Paul Gibson: Ending seclusion should be at top of DHB lists

Ashley Peacock. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ashley Peacock. Photo / Mark Mitchell

No New Zealander is too disabled to belong in a family, to have a home and to be treated with dignity, yet this is exactly what is happening to Ashley Peacock. This December marks 10 years since the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was signed - it also marks 10 years since Ashley was admitted to the care of Capital Coast Health.

A young man who loves the outdoors, a keen surfer and fisherman, Ashley has a mental illness, autism and is subjected to a treatment plan that results in him being placed in seclusion and/or "de-escalation" for excessively long periods, reportedly up to 23 hours a day.

The Human Rights Commission and other organisations have been concerned about Ashley's situation for some time. Seclusion is still often used in our mental health system and it is one that we want to see changed.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has provided the commission with funding to review seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand.

This will assist us to follow up on recommendations made in 2013 by the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture.

We are engaging an international expert to help us with this work.

Friends of mine who have experienced seclusion needed intervention of some kind, but they also tell of the increased fear and harm they experienced being isolated. Internationally professionals, families and disabled people have all recognised this harm, and worked together on a plan to end seclusion. It is possible to do this with leadership and political will, good data collection, giving frontline staff the alternative tools, the leadership of service users, and monitoring and learning.

Some district health boards in New Zealand have committed to ending seclusion, others are on track, but nationally we aren't yet giving it the priority it needs.

Seclusion, like many historical issues impacting on people with mental illness, remains largely invisible to the public. Only through creating visibility, honest reflection and acknowledgement of our past c an we learn and prevent future injustices such as seclusion.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people worldwide are livingh with disabilities. However, in spite of this the UN has found the collection, analysis and use of disability data worldwide remains random and inadequate.

This is no different here in New Zealand where people with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the poorest communities and families.

We cannot solve any problems is we are not aware of what is going on, so we need to start consistently collecting data disaggregated on disability needs: if you are not counted then you won't count, social investment programmes will pass you by, inequality and exclusion will flourish.

For example, international research suggests the majority of people in youth justice settings have neuro-disability, which includes learning, intellectual disabilities, autism, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, dyslexia and ADHD.

As yet out country hasn't begun to acknowledge this risk or respond to the needs of these children before they become involved in the justice system.

This month a New Zealander who the state decided was too disabled to belong in a family is in New York where he is standing for election to the most powerful disability rights forum in the world: the UN committee on the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities. Robert Martin was taken from his family as a baby and grew up in an institution, without love, without family and without basic human rights.

As an adult he led the development of the modern self-advocacy movement for people with disabilities and helped draft the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The irony is that when Robert stands to speak at the United Nations in a few days time, he will speak on behalf of those New Zealanders who can't speak for themselves; he will speak on behalf of New Zealanders like Ashley Peacock.

Paul Gibson is Disability Rights Commissioner.

- NZ Herald

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