Autistic teen kept in prison for days after health service 'failures'

Judge Gerard Lynch told the Palmerston North District Court the treatment of an autistic teen, who has been in prison ...

Judge Gerard Lynch told the Palmerston North District Court the treatment of an autistic teen, who has been in prison for nearly a week, was "outrageous".

A severely autistic teen spent nearly a week locked up in jail because there was nowhere else for him to go.

He may have been there even longer if not for a concerned judge, who labelled the situation "outrageous".

The teen's mum says she has now lost confidence in the health system and disability services, while the service that was caring for him says it couldn't take on another "complex case".

The 18-year-old, who has name suppression, had been in custody at Whanganui Prison since Sunday, charged with assault after allegedly lashing out at his mother.

Since then, community and justice liaison nurse Grahame Stillwell had tried in vain to find a better place for the teen to live.

Stillwell told the Palmerston North District Court he emailed  Idea Services, Enable New Zealand and mental health professionals on Tuesday morning in an attempt to find the teen somewhere to go.

Not one email was replied to, Stillwell said.

"It's just crazy."

Judge Gerard Lynch agreed, saying the situation was "outrageous".

"We are holding a young man in jail because services aren't stepping up to the plate.

Ad Feedback

"I can't keep this boy in jail, but I want him to go somewhere."

By afternoon, Stillwell said a facility run by NZ Care in Levin would be able to take the teen. Police then withdrew the charge.

The judge said the matter had been an "utter frustration" for everyone involved.

"This has been a blunt tool to achieve what should have been achieved by [the organisations tasked with caring for the boy] much earlier than now."

When the teen's mother called police on Sunday, she thought it was the only way to get him help after support services were taken away, she said outside court.

Diagnosed with autism at a young age, and later identified as having other intellectual disabilities, the teen always had moments of violence.

He attended an after-school programme three times a week, a school holiday programme three times a week from 9am to 3pm, and stayed in respite care once a fortnight – all arranged by Idea Services.

But all of that was changed two months before Sunday, his mother said.

Now, respite care is once a month, school holiday programmes three times a week for two hours each day. After-school care was dropped completely.

"They just made the decision without me," his mum said.

All this while his behaviour was getting harder to control at home.

"I'm saying, 'more, more, more [support]' and they are saying, 'less, less, less'."

She knows Idea Services, who have dealt with him for the past five years, has respite care available on Sunday nights, and wants to know why it could not take him.

She was also mystified at the hospital crisis team being unable to assess him, as they had been able to do assessments on previous occasions.

"They have let us down.

"I have no confidence in them, even if they step up and help now."

An Idea Services spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on the teen's case specifically, but said it had no spare capacity to take on "a complex case" in Manawatu.

The co-ordinator of the needs assessment service was aware of the situation.

A MidCentral spokesman said it was aware of the teen's needs, but he did not need to be placed in a mental health facility.


* An autism spectrum disorder is a life-long developmental disability affecting social and communication skills. People with the disability may also have learning disabilities.

* The exact cause or causes are unknown, but genetics is believed to play a part.

* About 40,00 New Zealanders have some kind of autism spectrum disorder.

* Features of the disorder can vary widely from one person to another, but common symptoms are difficulties with social relationships and verbal and non-verbal communication.

* Conversely, people with autism may also display extreme talent in specific areas like music or mathematics, or have a remarkable memory for things that interest them.

Source: Autism NZ

* An earlier version of this article said Grahame Stillwell emailed MidCentral DHB about the autistic teen. Stillwell later informed Stuff that he mistakenly included the DHB in the list of organisations contacted, and that it was neither emailed nor expected to provide care for the teen.

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers

Author finds her voice

Helen Tau'au Filisi is holding an art exhibition and releasing a new children's book as part of Samoan language week.

A passionate writer and artist, it took some years before Helen Tau'au Filisi first published a book, now she's releasing her fifth children's book.

Warbirds commemorates D-Day

The New Zealand Warbirds Association is gearing up for its Warbirds Open Day at Ardmore Airport.

High performance aircrafts are on show for Ardmore's Warbirds Open Day.

Hall throws into champs reckoning

Southland discus thrower Marshall Hall.

Southland discus thrower Marshall Hall has recorded the second best distance in New Zealand history.

Pedestrian in serious condition

Traffic has been redirected into Hauraki side streets after a pedestrian was hit by a car on the corner of Lake Rd and ...

A man has been taken to hospital in a serious condition after being hit by a car on Auckland's North Shore.


Election 'delaying Basin plans'

Wellingtonians have been waiting years for a solution to the rush hour traffic that clogs up the Basin Reserve ...

Councillor claims Government is playing politics with Wellington's transport system.

Manc Aid in capital video

Rob Whelan is teaming up with Red Cross to help get the funds to England.

Wellington musicians to raise money for those affected by Manchester bombing.

Heritage building owner ignored

An artist's impression of the proposed apartment and hotel complex - Lambton on Waititi - seen from the bus terminal in ...

Council approved 10-storey hotel and apartment complex without notifying the owner of the heritage residence next door.

Fraudster doctored CV

Fraudster Joanne Harrison's travel expenses have been made public, as have her CVs.

Leave town and change your name: More detail of Joanne Harrison's $725k fraud emerges.


House burns down

Firefighters extinguishing the blaze.

A man escaped unharmed before his rural house became engulfed in flames.

Funding freeze

St Asaph St is set to be altered again to reinstate car parks.

Ex-rebuild minister suspended Accessible City funding amid discontent over controversial roadworks.

Man's mysterious disappearance

Michael Craig McGrath went missing on Sunday, May 21.

Michael McGrath kept below the radar until he went missing about a week ago.

Waves were 'over our heads'

Fishing boat Kutere beached at Cobden, near Greymouth, on May 29.

Fisherman was asleep in a berth as the boat went across the bar with no-one at the helm.


Giant climb for her father

Emily Webb is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in September so has upped her training at Fastlane Fitness.

Emily Webb will be crying happy tears when she conquers Mount Kilimanjaro.

War on myrtle rust video

Pohutukawa trees are one species potentially affected by myrtle rust.

DOC staff so worried about a catastrophic myrtle rust outbreak, they're flying to remote areas to collect seeds.

Cricketer strangles pregnant partner

Northern Districts and Auckland representative cricketer Cody Andrews was sentenced in Hamilton District Court on Monday.

Judge says cricketer's heavily pregnant partner "must have been terrified".

Maternity service shake-up

Waikato DHB community and clinical support executive director Mark Spittal.

Maternity services in South Waikato and King Country are earmarked for an overhaul.


Library goes all in on 3D video

Nanette Cook, HaweraPlus library officer, with two black unicorns printed on the library's new 3D printer.

Books are old school. Now a library ain't nothing till it's got a 3D printer.

Psychic versus skeptic

Sensing Murder psychic Sue Nicholson in action.

He's as skeptical as they come so why did this cop sign up for Sensing Murder? One psychic wants to know.

Road threat to kokako being managed

Volunteers carry the kokako into the Pirininihi Forest after an eighteen-year absence.

At risk kokako have returned to Taranaki after a twelve year absence.

A safe $20,000

The Stratford TSB Pool Complex 's budget took a tumble with the $20,000 of unplanned upgrades.

It doesn't matter there's never been an accident, incident or near-miss, it still needs $20,000 of safety upgrades.


Bugler bound for Belgium

Tim Cook is a real estate agent with Harcourts in Palmerston North. He is one of three army buglers bound for Belgium to ...

Playing the Last Post isn't an easy job, but someone has to do it.

Unexplained death

Palmerston North Hospital management is accused of not being upfront about an unexplained death on its grounds.

"This man was in their arms looking for support and he ended up dead."

Robber's 'slasher-like' weapon

Footage from the robbery of a Liquorland store in Palmerston North.

Police release CCTV showing the thieves, who hit a shop attendant with the tool in a Palmerson North robbery.

Right first time is ultimately simpler

This is just the start of temporary works in the Manawatu River at the Ashhurst Domain to divert the flow from slamming ...

OPINION: The meeting that ran upside down, or around in a circle.


Waimea dam plan 'head and shoulders' above other options

John Hutton says he believes the proposed dam is the best water augmentation option he has seen.

The proposed dam ticks all the boxes at a relatively good cost, says interim project director John Hutton.

'Sparkling light' killed

Police divert traffic on the Coastal Highway after a fatal car crash.

A young woman described as a "bright sparkling light" was killed in a crash on the Coastal Highway.

School's race against time

Josephine, left, Maia and Stu Rankin read the adventure race map with friend Carol Hufflett, during Nelson Central ...

The Central Challenge had families and groups searching high and low for clues in a fundraising event.

Cheapskates owners roll on

Chris Kirby of Cheapskates is handing over the reins of his Nelson streetwear store he has run for the last 20 years.

New owners, new location, but a Nelson retailer says the time is right to roll out the door.


Teen charged after fatal crash

A roadside memorial to Blenheim teenager Lara Glover near Spring Creek, north of Blenheim.

Sixteen-year-old Lara Glover died in a car that was carrying eight teens when it crashed.

Like father, like son

Rob Horsenail with son Charlie, 3, wearing a uniform made out of one of his dad's old, sooty outfits from the front line.

Dressed in dad's dirty uniform, Charlie already knows what he wants to be.

Start spreading the news video

Jodie and Jonny Keen are the owners of Marlborough's newest food truck, JJ's.

Blenheim beats little town blues by taking bite out of Big Apple's cafe culture, with more food outlets per capita.

'The scape goats'

Workers Accommodation Marlborough owner Mandy Matthews in one of the residential properties she manages in Blenheim.

Property manager says RSE workers live in four or five-bedroom houses, while MSD is looking for one-bedroom houses.

South Canterbury

Seeking right woman for the job

The rights say one actor must be white, one must be black and the third must be Asian

Timaru show could be abandoned unless actor found for very specific role.

Protection help sought

Urban designer Nigel Gilkison made a submission on behalf of the Timaru Civic Trust. The trust bought the 1871 Landing ...

"The onus is put on the owners... essentially they get no compensation for having to do that."

Dollar-a-stay plan for Mackenzie

Tourists at Lake Pukaki, Aoraki (Mount Cook) near Twizel.

New scheme to encourage visitors to donate to Mackenzie fund.

Timaru killer re-jailed

Leif Wulff died from stab wounds on the beach at Timaru's Caroline Bay, pictured, in 1991. (FILE PHOTO)

Caroline Bay killer Robin Pitney re-jailed for cutting off electronic bracelet.


Stage two of cycle trail opened

Three members of the Southland Community Trust were some of the first to experience the new section after the opening of ...

The newest section of the Te Anau to Manapouri cycle trail is open for use, with people of all ages welcomed out for a spin.

Steel break record 

The Southern Steel squad after their victory over the Northern Stars.

Southern Steel have broken a franchise record with their 82-58 win over the Northern Stars.

Passion for singing video

Max McCauley has entertained many thousands of country music fans.

Country music singing has taken Max McCauley all over the New Zealand.

Te Anau fights for maternity centre

A large crowd of supporters turned out in Te Anau on Saturday afternoon to march.

The Te Anau community bands together to fight for better rural maternity funding.

Ad Feedback