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Deborah's Story

“It’s overwhelming...there are so many children who need our help.”

Deborah Selwood and her team carry a heavy burden - the knowledge that there are hundreds of children waiting for their help. 

“It really weighs on our staff that people have to wait to see us,” says Deborah, the manager of Christchurch’s specialist mental health Child, Adolescent and Family (CAF) service.

What makes the wait worse is what children are confronted with when the help they so desperately need is available.

Unfortunately our facilities are old and aren’t fit for purpose with cramped consult rooms, small spaces and an unappealing environment.  We have amazing staff who care, but facilities that tell a different story.

“We can’t prevent why people are referred to us or what’s happened in their life that means they need our help.  But we can change how they feel when they get here,” says Deborah.

“It can be a real struggle for a child or young person to seek help and coming to their first appointment can be really scary.  We need to show them that they’re valued and to make them feel welcome, safe and respected.”

There has been a 140% increase in demand for the Child, Adolescent and Family service since January 2018.  In August 2020 the CAF team had 545 Canterbury children referred for help in that month alone.  That’s 545 new referrals, on top of the already overwhelming caseload.  Despite this teams have been working hard to reduce wait times.

The decrease in people waiting is the result of the redevelopment work CAF have undertaken. Staff have gone above and beyond to respond to the increasing demand CAF is experiencing, but they desperately need a new, fit for purpose facility.

The CAF service is operated across three facilities, with the majority of patients seen at the two main facilities at The Princess Margaret Hospital and Hillmorton campus. 

Both facilities are old, inadequate, too small, and don’t contribute to the recovery of our children and young people.

“People often come to us in a state of sensory overload and can be highly stressed.  We want to support them with an environment that helps them to feel calm and ready to engage in therapy.

“As well as not reflecting a welcoming, caring environment, the facilities do not reflect our modern way of caring for people.  We have treatments and therapies that we would love to be able to offer, but our facilities don’t easily support,” says Deborah.

Despite the challenging environment, the CAF staff remain dedicated and passionate.

“It can be a challenge coming to work each day, spending it in an environment that is not fit for purpose. But we keep doing it because we know we are making a difference.  For instance, we know that approximately 80% of the young people we work with are not transferred into the adult mental health services.  That’s huge,” says Deborah.

The CAF team are working closely with the Māia Health Foundation on the development of the new outpatient hub for child and youth mental health. 

“Having Māia Health Foundation step up and commit their support to a new facility is amazing – it’s life changing and will make such a difference for the people we support.”

As the concept for the new facility is developed, there’s no doubt excitement is building.  The CAF team is dreaming of not only a new environment, but one which enables more effective treatments, allows for new, modern teaching methods and provides technologies that will give the service greater reach.

“We have no doubt this new facility will result in improved outcomes for young people and their families.  It will make a difference,” says Deborah.

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