Friday, May 19, 2006

Question of the day: Should we allow institutional abuse of children?

Although this advice is unsolicited, I am not above trying to help out New York State's Board of Regents. They are seeking input from school Superintendents and Executive Directors of private schools and preschools about the use of aversive or noxious stimuli to reduce or eliminate student behaviors. I am neither a Superintendent or an Executive Director of a school, but I thought I could offer a little advice.

The Board of Regents sent out their first memo where they asked for information about agency or school use of 'aversive therapies.' Apparently, aversive therapies can include
  • Noxious, painful, intrusive stimuli or activities intended to induce pain such as hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking, hurling, strangling, shoving, or other similar stimulus
  • Any form of noxious, painful or intrusive spray or inhalant
  • Any form of noxious tastes
  • Electric shock
  • Water spray to the face
  • Pinches and deep muscle squeezes
  • Withholding sleep, shelter, bedding, bathroom facilities, clothing, food or drink or essential nutrition or hydration as part of mealtimes
  • Withholding bathroom facilities, visitation or communication with family
  • The use of chemical restraints instead of positive programs or medical treatments
  • The placement of a child unsupervised or unobserved in a room from which the student cannot exit without assistance

Of course they wanted the name of the school/agency and a contact person.

Perhaps no one answered, because they sent out a SECOND MEMO.

It is my understanding that people who answer this call for information will probably be eligible for special awards but I don't think this is being mentioned in the memos. In addition to the special awards, people may also be eligible for more tangible consequences, outlined clearly here.

Of course, this is a serious topic, and I don't mean to make light of it, but I am just never surprised at the incredible resource drain that occurs when bureaucrats try to find very complex answers to simple questions. The full issue is laid out in this memo, where the state outlines a very simple discussion point: Should the Regents adopt a new policy that prohibits or limits the use of certain behavioral approaches, including the use of certain aversive or noxious stimuli to reduce or eliminate maladaptive behaviors of students?

In the interest of saving the Board of Regents a lot of time, I would like to suggest that there really is no need for discussion. Current New York State law and policy already prohibits this kind of intervention.

The problem that the Board of Regents probably doesn't understand is that practitioners may actually be responsible for carrying out aversive behavioral programs, as I outlined in my discussion on behavior intervention plans and the carceral archipelago. Unfortunately, they may be disguised as positive reinforcement plans - so most interventionists would never label or recognize their own behavioral program as being 'aversive.'

In the example provided, tokens were awarded for positive behavior so the child could purchase time with a favorite teacher, or purchase a community outing with a residential staff member. Certainly these are positive reinforcement programs? Or if we look carefully, aren't they really withholding visitation or communication with family by placing obtuse and contrived pre-conditions of 'earning the privilege' of contact through a token economy?

Something tells me that the psychologist who wrote that plan won't be signing himself up for a free trip into Child Protective Services investigation, with concomitant investigation and discipline from the Office of the Professions.

The real problem is that writing these memos took time, and energy, and resources. People actually spent time thinking about this. There were probably meetings. There were probably high level discussions about sending out the second memo. This whole issue has probably cost the New York State government some money.

I am certain that we have better things to do with our money than spending it on discussing inane topics in committees, sending out memos, and in the process - totally missing the real point.

Do we really need a committee to answer this question?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Scary stuff, I thought all evidence for effective behaviour modification came down on the positive reward side? That they thought of considering some of the things listed makes my blood run cold!