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kid puzzled with a word search

Isolation Rooms and How They Fail Our Children

When I was in school we had a ‘quiet room’.  It had a plush couch, some toys, and was very, very quiet.  Kids could go there with an adult and simmer down if the day was getting too stressful.  The room was meant for anybody that was struggling with sensory overload.

We all get overwhelmed at times; it makes sense to have a place to unwind.  In our adult lives we build these places into our homes, camping trips, or other methods of getting ‘me time’.  My preferred method is cuddling my cat, reading a book, and drinking gallons of tea.

This ‘quiet room’ was a place that kids liked to go to.  It was a sanctuary, a safe haven.  In other schools it may be called the resource room, the guidance counselor’s office, but it will be there.  A place to save face, cool down, and maintain the dignity that is so precious to a child’s ego.

kid puzzled with a word search
Photo by AngryJulieMonday

‘Isolation room’ has a different ring to it.  I don’t want to go to an ‘isolation room’ and I’m pretty sure no one else does.

Last week the media stormed against BC isolation rooms.  Children are locked away, sometimes for hours at a time by themselves, with very little to amuse themselves or work towards furthering their education. Board of Education Chair, Michael Ewen, told CTV BC that he was aware of a few incidents where the rooms were abused and that “those were dealt with.” He concurred with advocates that several hours alone is an inappropriate practice when educating children. Behaviour plans are reviewed and rewritten after each incident.

That’s not enough in my book.  Children learn how to regulate their emotions based on adult modelling.  It isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something we learn.  Like everything else, some people pick it up quickly and others need extra coaching to get to the level of their peers.

The major difference between the quiet room I remember from my childhood and these isolation rooms is an adult presence.  How can a child learn if they are abandoned?  To be left alone is a cruel punishment on a member of a species that is habitually social.  Humans love to be with other humans.  We all need our alone time, but it needs to be voluntary.  Especially when you are a vulnerable child.

Ewen declared that the doors were not locked on the isolation rooms and that no child was forced to enter them.  They may not have been locked in but I’m willing to bet that there were severe consequences for leaving.  Detention, missed recess, more time in the isolation room…

I read many of the comments brought up in defense of isolation rooms. Time and again, the issue of violent children was raised.  This is a valid point. Teachers and other children have a right to safety but I don’t believe that isolation rooms are the answer.

If a child poses a significant risk to those around him, more has failed than one lonely room can fix.  A school should not be abandoned to this responsibility. Parents, legal guardians, and if necessary, Child and Family Services or the police may be required to step in.  Far more attention and focus needs to be given than an isolation room if a child is truly dangerous.  These children have been failed in a very significant way and so have their teachers.  An isolation room is just a lose, lose, and keep on losing situation for these children and the adults supervising them.

If an isolation room is being used as a method of discipline I encourage the BC Education Ministry to refer too much of the research that has been dedicated to modelling emotional behaviour.  Every child deserves a sanctuary to learn the life skills that are so important in later life.  No child deserves to be abandoned for something they cannot help and cannot fix without adult help.

 

References: CTV News and Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children


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  1. very well written. i remember our quiet areas at ym school, and knew many who used that resource and would often chat quietly with someone like the resource teacher. isolation never works, and if anything, makes the issues worse.

  2. Putting kids in isolation rooms? What is this world coming to?

    I get the frustration that educators have with disruptive kids and no support from some parents, but putting kids in solitary confinement so they don’t mess up your plan for the day?

    • Growing up I had some amazing teachers. I don’t think I ever once saw them problem solve by isolating a kid. It’s so counterproductive!