If what news stories are reporting is true about Phil Hartley's statements, then it is evident that Attorney Hartley lacks insight into behavioral disorders in children and how it impacts the teenager, otherwise he wouldn’t make irresponsible statements to the press for nationwide distribution.  Or were his alleged statements reflective of his personal thoughts or that of his client, the Alpine Program? This Georgia case involves the suicide of Jonathan King at the Alpine Program facility in Gainesville, a north Georgia educational school. Jonathon was a 13-year-old boy with behavioral problems that was repeatedly placed in a seclusion room that resembles a prison room. His alleged crime was an indigenous chemical imbalance of which he had no control over. Who, if managed properly, would have survived and benefited from the medical advances in the treatment of behavioral disorders and would have went on to learn to deal with his problems and lead a productive life as an adult.    

Of note, the Alpine Program in Gainesville does not have to re-invent the wheel or look very far with regard to developing policies and procedures for managing behavior, utilizing seclusion methods or the use of restraints. Consulting with health care providers that have clearly defined safety guidelines already in place at every healthcare institution that treats mental illness across the country would be the most expeditious method to get in line with how to treat human-beings with behavioral disorders.

Managing children with behavioral disorders within an institutional setting is very challenging. And there is no excuse and no room for undefined, unregulated institutional policies and procedures with regard to managing behavior in an institution of this nature.  To not have safety guidelines that are strictly enforced with well-trained staff at these institutions constitutes a violation of basic human rights of these minor-children confined within their walls and deprives them of protection from bodily harm and having their basic human needs met.
 Educators are mandated reporters and are required to report when they see or suspect child abuse to authorities. Locking a child in a seclusion room for extended periods of time is child abuse (false imprisonment). If a parent were to do this to a child within a home child protective service agencies would be investigating the matter.  Every educator in that facility was breaking the law when they did not report a colleague's abuse of this Jonathan King. Perhaps these educators were discriminating against this student because he had behavioral problems, and looked the other way when his punishment was excessive and abusive.  The very act of locking this child in a seclusion room was a physical barrier between him and the people that could have helped him. This act prevented him from getting the medical attention he needed for suicide ideation.      

The behavioral problems, and the medical diagnosis of suicide ideation should be managed within the same well-established framework regardless of the institution, whether it is a school or mental health facility. Professionals should be held to the same standards. Is it reasonable on an ethical level for Mr. Hartley to argue that because this case involved educators that the standards for conduct in the care and treatment of Jonathan King are expected to be lower? 

To name a few well-known approaches to managing acute depressive behavior in an individual similar to Jonathan, we give you the following pearls: 

1)  With regard to seclusion - never give the person having an acute episode of aggressive depression a “cord” to hold up his pants, especially when that person has verbalized suicide ideation.  

2) Never assume someone that is verbalizing thoughts of suicide is just saying it for attention.   

3) Always screen for suicide ideation when an individual with depression is acting out and symptomatic.  

4) Document the stepwise approaches that have failed with a description of why they failed and the decision tree to go to the next level of behavior management.  

5) Document every fifteen minutes the individual’s behavior, intervention needed, and how the issues of hydration, nutrition, toileting and avoidance of self-harm were addressed.      

There are many things wrong with was happened to Jonathan King. Proving the alleged reckless, irresponsible behavior of the educators in this case will not be a difficult task. Proving how Jonathan King may be alive today had he been managed by knowledgeable professionals will not be a difficult task either.   

This child has died from the reckless management of his case by an institution. The Keane Law Firm represents children that have been catastrophically injured. Please call us, the child abuse law firm for a timely case evaluation at 888-592-KIDS or 415-398-2777.  You may visit our website at www.keanelaw.com – we will determine the facts of the case and file a claim to hold those responsible to pay for the damages to the family. In a child abuse lawsuit, we will recover for the damages suffered by the family and the victim.    

Christopher Keane
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California Child Abuse and Child Injury Lawyer
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