprehensive and coordinated multidisciplinary services to child abuse victims and their families.

These services, specialized by discipline, are provided by member agencies which include Barnstable County, the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office, Cape Cod Hospital, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, as well as child service agencies affiliated with the Task Force on Children.

The Center provides services for children aged two through seventeen who have disclosed that they have been abused. Our area of service is the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office jurisdictional boundaries: Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.

The May Institute who are Consultants for the Barnstable School system that did this to Abbie, were asked to look at the video for the police and DA. Mr. O'’Keefe seemed to jump at the chance to get rid of this investigation. Recently, Mr. O'Keefe (Feb 2005) wrote an affidavit to the Board of Nursing and he described the abuse of Abbie as an "“Interaction between a teacher and an Autistic Child"”. The Cape Cod Hospital attorney, also has written a letter saying that this was pretty much the same thing, that it was not abuse! There seems to be some discrepancies on who was responsible for the Nurse'’s action. Although Debbie Myer the director, told me that she did not know that Nurse Ecker was doing this for the police, the Cape Cod Hospital attorney says the opposite of that!

I was very unhappy that our DA Michael O'’Keefe would have this have this type of discriminatory attitude about a disabled child. This is terrible especially since the video showed my child being abused by these aggressive potentially deadly restraint methods that would never be allowed in any hospital, nursing home or even prisons in Massachusetts. I was very angry back then as I am now and that is when I started working on the regulations and also consulted a lawyer. We then filed a lawsuit (which was settled in July of 2004) against the Barnstable Public Schools and the Town of Barnstable.


While in a deposition for the lawsuit in August of 2003 some documents were shown to be from the initial police investigation. I never saw these documents nor was I aware they existed. During that deposition I was shown a copy of letter written by a nurse named Kathleen Ecker representing the Children'’s Cove addressed to DA Michael OÂ’Keefe and a police Detective named Reed Hall and for the first time saw the police report. I was very upset but my horrible lawyer told me not to do anything about it yet. He would not allow me to contact the Children'’s Cove or the County for an explanation of this letter and their role in that police investigation. After settling the lawsuit last July I made a request from the police for the file which they denied giving me before.

In the summer of 2004, I obtained the whole file from the police pertaining to this investigation. The contents of the letter written by Kathleen Ecker RN, of the Children's Cove and what she said, has led me to investigate the people involved in the writing of this letter and the role the Children's Cove played along with a private school called The May Center or also known as the May Institute. What I can see from this letter is that the Children's Cove Nurse that was asked to look at the video for the DA and the Barnstable Police. They all seemed to be unfamiliar with children with Autism and or developmental delays. Shockingly I found some sort of page from a dictionary with the definition of autism which was totally archaic even for 1999. The nurse also has stated in letters recently that she was not experienced in Special Needs children or autism. (she also told this to the Cape Cod Times reporter this August of 2005) I am not sure why this was so since she was a pediatric nurse that worked for years at the Cape Cod Hospital. I am sure that children with disabilities are much more prone to abuse and I found this discriminatory for her to say this about my child and others with the same disability. This was a representative of the County and an employee of the Cape Cod Hospital. Instead of just looking at the violence in the video and seeing Abbie as just another child of age 10 she decided that there must be different rules for a child like Abbie. I wonder if a child with Autism has a broken leg or some medical problem do nurses in hospitals think that they can treat them in some sort of different manner. The two women she showed the video to and used as a basis for thinking that this was some sort of therapy that was OK could not ever be impartial should since they were connected closely to the teachers using the restraints on Abbie. In fact one of the women from the May Institute was the highly paid consultant to the very program that this took place in. I believe that the two women who were contacted by the nurse were part of a scheme to cover up what happened to my child and protect the teacher and the public school.

I also believe after finally speaking directly to the teacher doing the restraint that the only reason they are not doing this now in 2005 is that they have these regulations. She indicated to me that she did nothing wrong as my child was not harmed. She would not admit that these methods were potentially deadly. She felt that that was what they did at the "time" and that I should drop the whole thing.

HOWEVER, she is wrong since it was dangerous then as now. Abbie was harmed and now has to live away from home due to this classroom from hell she was running behind the backs of the administration.

I decided that I should find out what happened with the Children's Cove and that nurse so in August of 2004 I then went to the Barnstable County Commissioner'’s office and spoke to the administrator Maggie Downey and hand delivered a letter to them about the involvement of The Children'’s Cove. I also gave them a copy of the nurse'’s letter. I asked them for some sort of explanation why this happened. They refused to give it to me saying that their ..."“role was non existent since the nurse was employed by the Cape Cod Hospital"”

Every time I read the letter written by the nurse on the Children'’s Cove letterhead on it, it's becomes more shocking to me what was in it. I am actively in the process of investigating this incident fully and have reported the individuals involved with the nurse to their Boards of Licensure. I also filed a complaint against the nurse with the Board of Nursing which enabled me to obtain an affidavit and another version of this letter written by the nurse. The nurse did not get in trouble with the Board since she had the lawyer from the Cape Cod Hospital say that she did not discriminate against Abbie. HOWEVER the nurse after consulting with these two women from The May Center the nurse from the Children'’s Cove with all her training at a hospital (where there are numerous safeguards in place regarding restraint) told the police and DA that she agreed with these two women that what was done to "“Abbie was extremely therapeutic and that restraints were not contingent upon aggression alone"”. The rest of the contents of the original letter I found as part of the police report and the one that was supplied to me by the Board of Nursing (which had even more information if you compare them) is WHY I have written to you at this time so you can see that your workshop needs to stress protection of children with developmental problems and communication problems in disorders such as AUTISM.

I wonder how this Children'’s Cove Nurse with all her training could be talked into thinking that this was some sort of therapy and not abusive to Abbie and hurt her . Abbie came home many times covered with bruises and has been diagnosed with PTSD as a direct result of what occurred in that classroom when she was only 10 years old. This however goes way beyond the incident with Abbie is a direct reflection of how professionals view these disabled children.

I am not happy with the Children'’s Cove or the DA and the police in how they handled the incident with my child. They in fact further violated my child'’s Human Rights by thier handling, actions and words regarding what Abbie went through.

I am extremely concerned about the actions of the May Institute Director and Social Worker whose agency was paid for years (I have the records to this year of 2005 for consultations. This large corporation called the May Institute and these individuals used their degrees and reputations to get away with abuses of children like Abbie. Other children have been abused in that classroom just like Abbie and I have a video of a boy named Matt Lyon. Susan Thibadeau and Simone Byrne of the May Institute told the nurse these things in 1999 knowing how dangerous it was and completely sweep under the rug the fact that these types of restraint were so dangerous and hurtful.

(In May of 1998 the State sent them a strict advisory about restraint and they had regulations prohibiting restraints for the purpose of therapy and behavior modification.

Why did the police go to them considering the closeness of this agency to the school district?

Why would they view this video and see the still pictures (with Abbie's arm being twisted and her head press into a wall) and be talked into the fact that this was as the nurse said "“ extremely therapeutic " ?

If they had obtained a video of a typical child being tossed around, sat upon, pressed into a wall and having her wrist twisted (see the pictures) I wonder if they would have been talked into the fact that this was some sort of therapy to be used on children for non compliance. There are two version of the letter and one was only discovered in Feb of 2005 in the DA'’s File. The reader can see from the two letters written by Kathleen Ecker RN, stating that the fact that Abbie was treated like this was for non compliance was the subject of them. I am enclosing the letter and the two page police report and some other information to anyone interested (along with pictures).

I hope that you can relay to this agency and the people that children with autism and or other disabilities cannot be abused by aversive type methods for behavior modification and that tossing a child around and pressing her into the ground is never "“extremely therapeutic" “as nurse Ecker writes to the DA and the police who somehow believed her and the two women from the May Institute. I truly believe that a Human Rights Commission is necessary as these people are still working with children. Working for the agency etc.

This was a blatant violation of my child by the County of Barnstable and all involved. I also intent to report this police investigation to the Attorney General since that is not how this should have been done. This was an example of some sort of small town cover-up. Even though this police investigation was dismissed in 1999 the current investigation am doing has generated documents in 2005 that show me that these individuals including the cape Cod Hospital, DA O'Keefe and the May Institute still believe that this abuse done to children like Abbie was ok then and now.

Sincerely yours,
Jean Bowden
Mother and Advocate
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