TaranakiRe-visiting Pathways Travelled: Implementing SACAT Legislation in Taranaki

Steve Neale

Arriving in Taranaki always feels like a kind of home-coming to me. Uncanny, the familiarity. Right from when I see that mighty Maunga in the distance from Mokau, a hundred or so kilometres out, I still feel the lure and I have a sense of warmth, of awe and of comfort. I am not from there, but I spent a fair bit of time there through the ‘80’s and have a lot of fine memories gigging and seeing some awesome bands there. I was a bit of a rad back in those days you see…. Loud, loud, fast and intense music, purple spiked hair and, well, let’s say, rather creatively attired…. I also had a lot of friends from all around the region back in those days. Mural and shirt-design, leather patch pants construction and loads of phenomenal road-adventures made for good times and formed fond memories.

I was reflecting on all of those things, while that familiar cone peeked out just above the cloud, as I once again navigated down the coast last week. This time the journey was different though – no socializing for me, as I was heading down to launch a series of workshops around the Midland DHBs Region for the implementation of the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Legislation.

The legislation seeks to provide a pathway for whanau, so entrenched in substance misuse that they have lost the capacity to make rational decisions. Those who are described as “difficult to reach”, those “hard to engage”, the “challenging” ones, the “problematic” ones…. I use these terms loosely, as I hear that type of terminology thrown around a lot.

The legislation aims to ensure that our best efforts help those whanau to have that capacity restored as best it can be. It aims to ensure that service-users, peer-support and whānau are involved in care. Whilst compelling people into treatment, the legislation aims to be as mana-enhancing as it can possibly be. None of these aspirations are, I hope, new concepts and I know that we try hard to ensure that we make treatment as person-centred as possible in the vast majority of cases. However treatment has become very technical, can be stretched by over-capacity and is struggling to meet multiple, complex demands in this ever-evolving environment. I think that it is a good time for us to take the opportunity to step outside of ourselves and to take a good long and critical look at the treatment that we provide.

So, the debate was good and robust – both events were well attended (24 in the morning and 16 in the afternoon sessions). It was awesome to see the enthusiasm for the kaupapa, despite the challenges that we all noted along the way. The buy-in form the range of agencies and professionals that attended was really encouraging to see. And together, we were able to forge some ways forward. On the whole, the opportunities that SACAT legislation provides were identified and rolled forward.

The whanau we are talking about here, are indeed challenging to those around them and to the services that endeavour to help them. They challenge us to think differently about what we might offer to support them on their journey. They challenge us to link together with other services, who might compliment our work. They challenge us to work in partnership with other whānau, service-users, peers and with whanau-support services. They ask change of us and the opportunities that we provide. Funny – we are often led to think that it is US asking THEM to change!

On that basis, I like that this legislation is coming into effect. It provides us with a rare opportunity to reflect on how we want our treatment provision to look – and, in my book, that is always a good thing!

So, there was me, a dramatically different, older guy, travelling down to another familiar place, in Taranaki, with the intention of giving my all to help to inspire change - hopefully in ways that will effect positive changes for whanau who use the services in that area.

We are a growing and evolving field – still relatively new, in so many ways. And we have some challenging kaupapa to deliver, often not in the most desirable settings.


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