I am doing a project for school on the use of appropriate touch for staff with the youth that they work with. I have heard many of the benefits of touch but I have a few other questions. I am wondering if anyone has ever experienced a child who uses being restrained as a way of getting physical affection from staff. I have heard that there are children who do not know how to appropriately get affection so they seek it out in negative ways. Comments and stories would be appreciated.
This is a common reaction from group home kids. Some staff are so afraid to even pat the kids on the shoulder, lest allegations occur, that the kids never have any physical contact at all. When I think of my own kids when they were teens I remember how they would be demanding their rights as adults one moment, and sitting on my knee the next. If the positive touch is removed it is an artificial environment. Staff do need to be cautious, and should only hug on request of the kid and with others staff present.
I have had some experience with this. I worked with adolescent sex offenders for a year and a half and found that some of the young men I worked with seemed to use restraint as a way to receive touch. For many of these guys, restraint was the only way that they knew how to get that need met. These were kids that had been in the system a long time, most often in locked residential facilities. Many of them had limited contact with their parents or siblings due to past their past history of abuse. As staff, we had very strict boundaries with the guys. Some of the guys would ask for hugs but it was up to the individual staff person to decide whether to allow it or not. Some of the guys didn't know what to do with appropriate touch – a simple pat on the back or "buddy hug" could be misinterpreted by them. A very physical restraint could be very rewarding for some – they seemed to purposefully rev up to "earn" a restraint.
As part of their program, we worked with the guys to
help them process the restraints. This included helping them understand what
they were getting out of the restraint – sometimes it was touch, sometimes
it was letting go of control, sometimes it was being in control, sometimes
all three. We also worked with the guys to help them learn to accept
affection from others and ask for it when they needed it. It went a lot
deeper than that, of course, with a lot of conversations on appropriate
touch, trust, relationship, etc.
I have seen the same kind of behavior in some of the people with developmental disabilities I have worked with as well as with some of the "normal" acting out teens I currently work with. If the only time you get attention/affection is when you are acting out, you learn to act out. That's been my experience. I would guess that some of this behavior goes back to attachment but that is another conversation altogether.
The use of physical restraint is an issue that has bothered me for many years. I firmly believe that where policies include the use of physical restraint they can become commonplace. I have worked in Services that have had no restraint policies and staff have had to hone their skills at de-escalation techniques and multi-element behaviour support plans have been the order of the day. I have no doubt that in these same places, had physical restraint been permitted then it would have been utilised. I say this because in the services where physical restraint had been permitted, I witnessed first hand many unnecessary restraints. I once heard a qualified child care worker say at her morning coffee break, 'that one is bulling for restraint'. I do know and understand that there are occasions when restraint is necessary to protect a child from self-harm etc but I believe it is an area that requires much supervision from skilled supervisors and accountability from practising care staff.
To get back to your question though, yes I have
seen situations where children have acted out knowing that their behaviour
would result in restraint and yes they did seem to 'need' it at some level.
But where was the real need of these children? Were they being given
adequate attention at times of good behaviour? I strongly believe in a
policy of 'catch them doing something right'. In many residential
situations, staff can be heard to say that there aren't enough hours in the
day to do individual activities and yet some restraints and the paper work
that follows can take hours. Many of these children in our care are damaged,
fearful and hurt beyond belief. They need to know we care about them as
individuals and wouldn't it be a shame if the only one-to-one attention a
child received in the day was in the form of a physical and invasive
Mary Murray (Ireland)
I'm certain that some kids trigger a restraint to get physical attention.
If possible, I try to use a sitting hug-hold. Sometimes, when a kid calms down, I end up just hugging.
Obviously, if it becomes a pattern with a particular child, I work on helping him or her find better ways of getting affection.
This to me is another reason why a "No Touch" policy should be avoided if possible. How sick is it when a child has to attack you to get affection?
P.S. Allegation-o-phobia lets the tail wag the dog.