14 Jan 2017

Autistic teen put in police cell as agencies refuse care

6:17 am on 14 January 2017

An autistic 14-year-old boy has had to spend a night in police cells this week and has been in and out of court with no agencies willing to take him into their care.

The campaign wants state care to be available to young people until they are 21-years-old.

The autistic boy has been in court this week after being arrested and taken into police custody following a domestic incident (file photo). Photo: 123RF

He will spend the weekend in an unstaffed, IHC-provided house with only one bed and no fridge and his father will provide care because the family has no other support.

The boy was arrested and taken into police custody earlier this week following a domestic incident.

He appeared in court several times in just a few days as judges, agencies and lawyers wrangled over where he should stay.

The boy's mother spoke to RNZ and said she and her husband were exhausted after trying desperately to find a solution for their son.

"This shouldn't happen and we've been asking for help for so long.

"Even through a court nothing can happen, and these services, he doesn't fit [their] criteria."

She was frustrated at the lack of help.

"It's just too common with these kids and there's gotta be someone out there.

"No one's qualified I keep getting told, but, I mean we're not either."

She said her son was stood down by his school last year, and subsequently spent time at the Rangatahi (youth) mental health unit in Porirua that now says it does not want him.

An advocate helping the family, Wendy Duff, said it had been a stressful and tumultuous week for the boy.

"He has been moved over the last three days, which is something that is so appalling.

"He should not have been in a police cell, he's then been in a CYFs home with guards standing either side of him.

"He's now been taken out to a strange environment to be left with his father because it's the only person who can care for him over the weekend."

Mrs Duff, who is a board member with Autism New Zealand, said the boy needed round-the-clock professional care.

A residence was being sought, but it should not have taken this long, Mrs Duff said.

"He's been in court I think a number of four times.

"He'll be back in court again Monday morning, it's unknown where he goes to from there.

"I believe there's a panic on to try and get a provider to set up a residential house for him, but they have this problem of trying to find staff."

There were many families throughout New Zealand in a similar situation, and there was a lack of support services for them, she said.

"We have a huge shortage of any type of residential housing for these young people when they go into crises.

"It's happening around the country and there's families just bubbling away at the moment where they're going to come to a tipping point where the same thing's going to happen.

Mrs Duff said many young autistic people were being rejected by mental health units because they often ended up staying there with nowhere else to go, as there were no other suitable options.

In a statement the Ministry of Health said it had been doing its best to help the family.

"The Ministry has been working with other agencies to find an urgent solution and will continue to do so until a long term solution can be found," it said.

"The family's advocate has been in touch with the Ministry and we have responded to her concerns."