Is the overhaul of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) too little, too late for one intellectually disabled teen who was placed into Government care at the age of eight? EMILY SPINK reports.
Carol de Schot’s heart breaks every time she leaves her former foster child at his temporary, hospital-based home.
For three weeks, Carol and Leo de Schot have visited Christchurch’s Princess Margaret Hospital, where the 15 year-old boy they once fostered remains.
“When I have him on Sundays, I don’t want to take him back,” Carol de Schot said.
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Government agencies charged with his care say they have now found him a home, but his former caregivers fear it is too little, too late.
“Child, Youth and Family have failed these children,” Carol de Schot said.
The teen, who has Down syndrome and cannot be named for legal reasons, was transferred to the unit after he lashed out at a Christchurch residential home for people with disabilities. The incident followed a string of random violent outbursts.
On Sunday, April 2, Carol de Schot picked took the teen to get a haircut at Westfield Riccarton.
“We’ve got the mind of a 3 or 4-year-old in a 15-year-old body,” she said.
With de Schot in tow, he walked through the mall like any other child. He requested to “go bald”, like his former foster dad, but de Schot suggested otherwise.
Feeling proud of his new do – a number four on top and two on the sides – his release day continued without any hiccups. It included a visit to his father, before he went into rehabilitation last Monday.
When the couple dropped him back at the unit later in the day, he clung to the wire fence, looking out “like a little chimpanzee in the zoo”, Leo de Schot said.
“The moment we took him back, his whole demeanour changes. It’s like poking a balloon with a needle,” he said.
With the boy’s father now undergoing rehabilitation, interim custody of the teen fell to the new ministry replacing CYF, Oranga Tamariki. The new ministry launched on April 1, as part of a complete overhaul of CYF.
The de Schots said they felt they were being pushed out of the boy’s life.
‘THEY WANTED HIM OFF THEIR BOOKS’
In 2010, the teen and his sister were placed with the de Schots for the first time.
“When they came to us for two-and-a-half years, it was the first rock-solid thing they had ever had,” Leo de Schot said.
The children had been removed from their mother in Auckland, then placed into the care of their father – who they barely knew.
Two years into the placement, the couple, who had been fostering for 18 years, felt pressured by CYF to open their home to the boy permanently. They refused the offer.
“We felt they wanted him off their books . . . in hindsight we probably should have.”
In March 2016, the children were returned to the de Schots.
The couple noticed concerning changes in the boy, including sexualised behaviour and self harming. His gums were black from excessive tooth brushing. Carol de Schot later caught him repeatedly smashing his face on their carpeted lounge floor.
PROBLEMS ARISE AFTER CHANGE
In a specialist behavioural report, the teen was described as “a generally easygoing and placid young man”, but there were occasions where he had thrown furniture at people, damaged property, and threatened people with a knife or kicked them.
The teen had “always been quite good” at the de Schots’ home in Halswell.
“He had firm boundaries and he also got the love and attention he needed and didn’t have to compete against alcohol and drugs,” Carol de Schot said.
“If he needed something I was there. I think that’s why we don’t have this problem. As soon as he walks in the door it’s his safe haven. That’s what kills me more than anything, I know that he probably should be here.”
The couple’s circumstances had changed though and they were no longer able to be full-time foster parents. Their adult children had moved on, Carol was studying full-time and Leo ran a business.
The boy’s sister was “in a really good place” and lived with the de Schots’ adult daughter.
On December 30, Leo de Schot told CYF they had to step away from day-to-day care of the boy. He and his wife worked on a transition plan to ease him into a new placement at residential facility Brackenridge.
“We thought it was going to be permanent . . . but with us still having him on weekends and contact on the phone every day.”
Every violent incident, including the one that got him removed from Brackenridge, was connected by one common theme: change.
“When he comes here, he’s not that kid that kicks holes in the walls. We’ve never seen that violent side of him,” Carol de Schot said.
“He does love us and we love him.”
In a Canterbury District Health Board report, following an incident at Christmas, a consultant psychiatrist said they believed they boy’s recent behavioural difficulties were related to being placed in unfamiliar environments with unfamiliar people.
The report said the child, adolescent and family inpatient unit at Princess Margaret Hospital was “probably not a good environment for [the teen] and any further admissions would have to be carefully considered”.
Leo and Carol de Schot wanted him placed in a residential home, but were fearful of what would happen after he turned 18.
“You can see him ending up in an institution, heavily medicated,” Leo de Schot said.
TIME TO DO BETTER
Oranga Tamariki Canterbury regional manager Blair McKenzie said they wanted the best for the teen and were working to find an appropriate placement for him.
“His needs pose some specific and complex challenges. We remain committed to finding a sustainable placement option for him and continue to focus on his specific needs and interests.”
McKenzie said the department wanted to encourage an ongoing relationship between the young man and his former caregivers.
“We have also discussed with them the step of an additional guardianship order – to enable them to have a decision-making role but they have declined this option.”
Ministry of Health Disability Support Services group manager Toni Atkinson said she understood a residential placement had been found for the boy and he would likely move there in the next few weeks.
“The ministry believes DHBs and other agencies work hard to support people in the best environment possible. The preference is to place children in a family-like environment, but this can take time to achieve.”
Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said such situations revealed how well, or poorly, the wider community looked after children with special needs and disabilities.
“It is clear . . . in the very short term, we don’t have the sorts of focussed and specialist facilities that I wish we did. It may be that in a situation like this, we have very limited options.”
Becroft said keeping the boy in hospital for anything more than a short-term intervention would be a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Becroft said it was time for New Zealand to acknowledge it could do better for all children.
“That’s going to mean a commitment to specialist, intensive, round-the-clock community-based services that can provide care, even for those that appear the most difficult for adults to deal with – to give them the best chance of thriving and functioning in our community. It’s an area that we have fallen short of.”
Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said children with disabilities needed to have their human rights upheld by Oranga Tamariki, but they were often not treated appropriately.
“When all of our social services are heaving under pressure, there are very real consequences for people who need the services.”