Providing essential primary health care for young offenders

The Pegasus Health nursing team, based at Te Puna Wai Tuhinapo Youth Justice Residence, is helping to transform the health and lives of young people who are ordered by the courts to stay at the facility.

Te Puna Wai is a 40-bed, secure facility near Rolleston that caters for young offenders from age 13 years to 20 years – the majority are male but at times females are required to stay there.

The Residential Youth Health Service at Te Puna Wai is staffed by five registered nurses led by Moyra (last name withheld for security reasons) who is the Clinical Lead.

“A lot of these kids are from gang backgrounds, there’s alcohol and drug abuse, neglect, poverty, parents with poor mental health, parents in prison and poor health education,” says Moyra.

“When a young person comes in, regardless of their length of stay, we offer as much health care to them as we can, we see it as a real window of opportunity. A lot of these kids have never had basic hearing, vision or dental care, so we try and cram as much care into them as we can possibly can.”

Te Puna Wai is one of five youth justice facilities in the country. It is the only one in Te Waipounamu (South Island) and the only one with an  independent primary health care team providing nursing services.

It receives young people from all over the country, with 70-80% being of Māori and Pasifika descent. They can stay for periods as short as one night and up to three years depending on the type of offending. Some transfer to a Corrections facility when they turn 18 years old.

“Sadly, for some of the young people this is the best time of their lives – they blossom, they get regular meals, they are safe at night, and they receive excellent health care. We have a doctor’s clinic here twice a week run by a GP from 298 Youth Health, a physio clinic once a fortnight, ear suction clinics once every six months; lots of things they wouldn’t seek help
for in the community.

“Up to 70% of the young people we see aren’t registered with a GP. Sometimes the most equitable health outcomes and interventions for primary health care can happen once they reach prison because there are less barriers to access,” says Moyra.

“Education is also a big part of what we do. We don’t like what they have done, but we really enjoy them and we feel passionate about doing
the best we can for these kids, because they’ve missed out on so much.”

Cover image: (From left) Reuben (student nurse) and members of the Residential Youth Health Service team at Te Puna Wai Tuhinapo Youth Justice Residence, Sarah (Registered Nurse), Moyra (Clinical Lead) and Leanne (Registered Nurse). Karen and Rebekah (absent).


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