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CYF project halves child suicide rate

The New Zealand Herald, BY LEAH HAINES, October 10, 2004

A three-year project by welfare and health agencies has halved the rate of suicide among some of the country's most at-risk children.

Researchers say the project has the potential to put a massive dent in New Zealand's youth suicide rate - currently the highest in the developed world.

The results of the Towards Well Being suicide monitoring project were due to be presented to an international conference on youth suicide this weekend and are expected to gain global attention.

"I think that there is a chance a number of children are alive today because of this programme," said Child Youth and Family's acting chief social worker Craig Smith.

Previous research showed children who had had contact with Child Youth and Family were 15 times as likely to kill themselves as other children, and accounted for more than 40 per cent of all youth suicides in New Zealand. "The reason is obvious - we are dealing with the most at-risk children in the country," Mr Smith said.

Because of this high suicide rate, the department developed a pilot project in conjunction with the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences three years ago to attempt to tackle the problem.

Children and teenagers considered at risk because of depression, previous suicide attempts, mental health or drug and alcohol problems were referred on to the programme. The result is more than a 50 per cent reduction in suicides among CYF children, despite a surge in abuse notifications to the department and the suicide rates in the general youth population remaining high.

Wanganui social work supervisor David Alexander said the project set out a simple way of questioning all children about their mental wellbeing when they came to CYF's attention.

Depressed and at-risk children were then referred to special mental health clinicians, management plans were drawn up for each of them, and social workers were given professional help from psychologists to monitor their progress.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1100 boys and girls referred on to the programme had been the subject of at least one abuse notification in the past and a third had attempted suicide before.