Guest blogger, Paul Dix from Pivotal Education is presenting a keynote speech at this year’s conference in October. Here he gives us his perspective on the use of restraint when children and young people are involved and what you might consider to mitigate risk.
The restraint techniques that are demonstrated and practiced by adults in training sessions look entirely sensible, proportionate and safe. Tick ‘fully restraint trained’ box. The problem is that we are always being asked to restrain adults (unless you count the scrum for coffee in the staff room at break). Restraining children means that there is a huge disparity in size, strength, weight and height. Techniques that worked in rehearsal play out very differently in practice. Feet leave the floor, children struggle and get into awkward positions, the noise level increases and crowds can gather. Restraining children is a gamble with their safety and your career. Before you roll the dice there are opportunities to mitigate your risk.
The trouble with any physical restraint is that it is a judgment call often made in an urgent situations. There are no absolute answers but there is a great deal of good practice out there that we can learn from. Decisions made in a moment can easily unravel in the Boss’s office or worse still in a court of law. If you make the decision to intervene physically make sure that you talk your way through it. Out loud, clearly and calmly. Tell the child what you are doing and why. Tell other children what you are doing. Help them feel that the adult is in control. As you hold the child constantly check their emotional and physical state and be prepared to change or release your hold if they complain of being unable to breathe. It is essential that you have sight of the child’s face at all times so that you can monitor their reactions accurately. Hold the long bones and do not restrict or compress the airways. If you have been trained in restraint use your training and the holds that are necessary. Whenever possible enlist the support of a colleague before you intervene. If you can plan then take time to do it well. Talk through the holds you will use and examine the route you are going to take. Think of the obvious as well as the unlikely. Is the child asthmatic, do you need to pass other classes, which is the nearest safe place, what about negotiating door and steps, how will you prevent other children from getting involved?
It would be entirely sensible to say that physical restraint should be the absolute last resort, that it should only follow a full risk assessment, intensive form filling, and a protracted negotiation: ‘Put the lego down and step away from the cistern, we have the toilets surrounded…’ In many schools one child who refuses to comply can cause a classroom evacuation quicker than the arrival of snow. Yet we can all give examples of when a swift and assertive early intervention averted a protracted stand off and nipped the incident in the bud. There are times when acting gently and swiftly can stop a stand off turning into a siege. Your main focus must be to act in the best interests of the child.
As with all management of behaviour the relationships you develop with the child and family are pivotal. The knowledge you have of the child directly affects your ability to deescalate quickly. The emotional currency you build with them an essential element of calming difficult situations. The problem is that is de-escalation to one teacher is merely a preamble for another. This inconsistency means that in creating behaviour plans for children we must be specific about the stages of intervention and time given between them. We should be consistent in the language that is used, in how we build emotional currency with the learner, and what our planned response is to angry or traumatic outbursts.
Often when you intervene it is impossible to plan in the moment. Intervening to ensure children don’t hurt themselves or others rarely affords time for protracted risk assessments and lengthy chin stroking. If you have to act as you are thinking then focus on using the minimum force necessary to keep everyone safe. Clearly the force necessary must be proportionate. Proportionate to the situation and its consequences. It is no use trying to gently guide Kylie away when she has a fist full of Chantelle’s hair and a finger in her eye. Just as sending in the Senior Leadership SWAT Team to stop Trevor chewing the curtains might be a touch too eager: ‘Step away from the folded pleats…’
There is risk involved in using physical restraint. Of course, risks estimated in a matter of seconds don’t always give accurate results. Sometimes it is better to step in before a drama turns into a crisis. Sometimes it is better to allow a crisis to subside. Sometimes observing, waiting or negotiating is not an option. There is no way to accurately predict outcomes. You have to trust your training your experience and your instinct. Not sure there is a tick box for that.