Jason had been staying at the alternative school for a couple of weeks. The school also served as his home. A residential setting with educational opportunities. He had been sent there by his mother who had, although not given up on Jason, was at her wits end as to how to manage his behavior. Despite the fact that he never hurt his mother, she reasoned to herself that her son needed some positive role models in his life and could certainly use help academically. He had been failing most of his courses his freshman year in high school and could not pull out of the tailspin he was in. She felt that they were out of options.
Her own life had been difficult as it was. Her husband died shortly after Jason was born and the string of bad relationships she had with men ever since had left her spiritually and emotionally impoverished. There had been both physical and mental abuse as well. Jason was also a victim and had been sexually assaulted in the shower by one of his mother’s boyfriends at one time. As a result, Jason was understandably prone to going for many days without bathing. This, along with his growing maturity and physical change, sometimes made him unpleasant to be around. The other boys and young men at the school noticed Jason’s habits and pounced on him as male adolescents are inclined to do. This made Jason withdraw even more and his personal hygiene began to become an issue with the staff.
Four of the staff decided to confront Jason about his lack of cleanliness. They cornered him and pleaded with him to bathe. Jason resisted. Their pleading turned to frustration and they began pointing their fingers at him saying, “Jason, you smell! Everyone is complaining. Take a shower!” Jason began to feel what we would all feel in a situation like this. He felt a response known as “fight or flight.” Jason did not want to fight the staff. They actually took pretty good care of him on a regular basis, but today they were acting differently and they had no plan for dealing with his noncompliance. So Jason chose “flight.” In his desire to flee that bad situation, he pushed staff out of the way. His intention was not to hurt them, just to get away and not be made the victim again. Staff assumed Jason was a danger to self or others so they decided to chase him. They ran after him, tackled him and restrained him on the floor in a prone position…….and then Jason died. Jason died because he didn’t want to take a shower.
Situations similar to the one described above have taken place in human service organizations all over the world. Some have been accurately documented, others probably have not, but we will never know for sure. In some cases, the death has been attributed to something else. The cases I have seen read like horror stories. I myself have read of settings where something as simple as a person looking at a family photograph; when perhaps they weren’t suppose to, led to a confrontation with staff that culminated in a restrained related death.
Educating our staff is essential in helping to avoid staff interactions with those they serve leading to confrontations and then physical management. To that end, the Crisis Prevention Institute is offering a free, downloadable eBooklet on the risks of restraints.
It’s up to everyone to provide care to those who rely on human service. We can do that by educating those individuals who take care of the people that the rest of us are unable or unprepared to help. Please share this eBooklet with someone you know.
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