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Call for change after teen suicide cluster

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/05/2016

A coroner has called for a review of child protection laws following an investigation into a cluster of suicides by students in Hawke's Bay.

The deaths of four 15-year-old girls from the suburb of Flaxmere between July 2013 and August 2014 were all self-inflicted, coroner Carla na Nagara has ruled.

Although the details of the deaths cannot be published, the students can be named as Lesha Ruben Ngatuere, Jahnaya Wikitoria Staples, Deichan Jarnika Teri Whaanga and Ebony Rose Karangaroa-McKenzie.

The coroner found several common themes in the girls' lives leading up to their deaths, including varying levels of exposure to family violence and bullying, particularly on Facebook.

"This destructive communication was derogatory, accusatory, harsh and nasty," she said.

"I have no doubt the girls gave as good as they got, but this does not mean they were not significantly hurt by the communications; the evidence is clear that they were."

She was was also critical of the frameworks that limited the response to indicators of suicide risks from agencies dealing with domestic violence.

"It became apparent that the legislative mandate of CYF and the police lacks the responsiveness and flexibility to effectively support children or young people living in [similar] circumstances," Ms Nagara said.

The fact CYF needed children to make express statements of feeling suicidal before they were referred was of concern, she said.

"The reliance on an overt expression of suicidality means that children who are implicitly at risk emotionally ... are done done a great disservices by the agencies charged with protecting them," she said.

"In my view this is too high a threshold."

She called for the Ministry of Justice to review the Child Care Act to ensure children were automatically appointed lawyers in cases involving family violence and to allow judges to order counselling for children exposed to trauma, including family violence.

She also recommended the Hawke's Bay District Health Board set up a multi-agency platform to co-ordinate a response to teens and children in situations of high suicide risk - along with setting up a whanau wellbeing clinic for families and young people to drop in for support.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline's 24-hour telephone counselling service on 0800 543 354.

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email

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