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Treating Victims Like Criminals

Treating Victims Like Criminals

Yesterday it was reported that 700 young people have been placed in police cells for more than 24 hours since 2010.

“This is treating the victims of family abuse as criminals according to the Childrens and Adolecent Issues spokesperson from the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists, Lynne Holdem. “The alternative, placement in a Youth Justice facility may be even worse”, as Minister Anne Tolley admitted when she commented that they are“grim places holding damaged young people from violent, drug and alcohol backgrounds.”

Daryl Brougham, a child brought up in the CYFs system and later trained as a social worker, said on Checkpoint yesterday “it would be better to sleep in a tree. It’s safer…At least in a police cell there was time when I could unload, it was a time where I had a space to myself.”

To provide a space for these young people to recover and to heal from trauma and broken attachment is crucial. Psychotherapists can help them manage their hurt and angry feelings so they become capable of connecting with a new care-giver and making a new start. Thus preventing the spiralling out-of-control behaviour that leads to multiple placement breakdowns and use of lock-up facilities in Youth Justice or police cells.

However, these statistics also point to the need for earlier intervention. Attachment therapy can assist vulnerable mothers to prioritise their child’s needs in situations of domestic violence and mental illness. Most parents want the best for their children, but their own damaging upbringings shape parenting unless they have help to develop empathy and reflective capacity.

To listen to young people who have survived the CYFs system is quite different from just uplifting them and finding a placement for them. Psychotherapists have knowledge and skills to recognise the silent scream in the behaviour of abused and neglected young people. What looks like bad behaviour is profound unmet need.

Resources are needed to ensure families that look after these damaged young people are given therapy to make the new attachment successful. New Zealand social workers are not yet trained in therapeutic methods, in the skills of understanding difficult behaviours and how to repair attachment. This would equip them to see the inside of the child, to hear the child’s voice and not just assess what’s around them on the outside.

“ The Psychotherapists Association hope that Minister Anne Tolley and the Expert Advisory Panel are realistic that uplifting children from abusive families is just a first step. Investment in therapy for managing emotions and relationship repair is needed for caregivers and young people in the CYFs system. A safe haven needs to provide secure attachment to the new caregiver and emotional resources rather than the stop-gap solution of a police cell for the night.” Says Holdem.


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