Report: Sununu Center staff subjected children with disabilities to unlawful restraint

Monitor staff
Published: 5/8/2018 12:43:20 PM

The illegal use of physical restraint by staff members at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester resulted in the fractured shoulder blade of a child with a disability, according to a report released Tuesday by the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center.

An investigation by the Disability Rights Center revealed multiple instances of unlawful restraint at the Sununu center, violating New Hampshire’s law regulating the use of restraint and seclusion.

“Our investigation revealed that Sununu Youth Services Center staff, who are supposed to provide care for vulnerable children, violated these laws and placed children with disabilities in serious danger,” said Disability Rights Center investigating attorney Andrew Milne.

The Disability Rights Center reported that in December 2016, two staff members at the state juvenile detention facility grabbed a 14-year-old, who had severe ADHD, anxiety and PTSD, and pushed him to the floor. One staff member’s full body weight landed on the child’s upper back, resulting in the injury.

The boy, who was being kept in the Crisis Services Unit for disobeying an order to go to his room, was punished for opening the door of his unlocked chamber and asking for permission to leave. One staffer “pushed (him) back into his room, closed the door, and held it shut with one foot and two hands,” the report reads.

The boy then attempted to push back, shouted expletives at the staff and said, “you can’t push kids,” the report reads. Then, the staffers went inside and forced the child to the ground, with one staffer placing his knee on the boy’s back and a hand on his head.

A resident interviewed by the Disability Rights Center recalled that when the boy was pushed to the floor he was crying and yelling “stop, stop, my arm,” the report states.

The Disability Rights Center determined that boy’s behavior did not pose a substantial or imminent risk of serious bodily harm, the legal threshold which must be met before restraint is permitted, the report says. Further, the restraint method used was found to violate the prohibition of restraint techniques that place weight on a child’s back.

The Disability Rights Center also determined that Sununu Youth Services Center violated New Hampshire law by failing to accurately document and notify the Disability Rights Center of this incident, according to the report. The center did not learn of it until two months after it occurred.

Gov. Chris Sununu responded to the report’s release Tuesday, stating that the state is taking the allegations “very seriously.”

“I have asked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeff Meyers to investigate this matter further, and have asked for regular updates as the investigation proceeds,” he said.

The Disability Rights Center first investigated the inappropriate use of restraint at Sununu Youth Services Center in 2009, Disability Rights Center’s Executive Director Stephanie Patrick said.

“It’s disturbing that these conditions continue, almost a decade later,” Patrick said. “Many of the children at Sununu Youth Services Center have mental illness and a history of traumatic victimization. It’s critical that Sununu Youth Services Center change its policies and practices to protect these children from further abuse.”

Youth with disabilities are disproportionally represented in the juvenile justice system. A 2015 report issued by the National Disability Rights Network estimates that between 65 and 70 percent of children involved in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed disability.

The Sununu Youth Services Center is named after Gov. Chris Sununu’s father, John H. Sununu, who was New Hampshire’s governor from 1983 to 1989.

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