Māori approach brings better outcomes than Seclusion and restraint methods

By Talisa Kupenga

The "Thinking Outside the Box" report released today by the Human Rights Commission outlines a number of serious concerns around seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand. But a mental health services expert says Māori approaches could offer cultural specific preventions to avoid using these methods.

The report says Māori and Pasifika represent more than half of those subject to seclusion and restraint methods and found the country's overuse of solitary confinement in breach of international standards.

Mental health workforce development service Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui chief executive Robyn Shearer says "We know that has poor outcomes for people. We know in Mental Health Māori are often in services longer with little support and it really doesn't take the whānau approach we know works well for people."

The report investigated how seclusion was used in prisons, health and disability units, a youth justice residence, a children's care unit and police cells. It revealed many seclusion rooms were empty, had no toilet, fresh drinking water or a means to communicate with staff.

"It is isolating to have someone locked in a room where they don't have support and have a sparsely equipped room with little human interaction. Certainly, we know that doesn't support the tikanga practice of whānau support for Māori," Shearer says.
"But we do know when services have engaged kuia and kaumatua (elders) in the admission and support process for Māori clients that has had a really positive outcome."

The report recommends;

  • An investigation into the overrepresentation of Māori in seclusion and segregation units.
  • That the use of seclusion and restraints be reduced significantly and used only in the most extreme cases for a short time.
  • That minimum standards of living conditions be met.

Shearer says "taking it from the perspective of how we can work better with Māori and whānau is ensuring that staff are culturally competent, that they have a good understanding of Māori process for entering mental health services and how to support someone through their journey."

Acting Minister for Corrections Anne Tolley says she understands the Department of Corrections is addressing or has already addressed many of the issues and recommendations mentioned in the report.