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Cooperative Extension Researcher Finds Physical Restraint of Juveniles May Have Adverse Affects

October 28, 2009

Researchers at the UNH Cooperative Extension and Kansas State have found that use of physical restraint in facilities serving court adjudicated juveniles may cause juveniles to act more violently, rather than less violently. In addition, this finding adds to a growing body of evidence that use of physical restraint on juveniles may have serious adverse effects.

The study, led by Malcolm Smith, Cooperative Extension family education and policy specialist, found that adults who physically restrain juveniles may experience adverse psychological effects themselves. Adults in the study reported feeling bothered and disturbed by being involved in the incidents to the point of needing to talk to someone or find other means of dealing with their emotions.

In the study, “The Restraint Spiral: Emergent Themes in the Perceptions of the Physical Restraint of Juveniles” published in the journal Child Welfare this month, Smith and colleague Karen Myers-Bowman from Kansas State, interviewed both juveniles and adults to understand their perceptions of restraint events shortly after they occurred. Physical restraint is a formal technique used in schools, mental health facilities and juvenile centers to restrict the movement of children considered out of control.

They found adults in the study saw physical restraint either as a safety measure or a punishment, while the children saw the restraint as punishment. The use of physical restraint as a means of discipline isn’t legal in most states. In addition, adults who performed the physical restraint of juveniles reported that after the events they were noticeably upset and had to talk about the events with someone.

This study also identified a pre-restraint and post-restraint behavioral spiral that has implications for how restraint can be avoided, the needs of those who administer restraints to debrief, and critical times for children who are restrained.

Smith is a professor in the department of family studies, and Myers-Bowman is an associate professor in family studies at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

For more information, contact Smith at 2-7008 or malcolm.smith@unh.edu

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