Little help for suicidal child - mum

A Christchurch mother says agencies are "passing the buck" rather than dealing with her self-harming seven-year-old daughter.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said her daughter had witnessed traumatic domestic violence as a toddler.

She had tried to kill herself and regularly hurt herself and others.

The mother said several agencies had been involved over the years, but none had made a long-term commitment.

She had sought help from her doctor and agencies such as Child, Youth and Family (CYF), but people were "passing the buck".

Christchurch Methodist Mission community services manager Donna Ellen said there was huge demand for agencies providing low-cost family services at a time when funding had been cut.

"Most have quite long waiting lists, so the tendency to be able to work with families long term is decreasing," she said.

"There's no new money into the NGO [non-governmental organisations] environment. There's a constant tension with increasing demand, but with lack of funding."

Government funding had not increased and income from philanthropic organisations and councils had dropped during the recession, she said.

There was increased awareness of domestic violence in the community and about 100,000 referrals to CYF every year.

"Children who externalise their internal problems – it's actually a cry for help," Ellen said. "They want someone to notice what's going on and something to happen for them."

In the Christchurch case, the girl, between the ages of one and three, often saw her father beat her mother.

"When he was beating me up, she used to sit and bang her head against the wall," the mother said.

The girl had told counsellors she remembered her father trying to strangle her mother and throwing her against a fence.

When she was five, she tried to strangle herself, leaving bruises around her neck.

"She has told me she wants to kill herself. She says 'I want to die'," her mother said.

The seven-year-old had recently started to wet the bed. She would punch and kick herself, even in her sleep.

"It's been escalating. We have had to put all the knives and scissors and anything sharp up above her head so she can't reach it," the woman said.

Her daughter had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and been through some counselling, but her last assessment at child and family service Whakatata House found she did not have a psychological disorder.

A Whakatata House spokeswoman said the agency was unable to comment on individual patients.

"Whakatata House is a specialist outpatient mental health service providing comprehensive assessments, treatment and management of children up to and including 12 years of age who present with moderate to severe mental health problems and severe emotional or behavioural problems," Dr Harith Swadi said.

"There are also a range of community services available for the assessment and treatment of children with behavioural issues."

The girl's mother said she did not know where else to turn.

"No-one's dealing with it. What happens when she becomes a teenager and still can't deal with all this rage?" she said.

"Everyone goes on about preventing domestic violence, but where's the support afterwards for the kids who are suffering, because she's just going to end up killing herself or being a criminal teen."

Police family safety team supervisor Sergeant Jim Sole said children sometimes felt responsible for family violence and guilt for being unable to protect their mothers.

"The first three years of a child's life are hugely important, and if there's significant trauma, then the effects of that will be felt for a long time to come and can only be addressed with a lot of intensive long-term work," he said.

"It's a huge issue for us because we know being exposed to family violence is the No1 predictor of juvenile delinquency."

The Press