Friday, July 29, 2016

Mini-Series: Strategies to PREVENT Elopement #3

No....this mini series isn't about getting the special ed world, we know that elopement is just a fancy word for running away.  This is one of the most challenging behaviors to deal with in a school setting as it is disruptive and can be very dangerous.  As a consultant in a school district, this is one of the most common issues I get called in to help with.  As some of you may already know from reading my blog, I do not like to be put in a position where I have to be re-active on the fly to challenging behavior.  I would rather PREVENT the behavior from occurring in the first place...and then if the behavior still occurs (which it most likely will), I want a specific plan laid out so everyone in my classroom knows what to do.  This mini series of posts will cover identifying function/replacement behavior for elopement, simple to implement prevention strategies, and creating a safety plan.

Even with all of your hard work in identifying the function of the behavior, teaching a replacement behavior, and putting tons of preventative strategies into place,  elopement will most likely still continue to occur for a little while (sorry...old habits are hard to break!).  And when it does happen, everyone in your classroom will feel better if there is a plan in place.  There are 2 parts of an elopement plan that need to be thought is for less dangerous forms of elopement and would include all of the elements of a behavior intervention plan.  And the other is an actual safety plan where you will lay out what to do in emergency situations.

For instance, I had a student who ran out of the classroom several times a day and almost always went straight to one of two pianos in the building. We had 3 adults in the classroom, so one person stayed back with the other kids while the other two went to the pianos.  This student would nicely take our hands and walk back to the classroom with us once we got to him.  So, we had an elopement plan (or behavior intervention plan) focusing mostly on how to interact with him on the walk (i.e. hold his hand-because sometimes he would run back to the piano as we were leaving, avoid talking to him) and what to do when we returned to the room (i.e. walk him straight back to the station he was at and continue working on the task as if nothing had happened).  Then we had a separate safety plan for what to do in case, for some reason, we did not find him at one of the pianos (i.e. call security, search inside/outside building, criteria for when to call parent, police, etc.).

Here are some questions to consider when creating your elopement plan as well as your safety plan.

1) What antecedent interventions do you have in place to PREVENT the behavior from occurring?  
See this post for some ideas! 

2) Who follows the student and who stays in the classroom? 
Is there one adult who works best with the child who should always drop what they are doing and go?  Or is the adult assigned to the student on your schedule responsible for following the student and bringing him back safely?   Who is responsible for the remaining students in the classroom?  If there are any times of day where only 1 adult is in the classroom, you may need to arrange a person responsible to act as a "backup" either to look for the student or stay with your class.

3) What do you need to bring with you when you leave the classroom in order to communicate with other adults?  
If you have walkie talkies, these can be extremely useful when a student is running or missing.  Most of the schools I work in have a limited amount of walkie talkies (which we use) but often we bring cell phones as well so we can text/call each other once the student has been found. If your PA system needs to be utilized as a type of communication in an emergency situation, it is important to respect the student involved and avoid using their name or disability label.  For example, the PA announcement might be “if you have an extra student in your class this period, please call Ms. Deloya at ex. 55555.”  Your school might have code words for missing students as well, which is great.

4)  What adults are to be involved in the situation if it escalates to an emergency?  Are there certain adults who should not be included?
For instance, your security guard or hall monitors may seem like logical people to help, but they may need to remain at their posts for the safety and security of other students in the building.  Check with your administrator as these job roles are very building specific.

5) What materials do you need to bring with you to help get the student back into the classroom?
Do you need a communication book? Choice board? Visuals to aid the student in understanding your verbal directions?  If these materials are needed, I would recommend keeping a spare set handy and available by the door so they are easily and quickly accessible.

6) Are there certain locations you should check first, next, last?  
What is the student's past history of where he tends to go?  Does he always run to his favorite swing on the playground? Does he like to hide in dark quiet places?  Will he most likely never set foot in a bathroom?

7) When you encounter the student, what are the dos/don'ts of interacting with them?
Do you want your staff to read a social story to the student in the hallway?  Do you want the staff to offer a choice of activities for when the student returns to the room?  Do you want the staff to hold them by the hand and walk them back to class without talking to them.  A lot of this becomes very student specific.  The main advice I want to give you in this area is to keep in mind the function of the behavior.  If your student ran to get attention, you may not want staff reading a social story, chatting about what happened, and giving them loads of attention as they walk back to class.  It may be better to instruct staff to quietly hold the students hand without talking and escort them back to the classroom.  Once back in the classroom, they can prompt the replacement behavior you are working on to appropriately gain attention.

8)  Once you get back to the classroom, then what? 
Does the student go back to the work they were completing?  Does the student get a break?   Are they given choices?  Again, keep in mind the function of the behavior.

Disclaimer: For numbers 7/8, I do understand that sometimes in extreme circumstances, even our most perfect plan cannot be followed.  For instance, if a student is standing in the middle of a busy street, we may need to utilize anything under the sun (including giving cookies/candy) to get a student to come back to the classroom in order to keep them from hurting themself.  However, keep in mind that after these type of incidents occur, we should always come together and reflect on our plan and make changes to help prevent the situation from getting that out of control in the future.

The following questions relate mostly to emergency situations and are meant to help aid in developing a safety plan.

9) What is the level of security of the building?
Are there only some doors that are locked/unlocked from the inside where the student would be able to get out of the building?

10)  At what point, if any, does the behavior warrant physical intervention?   Physical restraint should only be used as a last resort for the safety of the student or others.  It is helpful to outline what type of scenarios this should/should not be utilized for staff.  You may want to discuss a physical guidance progression such as the following:
*Once located, the student is asked to walk back to class with staff.
*If the student will not walk with staff, his hand will be held.
*If the student is pulling away from the adult and trying to run into an unsafe space (i.e. street), two staff will use physical guidance to escort the student back to the classroom.
*If the student drops to the floor/ground, staff will stop walking, release the student, but stay in close proximity until the student is ready to stand up and walk back to class.

**This could be detailed many different ways to fit the needs of your student.

When we discuss using a physical intervention, it is also important to keep in mind laws/district rules about restraint.  Are you/your staff trained in physical restraint?  If this is going to be written into your plan anywhere, this may affect who can/cannot work with the student during times of elopement.

11) In case you cannot locate the student, you should have a time sensitive protocol of what actions should take place and what people need to be notified of the events.  I.e. after 5 minutes of no eyes on the student, administration is contacted.  After 10 minutes of no eyes on the student, police and parents are called.  It is best to collaborate with your district or administrator for these types of timelines as they may have some protocols already in place.

I created an editable form that includes a lot of the questions included in this post.

 I also found this great example online from South Bend Community School Corporation.

As much as I love my Fitbit steps, I would prefer NOT to get them from running after students.  Let me know if you have any other tips or examples of plans that worked for you in your classroom.  Email me with pictures or links and I would love to add them to this post!


  1. This has been so helpful! I have had several students in the past that have run out of my classroom and even the building to avoid work or for attention. I agree that when a student is in the street or running toward danger, that we have to use any means possible to get them to stop and come back! I'm also trained to physically restrain students, but only as a last resort. In the past, I've positioned my paras or my own work center by the door and have had code words when a student is starting to walk over by the door! Thank you for sharing the form, it will really help this year!

    Teaching Special Kids

    1. Great advice! Positioning paras near the door is such a key preventative strategy! Thanks for sharing.