Restraint and seclusion: incident intervention

Occasionally a student's behaviour may reach the point where it threatens the safety of themselves or others.

This may occur following a period of escalating behaviour, when de-escalation techniques have been employed but have not been effective, or in situations where escalation has been quick and unpredictable.

What you should do​​

Where possible, staff members should:

  • focus on protecting the safety of all students (including the student at risk of causing physical harm or danger to self or others)themselves and other staff
  • use intervention that is proportionate to the situation and has regard to the dignity of the student
  • seek help from school leadership and other staff members to manage the incident
  • move all other students in the vicinity to a safe distance away from the student exhibiting concerning behaviour
  • if safe to do so, remove objects that may be used to cause harm away from the student
  • follow response procedures set out in the school's emergency management plan, including calling emergency services on 000 if necessary.

Physical restraint

Physical restraint is the use of physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue movement of a student's body or part of their body. Students are not free to move away when they are being physically restrained. 

Physical restraint should not be used except in situations where the student's behaviour poses an imminent threat of physical harm or danger to self or others and restraint should be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff.

Staff should ensure that they are familiar with the restraint of student policy.

The key points are:

  • For physical restraint to be immediately required there must be no less restrictive option available
  • Staff must use the minimum force needed to protect against the risk of harm.
  • Staff must only apply the physical restraint for the minimum duration required and must remove it once the imminent risk has passed. Staff should ensure the type of restraint used is consistent with a student's individual needs and circumstances, including:
    1. the age/size of the student
    2. any impairment of the student, for example, physical, intellectual neurological, behavioural, sensory, or communication
    3. any mental or psychological conditions of the student, including any experience of trauma
    4. any other medical or other conditions
    5. the likely response of the student
    6. the environment in which the restraint is taking place
  • A staff member must monitor the student for any indicators of distress or pain.
  • Where possible, the staff member must communicate with the student throughout the incident, making it clear why physical restraint is being applied, and calmly explaining that the restraint will stop once it is no longer necessary to protect the student or others.

Wherever possible, only staff trained in using physical restraint should use physical restraint on a student, and at least one other staff member should be present to witness the restraint being used and monitor the wellbeing of the student being restrained.  It is recognised that this may not always be possible in a situation requiring an immediate response.  Where there are students who are known to have behaviours of concern, schools should create a plan to ensure that no staff member without adequate training is put in a position where they may have to restrain a student.

Physical restraint must not be included in a behaviour support strategy plan or as a behaviour management technique, to punish or discipline a student or to respond to:

  • a student's refusal to comply with a direction, unless that refusal to comply creates an immediate risk to the safety of the student or another person
  • a student leaving the classroom or school without permission, unless that conduct causes an immediate risk to the safety of the student or another person
  • verbal threats of harm from a student, except where there is a reasonable belief that the threat will be immediately enacted
  • property destruction caused by the student unless that destruction is placing any person at immediate risk of harm.
  • The decision about whether to employ any type of physical restraint rests with the professional judgment of the staff members involved. The staff member will need to take into account:

    • their duty of care to their students
    • their right to protect themselves from harm
    • the advice in this guidance on when restraint can be used, when restraint shouldn't be used, and techniques that may or may not be appropriate
    • their obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). For more information on the charter, see legal obligations

Where physical restraint is used this must be reported through the relevant Department incident reporting systems, see response and recovery.

Parent consent is not required for the use of physical restraint. Restraint may only be used in a situation where there is an imminent threat of physical harm or danger to the student or others, in accordance with regulation 25. However, use of physical restraint must be communicated to the student's parent or carer as soon as practicable after the incident, preferably on the same day.

Protective physical interventions

Protective physical interventions involve physical contact that serves to block, deflect or redirect a student's actions, or disengage from a student's grip, but from which a student can freely move away. Protective physical interventions should not be confused with physical restraint.

Physical restraint involves the use of physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue the movement of a student's body or part of their body. Students are not free to move away when they are being physically restrained.

Examples of protective physical interventions include:

  • guiding a student's arm away from their mouth to prevent biting (without using force to prohibit further movement)
  • using your arm to block a student from hitting you
  • physically redirecting a student who is aggressively running towards you
  • breakaway techniques to disengage from the inappropriate grip or hold of a student who is causing physical harm.

The particular physical intervention chosen must be the least invasive way available of protecting those involved.

Situations involving the use of protective physical interventions must be reported via the Department's incident reporting systems in accordance with the reporting emergencies and incidents policy.

Parents or carers must be notified or attempts made to notify them as soon as practicable and by the end of the day on which the incident occurred.

In deciding about using protective physical restraint, staff should be guided by the following principles.

Guiding principles for the use of protective physical interventions

A protective physical intervention must only be used when other less restrictive interventions have been ineffective, are not feasible, or would not be sufficient for the staff member to discharge their duty of care responsibilities to all students.

Where a protective physical intervention is required, the least restrictive approach must be used. The force used must be reasonable, proportionate and necessary.

The behaviour does not need to be completely resolved for protective physical intervention to stop— it must cease as soon as the risk has been reduced

Risks of physical restraint

Restraint has been associated with increased trauma to the student and to the staff member responsible for the restraint, and has at times, caused injury or death. Unreasonable use of physical restraint may breach the charter and may amount to assault under criminal law.

Any restraint must not be used which:

  • covers the student's mouth or nose
  • restricts breathing
  • takes student to the ground into the prone (lying flat with the face down, sometimes with the hands behind the head or neck) or supine position (lying with the face up); or
  • involves the hyperextension of joints, or application of pressure to the neck, chest or joints
  • holding a student's head forward, headlocks, choke holds or the application or pressure to the student's neck, chest, abdomen, joints or pressure points to cause pain
  • take-downs which allow students to free-fall to the ground
  • wrestling holds (including "full or half nelsons"), using a hog-tied position or straddling any part of student's body
  • basket holds, bear hugs, "therapeutic holding".

Intervention in student fights

Duty of care obligations require school staff to use their authority and to be proactive where students are fighting, causing physical harm or danger, or threatening harm to others.

In the event of a physical fight the same considerations apply as they would with an individual student with behaviours of concern leading to physical harm or danger to self or others (see regulation 25 in legal obligations).

Intervention does not always have to be physical and can involve verbal intervention, physically approaching students (without being in striking distance), calling for support from other staff and contacting police.

Extra care should be taken under these circumstances to ensure that the staff member is not placing him/herself at risk (for example stepping between two students involved in an altercation). Staff are required to take reasonable care for their own health or safety, balancing this with their duty to intervene.

Staff are also obliged to act compatibly with the charter.

Fights need to be reported via the Department's incident reporting systems whenever they constitute a reportable incident. Any situation where a student is physically restrained or secluded does constitute a reportable incident.

Seclusion

Rooms or areas designed specifically for the purposes of seclusion or which are used solely or primarily for the purpose of seclusion are not permitted in Victorian government schools. See definitions for meaning.

As with physical restraint, seclusion must only be used in a situation where there is an imminent threat of physical harm or danger to the student or others, (see regulation 25 in Legal Obligations when all other less restrictive techniques have been exhausted, and when it is necessary to end the threat of immediate and unavoidable harm to self or others.

Where seclusion of a student occurs this must be reported through the relevant Department incident reporting systems. For more information, see response and recovery

Time out and taking a break

Time out, and related strategies such as taking a break, is different from seclusion.

There may be occasions where it is appropriate to support a student whose behaviour is escalating to move away from the source of their distress or their peers for the purposes of de-escalating their behaviour. Time out is initiated by the teacher and in response to signs of escalation.

In these situations, the student should be provided with a location where they can be continuously observed and supported until their behaviour has de-escalated. The student must be with another person or in an unlocked area from which they can freely leave.

If a school has a dedicated room or area (indoor or outdoor) that is used for time out, it may be useful to consider explaining to parents/carers (at the time of enrolment, or in a student support group meeting) how that area or room works, when it might be used, how it is used, and documenting this discussion. It is important to emphasise that the student needs to be able to freely leave this area.

For some students, learning to manage their own emotions and learning to ask for a break may be a useful strategy to promote their self-regulation. Taking a break is often differentiated from 'time out' as it is student initiated and proactive. Students may use tokens or break cards to limit the number of times that they can request a break during the day, and time limits for breaks may be agreed upon ahead of time and communicated via a timer.

In all cases, a staff member should maintain visual and/or verbal contact with the student to monitor their wellbeing and the student should not be prevented from leaving the time out location. Once a student is prevented from leaving a time out location the strategy may have moved from time out to seclusion (in circumstances where they have been left alone in the room or area).

Where a form of time out is identified as an appropriate behaviour support or de-escalation technique for a student, it should be included in the student's behaviour support plan. The circumstances under which the form of time out will happen needs to be made explicit and be tailored to the individual and their needs. Consistent with human rights principles any use of time out needs to be reasonable and proportionate.

Case studies demonstrating seclusion, taking a break and time out

  • Laura is a seventeen-year-old girl involved in an incident with another student in the classroom. Her inappropriate behaviour escalates quickly and she begins to hit students and staff. The teacher clears the classroom of students and briefly closes the door to the classroom to call for school leadership support. Laura is left alone in the classroom and is unable to leave for a period of 90 seconds. In this case, Laura has been secluded and staff must report the incident through relevant incident reporting systems.
  • Jack is a seven-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. During an art session, Jack becomes frustrated with the activity and shouts at the student next to him. A teacher asks Jack to go for a walk to the office with her to help him to de-escalate. This teacher is using time out and this should be a pre-agreed strategy as part of Jack's behaviour support plan.
  • Dylan is a fourteen-year-old boy with down syndrome who is learning to take a break to regulate his emotions. At key points throughout the day, Dylan is asked to identify his emotions using a rating scale and prompted to ask for a break if he is feeling anxious. When Dylan asks for a break, he goes to a quiet corner in the classroom to listen to a preferred CD for five minutes. Dylan knows he is able to ask for three breaks a day using a break card. Dylan is taking a break and this should be a pre-agreed strategy as part of his behaviour support plan or individual learning plan.

Mechanical restraint

Mechanical restraint occurs when a device is used to prevent, restrict or subdue a student's movement for the primary purpose of influencing their behaviour. Devices should never be used in schools for this purpose.

Mechanical restraint can include the use of splints, restrictive clothing, belts and other devices such as chairs and desks from which the student cannot leave of their own accord. Such strategies can limit freedom and the student's ability to engage in functional activities.

The use of a mechanical restraint does not address the issues contributing to the behaviour of concern and can lead to injury to the student, escalation of the behaviour, and the emergence of other problematic behaviours such as self-restraint.

The definition of mechanical restraint does not include the use of devices for therapeutic or non-behavioural purposes, for example, the use of a device to assist a student with functional activities as a part of their occupational therapy or to permit safe transportation.

Any proposal to use a device must include a thorough assessment by a clinician (for example, occupational therapist or physiotherapist) and must wherever possible use the least restrictive alternative given the circumstances being addressed. The student's plan should also outline the procedures to reduce the use of the device.

The student's parents/carers must be included in developing any proposal to use mechanical devices and must be informed if such devices are used.

Chemical restraint

The Disability Act 2006 (Vic) defines chemical restraint as any medication primarily used to control behaviour and which is not being used to treat an underlying physical or mental illness or a physical condition.

Medications used in the treatment of psychosis (for example, Risperdal) are widely prescribed by medical practitioners as chemical restraints. They should always be prescribed with an emphasis on the medication level being kept to a minimum and with the goal of removing the medication as soon as possible. To this end, observations within the school setting of the behaviour that prompted the initial prescription will be helpful for the prescriber and family to make decisions on future care. School staff may convey valuable observations about the student's behaviours at school to the parent/carer/guardian during SSG and other meetings, who can then discuss this with the prescribing doctor.

While the prescribing of a chemical restraint is external to the school, it is recommended that school staff make themselves aware of potential side effects of some medications such as aggression and agitation, to avoid mistaking them for behaviours of concern. Students who do not use speech may especially present with such side effects in the absence of functional communication.

Medication

Some students may be prescribed medication by a medical practitioner for certain behaviours. Any administration of medication to students by school staff must be carried out in accordance with these Department policies: