Magazine article Policy & Practice

Client Safety: What Does "Line of Sight" Mean?

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Client Safety: What Does "Line of Sight" Mean?

Article excerpt

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When caring for vulnerable clients, adult supervision is a must. Indeed, some situations demand that clients be kept directly in a "line of sight," and regulations and training manuals frequently use this phrase. For instance, New Jersey's Department of Children and Families, Division of Children Protection and Permanency, describes a program called Intensive Residential Treatment Services as "a highly structured non-hospital based treatment setting that brings comprehensive and specialized diagnostic and treatment services to youth and their families. The youth approved for these programs require exceptional care on a 24/7 basis in a safe environment with continuous line of sight supervision, medication management, and a concentrated individualized treatment protocol." (1) In the criminal context, courts have found that a police officer's "use of deadly force to be reasonable when a suspect moves out of the officer's line of sight such that the officer could reasonably believe the suspect was reaching for a weapon." (2)

In the context of caring for vulnerable clients, what exactly does line of sight mean? Does line of sight mean a staff person must be looking at the client all the time, or does it mean a client is simply able to be seen by a staff person? The difference is not just semantic. The first requires that the client always be in the vision of a staff person. The second connotes that a staff person has an unobstructed view of the client, the client can be observed even in just the staff person's peripheral vision, but the staff person is not necessarily constantly looking directly at the client. Thus, activities may be conducted in rooms with unobstructed glass windows or with the door to the room remaining completely open. In an outdoor setting, activities are conducted within the general vision of a staff member.

Rather than pronouncing one definition correct and the other incorrect, it is more accurate to conclude that there is a range of definitions, including the idea that a staff person must always have a general--passive--line of sight, but must also have direct--active--visual contact with a client at designated frequencies.

When I was an attorney for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, the department that operates Ohio's juvenile prisons, we developed a clear policy for suicidal youth: When a child was a known, recently active, suicide risk, he was placed in a cell adjacent to a correction officer's post, and, for a specified period of time, a corrections officer always watched that child. …

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