Mum's despair: Nowhere to go for 'out of control' Christchurch teen

Noeline Husband and Darryll Husband have battled to get help for her troubled son.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Noeline Husband and Darryll Husband have battled to get help for her troubled son.

Sam* is only 14, but in the last six months he has run away from home 20 times, used drugs and alcohol and burgled a property.

His mother, Noeline Husband, says he is "out of control" and needs urgent help.

She fears he could be the next Liam Burrowes, who became New Zealand's youngest prisoner in April when he was jailed at age 16 for robbing a dairy armed with an axe. 

Noeline and Darryll Husband prepare a protein shake to help Noeline's 14-year-old son regain weight.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Noeline and Darryll Husband prepare a protein shake to help Noeline's 14-year-old son regain weight.

Husband's call for help comes after a judge last month criticised Canterbury's inadequate resourcing for drug and alcohol assessments.

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Sam's family have battled since Christmas to have him committed to a rehabilitation or mental health facility, without success. After six months "living on drugs and alcohol", he was pale, "grossly underweight" and had expressed suicidal thoughts.

Husband sought help for her son from police, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children (formerly Child, Youth and Family) and the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), but was referred from one service to another with no secure unit for her son to go to.

"I feel that Sam has to either commit a really bad crime or attempt to kill himself to get proper help. I live in that fear every day."

She tried to commit him under the Mental Health Act after he became violent about three weeks ago, but mental health services would not do so because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

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A week later, Sam was referred to alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility Odyssey House, but became "enraged", "destroyed his room" and ran away the day he was scheduled for a pre-admission assessment.

She had little faith Odyssey House could help him, even if she managed to bring him in, as it was not a locked facility. 

Meanwhile, Sam's mental and physical health was deteriorating quickly. 

"I feel helpless and powerless." 

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish in May said the region had "woeful resources" and, even if people were in custody, assessments took three-and-a-half months.

FROM SPORTY CHILD TO YOUTH CRIMINAL

Sam used to be healthy, play sports and care about his appearance. 

But after starting high school last year, he became unhappy and started drinking at parties.

Things started to unravel last summer school holidays. He would run away to drug houses for days and police seldom brought him home, Husband said.

"The torture that you go through when your son is missing. I don't sleep, I'm worried I'm going to be called to identify him at the morgue or learn he's done a hideous crime."

She said police repeatedly made judgmental comments in times of crisis instead of helping.

"People think they come from bad parents and that's not fair because we've done everything we possibly can to get him help.

AGENCIES RESPOND

CDHB clinical director child adolescent and family specialist mental health services Harith Swadi said the Mental Health Act (MHA) could not be used when addiction was the sole basis for using it.

"If suicidal, someone who is intoxicated can be placed under the MHA for their safety, but that would only apply as long as they are suicidal and cannot be used to enforce alcohol or other drug treatment," he said.

No drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities were locked "as research is very clear that enforced rehabilitation is unsuccessful", he said. 

Locked facilities could be accessed in Canterbury to keep young people safe, including youth justice facilities and care and protection facilities through the Ministry of Social Development. 

Odyssey House director Nigel Loughton​ said staff tried to engage young people so they would not run away.

"Our job is to help them get the motivation to get better."

For some, it was more appropriate to be placed into Te Puna Wai, the South Island youth justice facility. 

The Rolleston facility takes up to 40 teens, aged 14 to 17, who the Youth Court remanded or sentenced. 

It could help the young person settle, find the motivation to get better and realise they could otherwise go to prison, he said.

Ministry for Vulnerable Children Canterbury regional manager Blair McKenzie said the Ministry worked with providers "to put plans in place with the family".

He would not comment on the specifics for privacy reasons, but said the Ministry was confident decisions made in Sam's case were "sound and in the best interests of this young person". 

Inspector Glenn Nalder, from Canterbury youth and victims services, said charging a youth was "always a last resort" because alternatives had better long-term outcomes.

* Not his real name.

 - Stuff

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