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WSHU's ongoing coverage of issues surrounding Connecticut's Department of Children and Families.

Conn. Child Advocate Releases DCF Surveillance Videos Showing Illegal Restraint, Isolation

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Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate released an investigative report in July saying children were being illegally restrained and secluded at the two juvenile detention facilities run by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). On Sept. 15, the Child Advocate decided to release confidential surveillance videos that show children attempting suicide after staff secluded them during an emotional crisis. DCF also released longer versions of three of those surveillance videos, in addition to several other incident videos.

In a web conference, Child Advocate Sarah Eagan read from staff incident reports while playing video footage from the Pueblo Unit, the DCF girls’ detention facility. One staff described how a girl was dragged from the hallway by five staff members and locked in a room with one small window, out of view.

“Another staff [member] walked around outside the building to look inside the window,” Eagan said. “The resident was observed with her shirt tied tightly around the neck, her face bright red and her head swaying.”

Eagan says the girl was then taken to a hospital. That incident of self-harm was one of eight incidents documented in the surveillance videos released on Tuesday.

The Child Advocate’s report found that, over the course of a year, boys and girls at the facilities tried to injure or kill themselves at least 55 times.

Eagan said she couldn’t rely on DCF reports alone to count all incidents of suicidal behavior. In some cases, she found these incidents documented in a child’s nursing notes, but there was no staff incident report filed to DCF at all.

DCF officials have said, in recent legislative hearings, that the facilities need a better system for reporting incidents of suicidal behavior.

More than that, Eagan says DCF staff needs to be trained to counsel kids in emotional crisis before resorting to seclusion or restraint.

DCF released an action plan in August that called for the end of prone, or face down, restraints and limited the use of shackles to situations where a child was going to be transported. The action plan came in response to the Child Advocate’s July investigation and to another report by juvenile justice expert Dr. Robert Kinscherff that was commissioned by DCF officials.

In that report, Kinscherff called the use of restraint and seclusion as an intervention for a child a “failure.”

National research shows youth in detention facilities are at higher risk for suicide and despair, according to Eagan. In a report released this year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which studies the wellbeing of American children, has found growing consensus that disciplinary isolation harms youth. The Pew Research Center shows that juvenile detention facilities are not effective ways to reduce crime and rehabilitate children.

“Suicidal behavior in confinement is not a Connecticut problem, it’s a national problem,” Egan said.

She called for state officials and juvenile justice organizations to look at the way the state is addressing public safety, and to see whether Connecticut facilities can improve public safety in a way that does not harm children.

The Department of Children and Families said in a statement Tuesday that it’s committed to reducing the use of restraint and seclusion to the fullest extent possible. DCF will continue presenting its plan to address concerns raised by the Child Advocate at the Juvenile Justice Policy Oversight Committee Hearing in Hartford on Thursday.

Below are videos from the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys (CJTS) and the Pueblo Unit for girls. Please be advised that these videos are graphic in nature and show children being forcibly taken down, placed in solitary confinement and attempting self-harm.

WARNING: The following videos contain graphic content. They are being used by permission, courtesy of The Connecticut Mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
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