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Specialist Care Essential

A Himatangi Beach mother whose daughter recently spent several days in a police cell because no other agency in Palmerston North was prepared to look after her, is appealing to the Prime Minister "to stop punishing our intellectual and mentally disabled by having their services stripped away".

Ethel Doyle is disturbed to hear that Kimberley Centre, where her daughter is now living, is likely to close as part of this Government's policy of deinstitutionalisation.

Kimberly Centre, on the outskirts of Levin, is home to nearly 400 people, many of them with psychiatric problems in addition to their intellectual disability.

Since articles appeared in the media about her daughter's predicament, Mrs Doyle says she has received amazing feedback, "mainly from people with similar problems and no help. It made me realise how many people are out there crying for help; people falling between the cracks.

"And then I heard that they are thinking about closing Kimberley down, that' s when I got really upset, because I know what we had been through with Cathy.

"All these sick people are out there being neglected because of this stupid business of not fitting the criteria. Many of them have had no tests and have been put aside because of bad behaviour and needing discipline when all the time they are mentally sick or intellectually disabled."

After Cathy's confinement to police cells, Palmerston North judge Les Atkins apologised to the Doyle family, stating that it was clearly unsatisfactory when somebody requiring assistance was unable to receive it.

Prior to her court appearance during March, Cathy had lived in a half-way house, but after only two nights, had been asked to leave because "she had gone into one of her rages". Mentally immature at 33 years of age, she returned home, in tears and getting violent.

Late that night, she wandered away from the family property and was eventually located by the rescue helicopter service some miles away in the sand hills at Foxton Beach. She was transferred to the psychiatric unit in Palmerston North, but was not admitted.

"This time, they wouldn't take her because she wasn't considered mental", Mrs Doyle says. Cathy threw a tantrum in the hospital grounds and the police were called.

Due to her threatening behaviour, she was arrested and kept in police cells, while her parents and others phoned around trying to find an agency prepared to accept Cathy.

"As soon as people knew she had rages, they wouldn't accept her", Mrs Doyle says. After spending three nights in police calls, she was eventually transferred to Kimberley Centre.

Mrs Doyle admits that they were a little bit apprehensive not knowing anything about the place. "But once we got her there and settled, we were comfortable about leaving her there. The staff were very kind and caring and she settled down very quickly. Cathy felt that she was getting help at last, and after only three weeks showed signs of improvement."

Mrs Doyle told Helen Clark that she had received many letters from well wishers all over New Zealand, "mainly from parents struggling with their own sanity while forced to take sole responsibility for their ill family members because there is nowhere for them to go, which often leads to devastating and irreversible outcomes."

Her concern is echoed by Janet Stephens whose son was admitted to Kimberley Centre after also spending time in prison.

In a letter to Health Minister Annette King, she says she considers Kimberley Centre the only facility left in New Zealand that can provide him with the care he so desperately needs.

"Lest there should be some misunderstanding of his situation, Judge Lovegrove in Palmerston North refused to convict him when he appeared in the District Court for sentencing on 14 November 2000 on the grounds that his list of convictions, courtesy of his carers, was so long that imprisonment was a likely result of another conviction, and that his interim personal order meant he was safe and properly cared for in Kimberley Centre and posed no danger to anyone in the community.

"We are talking here of someone with a cognitive level of 52; someone who has no ability to foresee the consequences of his actions."

Mrs Stephens says David has repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot be managed in IHC special services. He never got past the second night of a stay with IHC and was twice bundled back to Kimberley Centre in the middle of the night; the first time handcuffed in the back of a police car after having been chased around the streets of Papakowhai; the second time in an IHC van. On both occasions, the staff and residents had to be evacuated. David is epileptic and asthmatic, and even IHC found these incidents inappropriate."

According to his mother, there are two possibilities left in his life. "Either he is cared for by trained staff in an appropriate facility, or he is cared for in prison. Which one of these possibilities becomes his lot, appears to rest with the government.

"If Kimberley and its specialised services had not existed in 1999, David would already have been consigned to a hideous twilight existence, shuttled from prison to hostel and back to prison, uncomprehending and unable to escape the loop."

A decision on the future of Kimberley Centre is expected to be announced early in June.

For further information, contact Anne Hunt (ph/fax 06 363 7750)

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