Tag Archives | physical abuse

UN Investigates Whether Torture is Happening at Judge Rotenberg Center

I clearly remember debates, as recently as since Obama’s come into power, Judge Rotenberg Centerabout whether the US uses torture to get information from suspected terrorists, and the ethical implications of doing so. It dominated the news for a while. Americans were really concerned about this question.

Why, I wonder, haven’t we been so concerned about the torture *definitely* going on (in my opinion) right under our noses at the Judge Rotenberg Center for children with autism?  I don’t know what else you call restraining a child face-down for seven hours for refusing to take off his coat and shocking him 31 times for tensing his body and yelling.

All Part of Judge Rotenberg Center’s Treatment Plan

This was part of Andre McCollins’ treatment plan. Even though it left him catatonic and put him in the hospital for nearly 6 weeks, Judge Rotenberg Center stood by it’s actions and fought against a bill that would prevent it from using aversive shock treatment.

The 2002 video that brought all this to light (which Judge Rotenberg Center fought to repress), was made available to the public in April. Some of the footage is here. Be warned that it is difficult to watch:


A US Senate Committee held a hearing into the aversive therapy used at the Judge Rotenberg Center, and the UN has been asked to rule on whether what’s happening at the Center is torture.


Judge Rotenberg’s reaction to this? The Parent Association said:

“We are outraged that these people would use our vulnerable children as pawns. The right to choose the appropriate and safe treatment for our children, when nothing else has worked, must remain an option for the small percentage of children for whom this is a matter of life or death,”

Judge Rotenberg’s response to all the attention it received from the 2002 video of Andre McCollins is here, for what it’s worth: http://www.judgerc.org/

And the government ultimately sided with them. The proposed shock ban was left out of the state budget, and the Judge Rotenberg Center can continue to use shock treatments for therapy.

Meet Me At Camera Three, Massachusetts Government

I’m sure that no one will be surprised that I call “bullshit” on all this. We treat our prisoners better than we’re treating these kids. Refusing to take off your coat is not a matter of life-or-death. Even if we lived in a world where you could justify shocking a kid because of that behaviour, you can’t justify retraining them for seven hours and shocking them 31 times. And I don’t really care that most children in treatment at the Judge Rotenberg Center don’t get shock therapy treatment. One child getting treated the way Andre McCollins did is one child too many.

Shame on you your endorsement of the continued abuse of children with disabilities. I hope that the UN says unequivocally that Judge Rotenberg Center is torturing these kids and shuts the place down. Shame on you too, administrators of Judge Rotenberg Center. I’d like to know how you sleep at night, knowing what goes on in your facility.

Okay, I’ll Stop Here

You get the point. Probably best to just stop here before I say something I really regret.

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Teachers Abusing Students With Disabilities

It seems like more and more stories about teachers abusing students with disabilities are popping up in the news these days. There’s the story of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey father who discovered that his son, a 10-year-old with autism, was being verbally abused by hiteaching abusing students with disabilitiess teacher, and the more recent story about the 14-year-old with brain damage in who was wheeled into a box in his wheelchair and sometimes shut in it to deal with his outbursts. My question, on reading these stories has been: How many untold stories of teachers abusing students with disabilities exist for each one that gets reported?

Teachers Abusing Students with Disabilities: How Big Is the Problem?

The small amount of research into teachers abusing students in general suggests that the (reported) incidence is quite low.  However, students with disabilities are easy targets in educational systems where teachers are overworked and expectations are very high:

  • Students with disabilities who have been mainstreamed into regular classes are often fighting for increasingly fewer Educational Assistant supports
  • As class sizes grow, teachers have to manage learning needs on a wider and wider spectrum within one classroom with less individual support for students.
  •  In Ontario at least, while all teachers are required to take *some* special education courses are part of their training, they’re not required to specialize or stay current in it unless they plan to work in Special Education. The lack of training may mean that teachers don’t know how to deal with a student’s frustrating behaviours and may end up doing something inappropriate out of ignorance, especially if resources like IEPs and behaviour/safety plans aren’t easily accessible at all times.
And, of course, the characteristics of some disabilities make students who have them very vulnerable:
  • A non-verbal student with few ways of communicating is much less likely to report abuse.
  • Some students with disabilities may not understand that they’re being abused, and so may not report it.
  • Power differentials may make students with disabilities afraid to report a teacher abusing them.

I’m in no way suggesting that all teachers abuse students with disabilities. However, it seems telling that once parents started to wire their children with disabilities and send them to school, as the Cherry Hill father did, all sort of report of teachers abusing students with disabilities verbally began to come in. http://www.chron.com/living/article/Parents-wire-kids-to-prove-teachers-verbal-abuse-3509966.php Not that wiring your children is necessarily a good idea, because of potential legal ramifications. But I can see why a parent of a child who doesn’t communicate verbally might take that step. No matter how frustrating a teacher’s job circumstances might be, teachers abusing students with with disabilities (or any student, for that matter) is wrong.

Teachers Abusing Students with Disabilities: I Don’t Know Why This Is So Complicated

Teachers and Principals:

  • Refer to behaviour/safety plans and strategies, and follow them. If something strikes you as “Wow, I wouldn’t want that being done to my kid”, request that the plan be reviewed with your Board’s behaviour specialist or a behaviour specialist from an agency.
  • Keep families in the loop. Review behaviour plans/strategies each year at the IPRC.  Keep a communication book going between the school and home.
  • Keep each other accountable as staff for what sorts of behaviour interventions you use, when, and why.
  • Remember that when students with disabilities do report, they may not be able to do so as eloquently as students without disabilities. Sorting out the details may take more work and may have to involve paraprofessionals. The complaint is still valid, needs to be investigated, and the needed resources should be brought in without hesitation.

If you wouldn’t do it to a student who doesn’t have a disability, don’t do it to a student who has a disability. If you wouldn’t use a method of discipline with the parent in the room, there’s something wrong, and you need to reconsider what you’re doing.

Most special education teachers are in that field because they love it and they want to be there. But the ones that would put a student in a box or call students names don’t belong in the classroom. Let’s stop teachers abusing students with disabilities and keep schools safe for all students.

More on teachers abusing students with disabilities: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/27602/3/Sharpe_Glynn_W_201103_EDD_thesis.pdf

Story on the “box punishment”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2145965/Mother-distraught-school-puts-wheelchair-bound-son-box-time-out.html#comments

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More on New York State Group Homes

In case anyone needs a review on what’s been happening with New York State group homes for people with developmental disabilities:

http://www.girlwiththecane.com/new_york_state group_homes/

New York State Group Homes in “The New York Times”

The latest article in the “Abused and Used” series in chronicling the abuse in New York State group homes appeared in “The New York Times” just before New Year’s. The article focuses on one of the operators: Federation of Multicultural Operators of Brooklyn. The full text of the article is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/nyregion/operator-of-ny-group-homes-thrived-despite-lapses-in-care.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1325176919- Nhrsh5AFVgD828ev1jiW6w.

The financial history and hiring practices alone of the Federation are shocking enough. But the 27 citations for failing to meet health and safety standards in Federation’s Intermediate Care Facilities (all issued between 2006 and 2010) would be, one would think enough to make New York State want to sever ties with this operator. C.E.O. Danny King, who is a retired police officer with no experience in the developmental services field before starting work with the Federation, doesn’t seem concerned, according to the “Times”.

Just an Observation

Working in the developmental services field, I’ve noticed that we’re learning as we go along.  We thought that institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities was the best thing for them for a while. Now we don’t. Now we’re becoming aware that even the best of community residential options brings up issues around rights and safety and how people in staffed homes should be interacting with the people they support. In the almost twenty years that I’ve been involved withNew York state group homes agencies that support people with disabilities, I’ve seen ways of thinking come into favour and fall out of favour and settle in the middle and then move toward one side again.

I’m okay with working in a field where there a lot of “grey areas” and issues that need to be worked out. I don’t tend to think in absolutes, and I’ve got a lot of patience. However…

No Patience or “Grey Areas” for New York State Group Homes

I do not see grey areas, and I have no patience, when it comes to people who violate the safety of vulnerable people and of animals.  Abused kids need to go to a safe place and parents should  have to go through a long, comprehensive rehabilitation process before they get them back (if it’s ever appropriate).  People who abuse animals shouldn’t be allowed to own pets.

And a service provider that receives 27 citations within 4 years for safety violations within housing (including the Federation’s failure to investigate abuse, inadequate medical care, and medication errors), should simply not be allowed operate New York state group homes. Period.

The article says that this all started four decades ago with the state’s decision to stop institutionalizing people with disabilities and a the lack of an oversight agency that could do proper and timely inspections of the group homes that people ended up in. Forty years is a long time not to have learned as they’ve gone along with this.  Particularly as the first small public group homes became multi-million corporations like the Federation, one would think that the state would have seen the need to put proper oversight and inspection procedures in place.

It makes me wonder, again, about how much society really values people with disabilities.

I keep seeing evidence that it doesn’t, and that makes me sad.

See the archive for the “Abused and Used” series about the New York state group homes situation here:


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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons With Disabilities

international day of persons with disabilities

December 3  is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a day to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities and to raise awareness about their rights.

I knew that I wanted to blog about this in some way today, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it last night, and kept coming back to what Michael Bloomberg saying that having making all the cabs in New York accessible wasn’t necessarily what people with disabilities wanted.

What Do People With Disabilities Want?

I’m not a scholar in the field, but I’ve worked with people with disabilities for over fifteen years, and I’ve been living with my own disabilities for over a decade. I think that our needs are fairly simple.

  1. Access to Buildings When we’re cut off from buildings and from areas in buildings, we’re cut off from experiences and from participating fully in the community. We don’t have choices and opportunities that everyone else has.
  2. Access to Resources The current struggles to make web pages more accessible, to make menus easier to read, to make the justice system more navigable, etcetera, seem like overkill to some people without disabilities. But when you can’t see a computer webpage because you’re red-green colour-blind, or you can’t read a menu because the print is too small, or you can’t don’t understand what your public defender is saying to you because you’ve got an intellectual disability, you’re at a distinct disadvantage because of your disability.
  3. Respect for Rights and and Knowledge of Responsibilities  People with disabilities need to live in communities where, like everyone else, they have rights and responsibilities. People with disabilities, adults and children, are at a much greater risk for bullying or assault, sometimes by people are supposed to be taking care of them (paid and unpaid). Abuse can come in all forms (verbal, sexual, financial, violation of privacy, theft). Other rights that get disrespected are as follows: the right for a person to make their own decisions about their life, to be in relationships, to try new things, and to make health and/or money decisions. People with disabilities deserve to have rights abuse allegations take seriously, and need to understand that they have the responsibility to behave in ways that respect others’ rights. Failure to do so will result in consequences for them, just as it would for people without disabilities.
  4. Opportunities to be a Part of the Community  Everyone has ways that they can contribute. Community members need to be open to having all sorts of people as volunteers and employees in the community and makes everyone feel welcome at community events.
  5. People-Centred Supports for Assistance When Necessary  Not everyone needs help all the time, but sometimes something comes up with which people need assistance. It’s always nice to know that someone will be there if you need, whether it’s a paid or non-paid support.
  6. Income Support for Those that Can’t Work That Actually Reflects the Current Cost of Living  The amount that individuals receive on the Ontario Disability Support Program  leaves them at a poverty level.

The Challenges

Right now, setting up frameworks within communities where we can ensure that these five things are adequately addressed costs is taking a lot more time than it should. I believe it’s at least partly because educating governments about the importance of getting funding to help address these issues is taking a long time. It’s simply not high-priority.

And I think that’s partly because you can’t appreciate how vital these issues are until you’ve lived them.  I know from experience that it’s difficult to realize how frustrating it is not to be able to get into a favourite restaurant in a wheelchair until you’re in that position.

I didn’t know until a couple of days ago that International Day of Persons with Disabilities existed, and I hope it will bring some much-needed awareness to what still needs to be done.

On the lighter side, here are some people with disabilities whose accomplishments we really need to celebrate on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities:

  1. Rick Hansen
  2. Christopher Reeve
  3. Albert Einstein
  4. Terry Fox
  5. Stephen Hawking
  6. Michael J. Fox
  7. Helen Keller
  8. Ludwig Van Beethoven
  9. Thomas Edison
  10. Charles Darwin

More about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities:


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Another Way of Looking at Group Home Closures

Group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities are closing across Canada and the group homesUnited States as a cost-cutting measure for agencies. For some families, losing group home support has already thrown them into a caregiving crisis as they adjust to having a family member who previously lived in a group home at home. But some of these crises are also opportunities for individuals, and families and agencies need to fight to make sure that governments see that and provide adequate support for individuals who have moved into other living arrangements. Because it was the assumption that people with intellectual disabilities couldn’t live in community settings that left them in institutions for so long, and we all know how wrong that assumption was.

Group Homes: Little Institutions

It wasn’t until I actually got some experience in a group setting myself through school that I realized how close they were, with no intention from staff or agency to them being that way, to little institutions themselves. When one or two staff is responsible for five or six people on a shift, there’s no way, in what each resident is supposed to consider his or her own home but has been declared to need staff assistance or supervision, lives on the agency’s schedule and the needs of the house. Dinner is what the staff makes and when the staff makes it. Bedtime is when staff says it is. Outings are when staff has the time. And, as we’ve seen in the recent investigations of the New York State group homes, it’s easy for abuse to go on in these environments.

But What to Do?

I’m not trying in any way to suggest that it’s easy to look after an adult child or sibling with intellectual disabilities full-time at home. There are issues involved with this: supervision (particularly when safety is an issue), care, and helping the individual to construct a meaningful day. But I think we need to ask ourselves, not just because group homes are closing more and more but because sometimes we make an assumption that a group is what the person needs when it may not be…is a group home the only option? Is there another living setting that could work?

For example, if the person doesn’t want to live at home but doesn’t quite have the skills to live alone yet, is there another family that they could pay room and board with, plus a little extra for some support with things that they find difficult to do (laundry or bill paying, etc.) Some agencies help families to set up placements like this.

Or if the person is living at home, what community supports are there to assist with caregiving? Some that may be of help are:

– nursing/supportive housing programs
– day support programs
– adult respite programs
– support workers
– informal support networks such as family and friends

Government funding for these sorts of things is unfortunately low right now right (at least in Canada. It’s a time to be creative, to network with other families, and to pool funding when possible to get the most out of supports. And a time to let your government know that if it expects you to have an individual in your family with a disability of any kind live at home with you, you need the support to make that happen.

The most important part of all of this is our attitude toward this. We can choose to look at people with intellectual disabilities having even closer ties to the community than group homes can give as a burden, or as something worth working toward. I told the teens with which I worked, “Assume the resources are there and that we just have to find them.” I’d rather look at the group home challenge this way, and hope that other agencies will as well as they plan to move people out of the group homes that are closing.

And, of course, that we’ll all continue to advocate for as much support for families as possible.

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The New York State Group Homes Situation

I found an awesome commentary on the New York Time’s “Abused and Used” series that I thinkNew York State group homes should be required reading for everyone. I think that you can get the message without having read the articles, but for those who like a bit of backstory: The “Abused and Used” series examines a review that the New York Times did on some previously unreleased data about the mortality rates in New York State group homes for people with intellectual disabilities. The Times found that in the last decade, 1200 deaths have in state and privately-run New York State group homes have been attributed to unnatural or unknown causes – that’s 1 in 6. And that number is the start of a story of abuse reports, poorly-trained workers, lack of safety protocols (and little or no review of safety protocols when a death happens) and little accountability for residents’ safety in New York State group homes that just made me feel sick.


What the New York State Group Homes Situation Tells Us

There’s obviously something in our society that’s still very apathetic toward people with disabilities, or the situation in New York State group homes would not have happened – some governing body would have seen what was happening and snapped to attention long before it got to this point. I like Zoe Wool’s take on it (this is the required reading I was talking about earlier):


The problem is (and the family of  one the residents who died also said this; see link to article in the first section) is that we don’t value people with disabilities in our society. Wool suggests it’s because we value people with disabilities relative to what kind of contribution they make (or made), rather than on their inherent personhood, to the point it determines how we speak about them.

Or whether we try to assist them to have a life or,  just try to keep them alive.

That sort of difference shouldn’t exist. Everyone with a disability should have access to the resources that they need to not only live safely and with dignity, but to have equal access to the community and opportunities to build the life that they desire that people without disabilities do. We don’t need further inequality lines within the disability community itself.

What to Do?

This is why we have to whole-heartedly support efforts by people such as Nicky Clark to stomp out disability hate speech. Because when you can call people with disabilities disgusting names, it’s not that much further to believing it’s okay to do things like slack off on those boring, inconvenient little things that you have to do in your job to keep them safe (like make sure food is cut up small enough so they won’t choke and then actually stick around to see that they don’t choke while they’re eating; see link to article in the first section), and just a bit further to justifying withholding food. I don’t know how people get to the point where they physically and/or sexually abuse residents, but apparently plenty of both was going on as well, rarely reported to police, and dealt with internally by moving the abusing staff to another home where they would abuse again.


And I don’t know why people like this even want to work in group homes, or how they get past the interview process, but obviously in the New York State group homes a whole lot of them did…and now we’re seeing what happens when they get shuffled from house to house instead of fired and when the system doesn’t have enough safeguards to make sure the damage they do doesn’t happen again.

It makes me wonder how many other states this sort of thing is happening in… :(

Archive of the “Abused and Used” series about New York State group homes:


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