Restraining children in Saskatchewan schools is a topic of concern for Lisa Broda, the province's advocate for children and youth.
Her office released the advocate's 2021 annual report on Wednesday, saying it received concerns last spring about physical restraints being used on children with intensive needs in schools.
"No child should be subject to a restraint – if at all possible, never," Broda said in an interview with CBC News. "Not having provincial guidelines around restraints — and at what point is a restraint used — is very troubling to me."
Six provinces across Canada have established provincial guidelines over the past seven years for the use of restraints in their education sector, but Saskatchewan has not, according to the annual report.
Concerns across Canada
Broda is not the only advocate for children and youth in the country worried about restraints in schools.
The annual report says concerns have come up across Canada regarding the misuse of restraints for kids with intensive needs, and the increased practice of restraining children for disorderly rather than dangerous behaviours.
In British Columbia, for example, Inclusion BC and the Family Support Institute of BC published a survey in 2013, completed by about 200 parents or legal guardians across the province.
Sixty-five participants said their children had been restrained, and 100 said their children had been secluded in school. More than three quarters of the restrained kids experienced emotional trauma.
Advocate and ministry want to work together
Provincial guidelines for the use of restraints can help to establish protocol, training, and documentation requirements, the advocate's report says.
The document criticizes Saskatchewan's lack of guidelines as well as the inconsistencies of procedures across the province, which may not provide enough support for kids with intensive needs.
"We want to better understand what education has been doing around that, and understand why there's inconsistencies," Broda said.
"Certainly, if restraints are going to be used in the school system, there needs to be some consistent measures used, and that should be backed up by research and evidence."
Education Minister Dustin Duncan says he is aware that a number of provinces have moved toward provincial guidelines when it comes to the use of restraints in schools.
He says his ministry plans to follow-up with the office of the Saskatchewan advocate for children and youth about the issue, and to look at potential provincial guidelines.
"It'd be our expectation and understanding that every school division would have their own set of guidelines," Duncan said, "but I think it does raise a question for us of whether or not there needs to be more provincial oversight."
Working together is also an approach the office of the advocate for children and youth is interested in.
It has corresponded with the Ministry of Education about the issue, according to the annual report, and Broda plans to continue the dialogue.
Future endeavours of her office include completing reviews and making recommendations with respect to physical restraint policies and practices in schools, the annual report says.