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Other Articles & Reports

Coroner's Report on the death of the Kahui Twins

2nd July 2012 written by Coroner Garry Evans read full report here

This report details the full findings of the death of the Kahui Twins  (Chris and Cru) who died on the 18th June 2006 resulting in an outcry of the New Zealand public. 

What Clients Would Prefer Not to Tell You About: a New Zealand Practice Experience With Marginalised Families

by Libby Robins and Dr Annabel Taylor,
published in Te Awatea Review, Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2, December 2009, page 17.

This paper reports a project designed to retrospectively re-visit baseline data collection by the agency social workers to establish whether information that had been gathered during the intake and assessment process was accurate at the time.

28 mothers from the original outcome study who were still engaged with the service were re-interviewed by their social workers more than two years after their baseline interview on 16 questions taken from the interview to explore their recollection of their responses at that time. Results showed that a significant proportion of the mothers had provided inconsistent information at baseline in nine of the 16 questions (p = < 0.001; p = < .05).

Mothers were more likely not to disclose information on intimate partner violence and psychological abuse at baseline and possibly after establishment of the social worker/client relationship. Among the implications for agency practice are that information collection methods, will need to be reviewed to create optimum conditions for disclosure of sensitive information.

Continued assessment and support for clients will be necessary to encourage disclosure. Social workers will need to rely on their professional judgement and knowledge of the aetiology of domestic violence whilst using assessment tools as indicative only to assess the presence of IPV. Finally, that there is a need for evaluation research design to incorporate ongoing review of baseline data.

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Circuit-breakers - to make a difference in New Zealand
"A Parenthood Apprenticeship Programme" and changes in prisoners.

October 2009

by Dr Robyn Hewland. QSM, MB, ChB, DPM, FRC Psych, FRANZCP, MNZAP, Member RANZCP Faculty of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Does our society want healthy citizens? Does it want to reduce the numbers who are negative, aggressive, do not cope with employment, abuse alcohol or drugs, abuse others, and add to our prison numbers? Do we value all children, or just our own? Do we value "good enough" parenting? Do we "care enough"?

Do we understand threats to us all from poor parenting? Do we leave it to "survival of the fittest", as do other animals?

  • "Society gets the children, and adults, it deserves".
  • "We all do the best we know how at the time".
  • "The sins of one generation are passed onto the next". (Sins could be renamed as inadequacy and dysfunction.)
  • "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." - Martin Luther King Jr.

As a doctor and therapist, I consider the four 'P's' for understanding our bodies and minds, and why and how to change.

  1. Predisposing: Genetic (illness, personality traits), brain injury, early traumas (physical, psychological abuse).
  2. Precipitating (triggers): Trauma, stress, overwhelming anxiety, loss (of parent, partner, job, health, finance), hopelessness.
  3. Perpetuating (triggers continued): Illness, stress, abuse, hopelessness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, poor self-control.
  4. Protective: Positive supportive relationships, hope, new knowledge, therapy, new coping skills, resilience, faith, medication.

Some people have genetic or early trauma structural brain and/or neurochemical vulnerabilities - to being unable to respond to punishment, to poor anger management, to alcohol dependence, to personality disorders, and to mental disorders.

Some have environmental triggers, and some have both genetic vulnerabilities and triggers (the Dunedin cohort study). They can be diagnosed before school age, and with early intervention, support and treatment, can reduce conduct disorders.

Only then could they have a more appropriate positive childhood development, health, education and wellbeing. Only then could they become more positive citizens, and avoid costly welfare dependence, threats, and prisons.

Do we want to reduce our prison numbers (and taxes for prisons), or build more, so that we can feel revenge and superiority?

Our prisons are overflowing with persons who have low literacy skills, poor impulse control, alcohol and drug problems, mental health and personality problems, as well as those with post traumatic stress disorder and brain changes from early trauma and abuse. They are most often from dysfunctional families and have experienced inadequate, neglectful or abusive parenting.

Research in Britain (brain neuro-imaging, genetics, community mental health surveys, treatment programmes) now refers to another type of disability - "emotional disability" - which needs and can respond to specific rehabilitation.

Why do we continue with "more of the same" - prisoners leaving with no life skills and no new knowledge, only to return. Our prisons repeat and reinforce their inmate's negative early and life experiences and defensive reactions.

Relationships remain defensive, with no hope or motivation to change and no teaching of life skills. They continue to lack treatment for alcohol and drug problems and post traumatic stress responses from childhood traumas.

Inmates are labelled as "bad, if not mad", but many are "sad", from non-psychotic anxiety and depression episodes.

During the 17 years of my experience with such inmates, seeing suicidal prisoners as weekly new referrals, none tried suicide (except when I was on holiday).

Personality disorders research indicates that many have underlying brain neurological connection problems too. The computer-like part of our brains behaves like computers - what comes out is what was put in by the programmers.

Therapists, and some prison staff, can develop positive individual relationships and then motivate participation for change. They can assist an individual to look at what is on their "computer screen", understand why, and teach how to "edit" their feelings and thoughts to make positive behavioural changes. Only then would costly imprisonment benefit all of us later.

When I was a Visiting Prison Psychiatrist (1977-92, Christchurch) I treated some and saw many make positive lasting changes. I told all that I would not accept excuses, but we could look at explanations, and how to make changes to help them and all.

Many kept my Transactional Analysis diagrams, which explained their past, present, and hope for changes to their future. Prison staff started asking for my diagrams, as they said the prisoners "grew up" after seeing me. A few prison officers facilitated changes by their support, hope and information that prisoners had lacked from their fathers.

Before anyone can listen, at home, at school, in treatment programmes, in prison, or as you read this, we need to feel "OK enough" to bother, to feel accepted and supported by those important to us, and to have hope for any changes we attempt.

In the 1980s, after negotiations with many, I started group therapy on Paparua Prison's Protection Wing for sexual offenders. That led to over 50 signing (voluntarily) my letter requesting the establishment of a separate Unit for treatment of Sexual Offenders. Many of those had no convictions for sex offences, but admitted to some, without understanding why, and were scared of more. After many months of networking with all stakeholders, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, then Minister of Justice, met with us. He agreed to establish a treatment unit in the wing being built at Rolleston Prison, later called "Kia Marama".

I said then that prisons could reduce their return rates by establishing more specialist units for circuit-breaking. Alcohol is associated with about one third of all crimes, and about two thirds of prisoners have such problems. In prison, hopefully abstinent from both for over two months, they could then concentrate and respond to treatment.

At the Queen Mary Hospital programme, Dr Robert Crawford noted that time is needed off substances to be able to concentrate, and to develop positive relationships, hope and enough self-esteem before they could tackle their past "baggage" triggers.

In a survey in 1970s, about 70% of females in Welfare Homes, and female prisoners, admitted to being sexually abused. Many start on cannabis or alcohol to "drown" their post-traumatic trauma symptoms ("on edge", defensiveness, depression). A very small percentage of sexual abuse cases (about one third of females) result in charges and convictions of offenders. I heard in Queensland that special PTSD joint therapy groups, with males from the Vietnam war and abused females, helped both. According to research overseas, Personality Disorder Units can teach new coping skills to some dysfunctional residents.

In the Youth Detention Centre in 1970s, a local voluntary parent's group took their babies to talk and show about parenting. The young prisoners responded positively and said they did not want their kids to follow them into crime.

As they enjoyed those visits, that circuit-breaking was stopped by people who said prison was not to be enjoyed. Many of those I saw said that becoming a father was their motivation to learn how to avoid reimprisonment.

I supported the initiative by Libby Robins of Family Help Trust to provide a programme for the children of prisoners. The pilot project was funded by the then Minister of Social welfare, Jenny Shipley, who met with us. It provided supportive people who developed trusting relationships first, and then provided counselling and guidance to the whole family - to the prisoner chosen by staff, due for release after six months, to the mother at home, and to the children. It followed up all for at least six months after the father's release from prison. It saved children going into State care, marital separations, domestic violence and re-imprisonment.

Family Help Trust continues excellent early intervention with dysfunctional distressed families, with research showing circuit-breaking positive outcomes.

Do we value all children in our society, or only our own? Ours will remain at risk from those with dysfunctional childhoods. Are our children our possessions to control, with no outside interference, no help, and no accountability? Are our children our gifts and our responsibility to develop into healthy law abiding and contributing citizens?

Apparently in New Zealand, about half of pregnancies were unplanned, including by those with poor impulse control, and often after alcohol and/or substance abuse. Only some will become loved and positive citizens.

How could we enable dysfunctional parents to learn how to rear healthy children who will not threaten our security later?

My grandfather, a successful farmer, found a sheep in an irrigation stream, so we went upstream to stop more falling in. He quickly removed new weeds in his land, but he said his neighbour left his weeds to grow and blow over the fence between.

I followed too many disturbed children and youth from youth institutions to prison, and later I saw their children. In the 1970s, when there were apprenticeships for most trades, I spoke about the need for similar learning for parenting. I suggested an apprenticeship hourly "wage" for attending at least one local accredited parenting course, eg half-day/week.

The parent would take their child and with a tutor/mentor (paid) develop a non-judgemental supportive relationship. There could be a parent's group there too, and they could develop peer supportive friendships. All would be voluntary. Education could include teaching about relationships, alcohol, drugs, early illness, and parenting for resilience and employment.

When seeing outpatients at The City Mission, I met parents who felt too inferior to ask for help, but who might ask for money. Other mothers often continue their new friendships, such as from Plunket, Karitane, Church groups, Barnardos, on a marae, etc.

I was Consultant with Department of Social Welfare's Matuaa Whangai programme, with the late Jo Karetai, Chief of Ngai Tahu. We wrote a joint paper for a conference about the result of lost parenting supports when young Maori parents moved to cities.

Professor Fraser Mustard, in Canada, has written that his own research, and that of others worldwide, has shown the sustained benefits of a parent and child attending local centres and courses for half a day a week, from aged before a year or as soon as possible. He noted that a Vice-President of the World Bank said that it was economically worthwhile.

Now, instead of increasing benefits to parents, I recommend payment for voluntary attendance to at least one parenting course. This would also recognise the value of parenting to all in society, and could employ our wise and supportive elders. But this would require the support of community agencies, and of workers who can first develop a positive trusting supportive relationship with shy or defensive parents, as few of us can listen or concentrate while we feel uncomfortable.

Why have we not provided these circuit-breakers many years ago? They make sense. They can work! We could make a difference, and make it happen "the Aotearoa New Zealand way".

Perhaps its time has finally arrived? If not, why not? Who is going to decide to provide these circuit-breakers?


"Breaking the Cycle"

by FHT volunteer David Armstrong,
published in The Press, 1 November 2005, page A11

Family Help Trust Volunteer David Armstrong wrote a feature article that appeared on the Perspective page of The Press, providing a layman's view of what it means to intervene as early as possible in the care of children in the highest-risk environments, and explaining why he got involved in helping the organisation.

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