Restraints still used after girl's death
Treatment of mentally ill children denounced
The Journal Sentinel
The state has failed to correct procedures that led to the death of a 7-year-old Milwaukee girl at a Rice Lake treatment facility two years ago, leaving hundreds of other Wisconsin children in similar care vulnerable, a new report finds.Angellika Arndt
, known as Angie, died May 26, 2006, from asphyxiation a day after she was wrestled to the ground and held face first on the ground in a chokehold for over an hour by caregivers at Rice Lake Day Treatment Center. She was in Milwaukee County's foster care system at the time.
The facility since has been closed. But 11 similar facilities remain around the state, said Kristin Kerschensteiner, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, an advocacy group mandated by federal law to protect and advocate for individuals with disabilities in Wisconsin.
In its report, Disability Rights is calling for the state to eliminate or significantly reduce the use of restraints in programs that serve children with mental health needs.
"The Department of Health Services' response has been neither sufficient nor timely, nor with enough sense of urgency or importance to adequately safeguard against this type of death happening again to another Wisconsin child," the report says.
Investigators said they believe "policies and conditions remain sufficiently unchanged so as to allow such lethal restraint practices to continue in this state, thus making it potentially only a matter of time until there is another tragedy."
The report comes as Milwaukee County's foster care system is under intense scrutiny after the death ofChristopher L. Thomas Jr
., 13 months old, who, authorities say, was beaten to death by his aunt while in foster care.
Tougher laws sought
Kerschensteiner said Monday that she is hoping publicity about the report will inspire state legislators to draft laws to prohibit restraints on children and to provide incentive for state mental health care administrators to act.
"We've been working on this for more than two years now and nothing is happening," Kerschensteiner said. "Things get chewed up in this grinding bureaucracy and are never seen again."
Karen Timberlake, secretary of the state's Department of Health Services, declined to be interviewed. But she released a statement, noting that the state took "very strong actions against the facility, which ultimately closed its doors."
"The department will continue to work with our partners to issue additional guidance on the dangers of the use of seclusion and restraint," Timberlake said.
Investigators for the disability rights group reviewed the Hennepin County, Minn., medical examiner's autopsy report, Angie's school and treatment facility reports and other police and court records surrounding her death.
Angie was taken from her parents by the time she was 3, after suffering significant neglect and physical and sexual abuse. She was placed in Milwaukee County's foster care system and was placed in several homes around the state.
She had significant psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, reactive attachment disorder, bipolar childhood disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and oppositional/defiant disorder.
Angie took five or six psychiatric medications daily and received mental health treatment and special education.
She was living with a foster family in Ladysmith but attending the Rice Lake day treatment center. The day before she died, she was agitated and would not settle down.
Eventually, she was wrestled to the ground face first, and three staff members held her arms and legs immobile for over an hour. They thought she had fallen asleep.
But when they rolled her over, they discovered that her lips were blue.
She was rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of Children's Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis and put on life support. She was pronounced dead the following day.
Criminal negligence charges were brought against staff member Brad Rideout,who had restrained Angie, and against the day treatment center. Both the staff member and center pleaded no contest to the charges.
Barron County Circuit Judge Edward Brunner imposed the maximum fine of $100,000 against Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinics,which operated the treatment center, for one felony count of negligent abuse of a resident. Rideoutwas sentenced to 60 days in jail and one year probation for the misdemeanor negligence charge.
The report notes that during sentencing, the judge remarked that "there were a lot of other people who made decisions that led up to her death."