Sunday, February 18, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder (CAICA): Restraint Death of Autistic Boy, Jonathan Carey

[See below for links to news articles and information]

Another tragedy has struck - this time a 13-year old, non-speaking autistic boy has died after being restrained. Initial reports indicate the child was a live-in patient at O.D. Heck Developmental Center in New York. Two staff, Edwin Tirado, 35, and Nadeem Mall, 32, both of Schenectady, are charged with second degree manslaughter and are being held in the county jail without bail.

It has been reported that these two staff members took Jonathan and another child on errands in a van. The other child, whose name has not been disclosed, was a 14-year old boy. While Jonathan was non-verbal autistic, the 14-year old is able to speak and told officers the men drove for an hour-and-a-half after Jonathan was placed in an illegal restraint hold. The men stopped at an ATM machine and while Mall got out to get money, Tirado restrained Jonathan. Jonathan was unresponsive and was clearly physically distressed. Rather than seek immediate help they continued on their errands for an hour-and-a-half, stopping at several stores including a toy store where they purchased a video game. They stopped at one of their homes to drop the game off before returning to the facility.

When they finally returned, the claimed they were having an emergency. By the time paramedics arrived it is thought Jonathan was already dead, and had been for some time. The autopsy will reveal when he died. At this time, officers said he was not responsive and was declared dead at the hospital. They also said the reason they cannot declare he died at the scene or in the van is an autopsy or hospital are the only means of determining location and time of death.

A former caretaker of Jonathan has come forward to speak out on behalf of Jonathan and his family. "I was completely shocked. Completely," said Mia Wirth. "The Jonathan I knew was never like that. He loved hugs, he loved to sit next to you and read a book. He was very caring ...
It's not right. That's my only real response really. To hurt a child is not right." She said she can't understand how this whole incident started in the first place. The Carey family is already fighting the state over claims of abuse at their son's last facility in Duchess county. The family is demanding the facility release its records since Jonathan is non-verbal, and Senator Bruno wants to help the Careys.

"The people over there are trained and that they're adequately there for the people in their care because something like this shouldn't happen once," said Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
And Wirth agrees. She says she knows of O.D. Heck and she can't understand what happened.
said Wirth. Wirth says she hadn't seen Jonathan carey in years--but she's still touched by his memory.

Please visit the links I have provided for articles about Jonathan's death.

Jonathan's death is not an isolated incident. Please visit my website and review the number of restraint deaths we have listed on our Restraint Deaths List. Undoubtedly there are more and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but these are the ones we have found to date. We have researched and reported on deaths for several years in hopes that eventually change will come.

One thing we have found to be a common denominator in many of these deaths is the fact that oftentimes staff, who spend most of the time with the children, are hired off the streets and are unqualified to work with disabled, special-needs, or troubled children and teens. They typically receive little to no proper training and are not properly trained in the use of restraints. Yet restraint use is common-place in many facilities and programs for children and teens. This is not limited to state-run programs.

We have seen the same problems in private and state facilities and programs including behavior modification programs, "therapeutic" boarding schools that often do not even have a therapist on site, wilderness programs, boot camps, mental health facilities, and so on.

We have had reports that some staff have been asked to sign Contracts wherein they agree not to disclose things that happen at the facility where they work. These types of contracts are illegal because the law states any person working with children who witnesses child abuse must report it. This is the law in all 50 states. Please visit my "Letter to Staff" which gives detailed information on what is considered abuse, staff's rights and protection, and where complaints can be filed.

It is my feeling this is a growing national problem that needs serious attention. Our child-caring systems across the board need reform. Children are being warehoused for profit in some programs. We have had a great deal of complaints from both former attendees of these programs and their parents. Children claim they were abused and neglected, some were forced to become the abusers. Parents claim they were defrauded and did not get what they paid for.

Though there are undoubtedly good, safe, and therapeutic programs and facilities for children and teens, there is a very dark side to this industry that parents and the public need to be made aware of so that they do not fall into the same trap so many others have in the past and continue to do today.

I am in the process of writing a new article and will post it here once it's done.


Too young to die

February 20, 2007

A 13-year-old boy, autistic and mentally retarded, is dead, raising critical questions about his care

It strains the imagination to think of two parents who ask for relatively so little from a state government that's supposed to monitor the care of children placed in institutionalized homes and schools and instead get as horribly shortchanged as Michael and Lisa Carey.

They already were battling state authorities in a quest for an investigation of what they contend was abusive treatment of their son, Jonathan, at a school for autistic children in Dutchess County in late 2004. Now the Careys are demanding to know what led to their son's death after they moved him to O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna.

The evidence that's available so far is heart wrenching enough to suggest an absence of humanity itself. Jonathan died after being improperly restrained on a shopping trip last week, police said. He was just 13.

The two O.D. Heck staff members who were transporting him have been charged with manslaughter. Police allege they drove around on personal shopping errands for 90 minutes after Jonathan stopped breathing. No attempts were made to revive him, according to the Colonie police, until he arrived back at O.D. Heck on Thursday night.

The anguished words of his parents, blaming the death of their son on a "broken and failing system," sound quite reasonable, even restrained, under the circumstances.

No detail can be spared as the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which oversees O.D. Heck, goes about finding the full, and no doubt ghastly, truth about the needless death of a boy who suffered too much on the best of days. Jonathan's death must be investigated with two purposes above all in mind -- satisfying his grieving parents, and sparing any other family from a similar ordeal.

That also means breaking through what has been a wall of silence for the Careys. Their efforts to find out what Jonathan endured at the Anderson School in Dutchess County have been stymied by a state law requiring such records to be sealed. It's in the ostensible interests of privacy that such laws are on the books. But no child's privacy, especially not an abused child, needs to be protected from his parents. And no one else's privacy should be protected to the point where it blocks parents from knowing how their children are treated in state-supervised facilities.

The state Legislature must move promptly on a bill sponsored by Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, giving parents access to special-needs children's records. More broadly, it must hold the hearings promised by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, examining the operations of state facilities like O.D. Heck.

Listen, again, to the words of an angry but determined father. "We really felt compelled, like a God-given responsibility, to help other children, to get changes and reform to help prevent something like this from happening."

The system that failed Jonathan Carey is indebted to Michael Carey and Lisa Carey and all those parents like them.



CAICA Website