By: Mikaela Collins
Pat Newman, principal of Hora Hora Primary School, emailed every principal in Northland – about 150 of them – asking them to identify the number of students in their school who are high-needs behaviour, not because they are naughty but because they have been harmed in the past and need psychological help.
Mr Newman said 110 principals, about 100 of whom are primary school principals, responded and together identified 1089 pupils who needed clinical psychological help to recover from often horrific childhood experiences which included abuse of all kinds.
Mr Newman said it upsets him to say but these children would end up in prison if they did not get the help they needed.
Patsy Henderson-Watt, experienced child therapist and director of the Miriam Centre, said the centre worked with 45 schools in Northland and said their six child and family health counsellors had about 30 active cases each.
She was not surprised by the survey results saying she gets “schools ringing all the time”.
“What I know is that if there’s a child in the toilets banging and saying ‘My life’s not worth living’ and they’re 8, you don’t need to wait six months for someone to do a clever assessment. They need action now.”
Ms Henderson-Watt said agencies needed to work together as there were multiple issues contributing to children’s mental health issues.
“I think [agencies] need to be able to work out the agencies that are working, and the services that are really effective, and I’ll tell you who’ll tell you that – the schools, the people on the frontline working with these kids, you just have to ask them. They will tell you what they need.”
Ms Henderson-Watt said if the children did not get the help they needed they would end up hurting and dropping out of the system.
“They end up going on to hurt other people, or they end up being sad and lonely adults who struggle.”
Mr Newman said some of the students identified in the survey were exhibiting behaviours that were putting themselves, their peers, and teachers at risk – including fighting, throwing desks, and stabbing others.
Nick Chamberlain, chief executive of the Northland District Health Board, said the high level of deprivation in the region made for a high number of vulnerable people.
“These issues, along with the number of high-profile traumatic events such as sexual abuse, murders and suicides over the last five years, has had a flow on effect on children’s wellbeing, physically and emotionally.”
He said the DHB provides secondary care mental health services which included dual diagnoses and drug and alcohol assessments, treatment, support, counselling and care co-ordination.
John Crawshaw, Ministry of Health director of mental health, said the ministry and DHBs were working hard to ensure that New Zealand’s mental health services met its growing population.
Mr Crawshaw said the Government’s $100 million social investment fund for mental health includes a package directed at schools which would pilot frontline mental health provision in schools and improve learning environments and build resilience.
Susan Howan, acting head of Ministry of Education Sector Enablement and Support, said Ministry funding in Northland for teacher aides dealing with behavioural issues was up on last year.
She said there are nearly 40 specialist staff in Tai Tokerau dealing with children with additional needs including psychologists and experts in children’s behaviour.
“We appreciate that Northland schools do face challenging issues with children with behavioural needs.”
Source: Northern Advocate