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New Approach To Treatment For At-Risk Young People

22 January 2001

A new specialist treatment service for young people with severe behavioural and/or mental health issues has been launched by the Richmond Fellowship, a national provider of community-based recovery services.

The new Specialist Youth Service aims to support some of New Zealand’s most troubled and at-risk young people to find a pathway towards functioning successfully in society. All have complex and multiple disorders such as mental illness, emotional and behavioural disorders, alcohol and drug addictions and a history of juvenile offending. Many have exhausted the support available from primary caregivers and have responded poorly to existing services.

Fellowship Chief Executive, Dr Gerry Walmisley, says the first component of a national network of Specialist Youth Services is expected to be fully operational, in Christchurch, in February. Others will be established throughout the coming year in Auckland, Hamilton Hawkes Bay, Wellington and Dunedin and up to two other provincial locations still to be confirmed.

The service will be funded through the Fellowship’s existing contracts with the Ministry of Health and the Child Youth and Family Service. Dr Walmisley says the key to the development of the service is the willingness of both agencies to explore new and innovative ways to integrate health and social services. Both funders say they expect specific improvements in the health and social status of its clients for funding to continue. “When given clear outcomes to work towards we are able to focus our energy and resources,” says Dr Walmisley. “We have achieved exciting results by operating in this manner.”

The service will initially target 12-18 year-olds and aim to alter behaviour patterns which lead to anti-social and/or dangerous behaviour. The goal is to prevent these teenagers from becoming long term users of mental health services or adult offenders, and follows calls by Children’s Commissioner Roger McClay to “break the cycle.” Dr Walmisley says the new approach could ideally be applied to younger children and involve other agencies such as the education services and training providers, but the immediate need is teenagers. “We have young people in this country who have lives that are almost totally without hope for a meaningful future. We will be working to provide the treatment, support and training that will
lead to the place in society they deserve.”

“This is far more than a mental health service. We’ll be taking a multi-systemic approach, where the treatment brings together the range of expertise required to meet the wider needs of the individual - including counselling for behavioural problems and support that breaks patterns of offending.

“Under the current system these services are separated, and only part of the overall problem is dealt with at any one time. This new service will take an integrated approach so that there are no barriers created by the statutory definition of roles for the various agencies.”

The Fellowship’s Clinical Director, Dr Mike Reid, says that at-risk youths are imbedded within a complex network of interconnected systems. “This service is breaking new ground in New Zealand, by acknowledging that intervention may be necessary in any one or a combination of these systems so as to address the young person’s difficulties,” he says. The service has been planned in consultation with the funding and referral agencies for 18 months.

Dr Reid says the service aims to break the cycle of dysfunction, ill health and violence which occurs when young people have no relevant social models and are denied access to services or receive services which are fragmented or uncoordinated. “Early intervention is the key to working toward a healthier future for the youth of New Zealand. The earlier we are able to work with the young person, their families and the community, the more successful the programme will be.”

“This is an evidence-based service that focuses on the recovery needs of individuals. It is also an acknowledgment that young people with behaviour problems are also victims. They need an integrated package of support to prevent further tragedies in their lives.”

Through early intervention the service aims to prevent tragedies such as youth suicide and an escalation of contact with the justice system. The benefits to the community should include reduced pressure on acute mental health services, improved security for the general public, reduced crime and less spending on prisons and/or adult health services.

Dr Walmisley says the service reflected the commitment within the Ministry of Health and Child Youth and Family Service to find innovative solutions for young people at risk of committing suicide or becoming adult offenders. It also demonstrated the value of the Government’s extra $5.4million budget allocation for additional Child, Youth and Family Services.

“We’re delighted that the Ministry of Health and Child, Youth and Family have shown such enthusiasm for a totally new approach to managing some of the most complex cases in the health, welfare and justice systems. They are to be congratulated in recognising and supporting such an integrated and innovative approach.”

Richmond Fellowship is a major provider of community mental health services throughout New Zealand. The Fellowship has developed specialist services for a range of purchasers including the Ministry of Health, Crown Public Health, and District Health Services.


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