Disabled boy held in mental health unit a human rights breach, Children's Commissioner says

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says the case is a good test of the newly-formed Oranga Tamariki.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says the case is a good test of the newly-formed Oranga Tamariki.

A disabled teenager's ongoing placement at a mental health facility is totally unacceptable, the Children's Commissioner says. 

For almost seven weeks, a disabled 15 year-old boy in government care, has been held in a Child, Adolescent and Family unit at Princess Margaret Hospital, while departments try to find a long-term solution.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said human rights lawyers would have a "very strong argument" the boy's treatment breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). 

A 15 year-old boy, with down syndrome, has spent almost seven weeks living at a unit at Princess Margaret Hospital.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A 15 year-old boy, with down syndrome, has spent almost seven weeks living at a unit at Princess Margaret Hospital.

The almost seven weeks he had spent in the facility was beyond "short term".

READ MORE: 
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"This sort of intervention is blatantly unacceptable. 

"We're getting in to a serious concern and arguable convention breach territory," Judge Becroft said. 

On March 6, the teenager, who has Down syndrome and cannot be named for legal reasons, was transferred to the unit after a violent incident at a Christchurch home for people with disabilities. It was the latest in a string of random violent outbursts.

The UNCROC sets out children's rights and governments' responsibilities to fulfil them. It applied to everyone under age 18.

Judge Becroft said it needed to be more widely recognised and upheld in New Zealand. 

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"There is a clear argument here for a lack of application of the convention by Oranga Tamariki."

The Commissioner had received four complaints in fewer than three weeks, which all raised issues with the lack of specialised, professional, expert 24/7 care facilities for high-needs children and young people.

"I don't underestimate the challenge in providing those sorts of care facilities, but we don't have a continuum of care and protection facilities in NZ, especially at the top end. I think that three weeks into the life of Oranga Tamariki, this is exactly the sort of issue [that] will be a real test for the new organisation."

Oranga Tamariki Canterbury regional manager Blair McKenzie said they agreed that the hospital was not an ideal option, but there was no safe alternative for him yet.  

"It's important to recognise he has extraordinarily high needs and the need to ensure any potential caregiver or facility can cope with his health needs."

McKenzie said the boy would remain at the unit while the Ministries of Health, Education and Oranga Tamariki found him a suitable long-term home.

"We are making sure his needs are being met in his current situation. He is kept active, attends school each day and has a dedicated support worker. Realistically this is the only placement option until agencies can find an appropriate placement that meets his very high needs."

Human rights lawyer Sonja Cooper echoed Judge Becroft's comment about the situation breaching the boy's rights. 

"Our teens with complex needs all too often end up in [Oranga Tamariki] residences or psychiatric hospitals when they should be in less restrictive environments."

"This is a real issue - that a first world country has such limited options."

 

 - Stuff

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