26 Mar 2018

Troubled kids 'likely to end up in jail ... unless they get help'

7:59 am on 26 March 2018

A Whangārei school has set up a trust to raise funds for therapy for its most troubled pupils.

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Hora Hora Primary School principal Pat Newman in the school's art room. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Hora Hora primary is opening a pre-school today with government funding for children who missed out on early learning and social skills.

Its principal Pat Newman said some children needed the sort of intensive help that was not funded, and the trust, Te Mana Aute hopes to raise $160,000 for two therapists, for a year.

He said that was not hugely expensive compared to what such children would cost the taxpayer, without an early intervention.

"These are kids who are likely to end up in jail, or with serious mental health issues, or both, unless they get help to deal with the trauma and abuse they've been through," he said.

The trust had applied to major charities and was hoping philanthropists might also help fund the therapy trial, Mr Newman said.

"When we've asked for this sort of help in the past, like an on-site counsellor, we tend to hear that there's no proof that it works," he said.

"But it's never been tried. We want try intensive counselling for the kids and their families for a year then write up the results and if it works, we will be able to say to the government, it's worth funding."

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Hora Hora Primary School's motto. Photo: RNZ/ Lois Williams

Mr Newman, who's also the President of the Tai Tokerau Principals' Federation, has been a trenchant critic of the Ministry of Education, over funding for schools coping with growing numbers of disturbed children and those with special needs.

But today, with the opening of the Puna Kāinga, at Hora Hora he said he was grateful for the ministry's support.

"This has been our dream for more than 10 years," he said.

"We can bring in kids we know are not going to cope in the classroom and we can teach them how to play and how to learn."

Some five-year-olds arriving at school behaved more like two or three-year-olds and weren't fully toilet-trained, Mr Newman said.

"There are a number of reasons that's happening - sometimes it's meth or alcohol abuse at home; often it's about a lack of money and support - but for whatever reason these kids are way behind their peers," he said.

"But we are focusing on solutions. We aim to help them catch up."

Hora Hora's new entrants' teacher Jan Moase, said that would make her life a whole lot easier.

"We have kids coming to school who can't sit on a mat with others and listen to a story," she said.

"They are in fight or flight mode - no concentration."

The lack of toilet training can also be hard to deal with, she said.

"Some of the parents tell us they just got their child out of nappies at four-and-a-half years, and I wonder what is happening there. Are we not supporting our young parents or what?"

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Hora Hora Primary School new entrants teacher Jan Moase. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Developmentally, some new entrants are at the two-year-old level or under, and have never learned how to engage or share or negotiate with other children, Ms Moase said.

Mr Newman said those were the sort of social skills learned by play and fun and the Puna Kāinga would provide it.

He points to an outdoor play area.

"This is the best bit," he said. "You can only get into it by a slide."

The Hora Hora principal has hired two early childhood professionals to run the group, which will cater for up to 14 four to six-year-olds and their mothers, and or fathers.

The Ministry of Education said it had funded five other Puna Kāinga around the country, and any school or other organisation wanting to start one should contact their local ministry office.

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