A Dunedin youth advocate has hit out at Child, Youth and Family after young offenders have had to spend time in police cells or be transferred to residences as far away as Auckland while a Dunedin home sits idle.

Barrister Brian Kilkelly said he and colleagues were frustrated at the regularity with which youth offenders, those under 17, had spent time in police custody waiting for the Youth Court while CYF's Will St home in Abbotsford was unused because it could not find suitable caregivers.

"In the last 12 months we have kids sent there [police custody] quite regularly while Will St sits basically empty because they don't have the staff to man it or the will to man it."

The alternative to police custody was one of CYF's four youth justice residences in Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua or Auckland.


The children were sent where a bed was available, he said.

"The sad thing about that is they are a considerable distance from their families."

Matters came to a head last week when a 16-year-old who had spent a night in police custody was set to spend another night there because CYF could not house him elsewhere. However, a Youth Court judge intervened and placed him into CYF custody, Kilkelly said.

On that day, there were 10 other children awaiting placements in youth justice residences, he added.

"Police don't like it. It's not a place to have a 14-year-old around, or 15- or 16-year-olds."

CYF regional director Theresa Perham said the home was not in use as "we have been unable to recruit the right caregivers".