It was on 31 October last year that Education Minister, Hekia Parata, announced her decision to close both Salisbury School in Nelson and McKenzie Residential School in Christchurch. Both were schools specialising in support high-needs children with varying degrees of disabilities. Parata said,
“After carefully considering all the information provided to me, including the responses from the schools, and information provided at my meetings with the Boards of the schools, I have decided to close the two schools.
At the very heart of this difficult decision lies the opportunity to provide services and support for more children with complex needs in their local community. We can link local services with the remaining residential provision to achieve a more personalised and high quality approach for children and their families.
I am satisfied that this combination of services will make sufficient provision for all children with special education needs both locally and nationally.”
Acknowledgment – Beehive – Final decision on residential special schools announced
In an attempt to alleviate shock and disbelief throughout the country, Parata offered an alternative – a so-call “Intensive Wraparound Service“,
“The Intensive Wraparound Service will be extended to support students with complex needs to remain in their community and attend their local school. The service will be based in every region with a trained facilitator, usually a psychologist…
… Funding from closing the two residential schools will be redirected into the Intensive Wraparound Service. The net result will be better support for more students and keeping communities together.”
Acknowledgment – IBID
The parents and staff of Salisbury students would have none of it. Parata’s decision to close the school and merge with co-ed Halswell Residential School in Christchurch. Female students would be relocated to mix with male students.
The implications of such a move did not escape parents and teaches. They realised that mixing highly vulnerable girls – many with considerable mental disabilities – with boys and adolecent young teenagers, was a potential for disaster. There was grave risk of sexual abuse, amongst other problems (I refuse to call them “issues”.)
Salisbury school and parents rejected the planned closure.
On 26 November last year, Salisbury school mounted a legal challenge to Parata’s decision.
By 11 December, a Court decision ruled that National’s move to close the school was unlawful. Justice Robert Dobson condemned Parata’s descision because of “the prospect of greater risk of sexual or physical abuse“.
On 22 May, this year, Parata had fully backed down and announced that her Ministry would not be appealing the Court decision. Parata gave this gobbledegook statement to the media,
‘‘The arguments that we were making at the time were valid and remain valid, but a different decision has now been made, and I am pleased for Salisbury that that is the case, and keen now to resume normal transmission.’’
Acknowledgment – Nelson Mail – U-turn stuns, delights Salisbury
Salisbury School won the battle, with Courts accepting that female students would be put at risk by attending a co-ed school.
One also had to question the reality of any so-called “Intensive Wraparound Service” that Parata had promised.
Intensive Wraparound Service
In a May 2012 Ministry of Education report (Development of a new intensive wraparound special education), the author wrote,
Two Residential Special Schools also provide an outreach service4. Salisbury’s service caters for a minimum of 30 students, while Halswell School caters to a maximum of 36 students.
Figures from 2010 show the Government invested approximately $84,200 in each student who attended a Residential Special School in the year.
This figure contrasts with an annual investment of approximately $7,700 in each student who attends a state and integrated (or non-residential) school or approximately $29,000 for each student who meets the criteria to receive support through an intensive wrap-around service.
Note the figures mentioned;
Residential School Student: $84,200 per student
State/Integrated School Student: $7,700 per student
Intensive wrap-around service Student: $29,000 per student
So by relocating special needs students from Salisbury to a mainstream school, with so-called “Intensive wrap-around” support, there was a saving to the State of $55,200 per student.
It is not beyond suspicion that the attempted closure of Salisbury School; with attendent risk to female students; was a particularly nasty attempt at cost-cutting by this bottom-line focused government.
Indeed, more than a suspicion, the report clearly stated,
It is important to note the new service:
– provides an opportunity to use existing funding in new ways, achieving better value for money and more efficient use of resources
This government appears to be content to play with peoples’ lives to save a few bucks.
Later in May this year, there were revelations that several Whangarei schools were unable to cope with severely disturbed – and violent – young students. Radio NZ reported,
A Whangarei school principal says a system designed to improve support for at-risk children appears to be bogged down in paperwork.
The Gateway programme began two years ago to co-ordinate the roles of Child, Youth and Family, doctors, schools and mental health services for children in care.
But Horahora primary school principal Pat Newman said from what he has seen, the gateway is blocked.
He said he has been trying since March to get an assessment for a young pupil with serious anger problems who hurts other children on a daily basis.
Mr Newman said various agencies have filed their observations about the boy and though he clearly needs specialist help, there has been no action. Now his classmates are afraid of him and have begun to exclude him.
Child, Youth and Family said it understood the boy was doing well at school, but if his Gateway assessment throws up other issues it will address them.
The head of another school, who has asked not be named to protect the identity of children, said disturbed new entrants are increasingly common, and he has had a teacher close to leaving because of their appalling behaviour.
In the worst case, he said a boy was not only violent to teachers and children, his behaviours were also sexualised.
The principal said the boy would leave the school whenever he felt like it and had to be watched and tracked constantly to keep him safe.
Acknowledgment – Radio NZ – Paper-work seen as blocking support for children
A further Radio NZ report stated,
Northland primary school principals say they are seeing growing numbers of violent new entrants and getting less support to deal with them.
Three Whangarei primary school principals have complained about a lack of support for new entrants with serious psychological problems.
Another principal in Northland says research is urgently needed on the growing numbers of violent and unmanageable children entering the school system.
Principals said they are having to beg for specialist help and teacher aides while the Government spends $60 million on a behavioural management programme for teachers.
Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association vice-president Marilyn Dunn said there has been an influx of new entrants to Northland schools raised in homes where they have seen violence, methamphetamine and alcohol abuse since they were born.
Ms Dunn said such children are often aggressive and need the help of a teacher aide for prolonged periods to keep them and others safe.
She said the Government’s new Positive Behaviour for Learning programme for teachers does not provide for this and schools need far more specialised help.
Acknowledgment – Radio NZ – Teachers having to cope with more violent new entrants
The same report added,
But the Ministry of Education on Monday defended the level of support available to schools dealing with violent or disturbed children.
The ministry said its special education teams are working with between 3000 and 4000 pupils throughout New Zealand who exhibit particularly challenging behaviour. It said the teacher aide budget in Northland is unchanged.
However principals say in practice, that amounts to a funding cut – because they are dealing with growing numbers of damaged children and there is now less funding to go around.
Acknowledgment – IBID
And as usual, Key admitted he didn’t know if there been an increase in violent cases in Whangarei.
Another report also questioned how much community support was being given to vulnerable people with psychiatric conditions,
The brother of a man killed by a mentally ill former flatmate says not enough is being done to care for mental health patients living in the community – often with tragic results.
Cambridge man Graeme Moyle’s older brother, Colin Moyle, was bludgeoned to death in his Auckland home by psychiatric patient Matthew Ahlquist in May 2007.
“I believe not enough resources are available to care for mental health patients in the community, especially at the higher end. The reason many are on the street is because there’s not enough beds for them and there’s nowhere to put them.”
“Whilst we endeavour to provide the best possible care to service users, we are mindful that despite our best intentions, in any organisation as large and complex as ours, there will be times where things don’t go to plan,” Ms Jenkin said. “In such situations we will generally formally report serious incidents and undertake a service review to understand what went wrong, and why, in order to improve the services that we provide to those that need them.”
In the 1990s, New Zealand went through a period of de-instutionalisation. Patients from mental health hospitals and other institutions were relocated back into the community. The Bolger-led National government of the day assured the public that as institutions were emptied, resourcing and funding would follow.
The opposite seemed to happen and many ex-patients ended up in living in squalor or out on the streets. One well known case in the 1990s involved a female ex-psychiatric patient who slept in public toilets; gathered cigarettes butts from gutters; and was at considerable personal risk. She seemed to have no support or safety network whatsoever.
The plaintive cries from Whangarei principals for more support suggests that funding for high needs students is severely lacking.
Promises of support for disturbed students are not materialising into actual funding.
This blogger is personally aware of one solo-mother who has a son with high-functioning autism. The young lad, 12, has recently come to the attention of emergency services (police and fire brigades) with his extreme behaviour.
He requires full-time support from a teacher aid – but is receiving only half the hours that should be allocated to him.
I know this kid. He’s a good sort. With full support he could become a stable, productive member of society.
Without support, and allowed to go “off the rails”, he will end up in prison.
Cost to tax-payer: $95,000+ per annum.
The staff, management, and parents of Salisbury school students were correct to fight this government. Their fears that Parata and other National Ministers were offering hollow reassurances of “Intensive wrap-around” services was well-founded.
If we’ve learned anything these last five years it is this; What National giveth; National taketh.
The parents of Salisbury School students were not about to put this matter to the test, nor put the well-being of their daughters into the ‘caring’ hands of Hekia Parata, Bill English, et al.
I don’t think so.
Not this Weetbix government.
Ministry of Education: Development of a new intensive wraparound special education (PDF) (May 2012)
Beehive: Final decision on residential special schools announced (31 Oct 2012)
Nelson Mail: Salisbury School mounts legal bid (26 Nov 2012)
TVNZ: Special needs school closure declared unlawful (11 Dec 2012)
Nelson Mail: U-turn stuns, delights Salisbury (22 May 2013)
Radio NZ: Paper-work seen as blocking support for children (27 May 2013)
Radio NZ: Principals frustrated with ‘gateway’ programme (audio – 27 May 2013)
Radio NZ: Childrens’ charities struggle to secure funding (audio – 27 May 2013)
Radio NZ: Teachers having to cope with more violent new entrants (27 May 2013)
Fairfax Media: ‘Too little resourcing’ for mentally unwell (29 May 2013)
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