Ashley's parents’ pleas finally heard

Dave and Marlena Peacock learned this week that their autistic son Ashley will be moved from a secure psychiatric unit into a rural home where he will receive 24-hour care. Sophie Rishworth spoke to the Peacocks at their Kapiti Coast home about this latest development in the decades-long fight for their only child. This is Ashley’s last chance, they say.

Dave and Marlena Peacock learned this week that their autistic son Ashley will be moved from a secure psychiatric unit into a rural home where he will receive 24-hour care. Sophie Rishworth spoke to the Peacocks at their Kapiti Coast home about this latest development in the decades-long fight for their only child. This is Ashley’s last chance, they say.

Ashley with parents Marlena and David.
Ashley Peacock.
Photos of happier days from the family album.

FOR 13 years, Gisborne man Ashley Peacock has been kept locked up, not because he has committed any crime but because he has behavioural difficulties resulting from his autism and mental health issues.

The 39-year-old’s “home” for the past 10 years has been the secure psychiatric unit Tawhirimatea in Porirua, north of Wellington.

His parents Dave and Marlena Peacock left their Gisborne home to be closer to their son as they fought, pleaded, lobbied and lost sleep in their efforts to draw attention to Ashley’s plight.

On Wednesday, the couple, now in their 70s, made submissions to a select committee at Parliament.

Their submissions make for harrowing reading but the outcome is finally what they have been asking for.

Ashley will be re-homed into the community in a rural environment.

It is what the couple have been trying to tell authorities for years — that what he needs is nature, that’s what calms him, levels him. He has an amazing connection with animals, says his mum.

But nobody has listened to them.

Their requests to authorities repeatedly fell mostly on deaf ears.

“We‘ve had this news since February but it was just informal and we didn’t want Ashley to know too much about it,” said Dave.

“He still doesn’t know. He gets so excited and has been let down in the past so many times.”

After so many disappointments it is understandable they are treading carefully.

A cottage or small house in the country still has to be found.

And, as with all things bureaucratic, it is going to take a while yet.

“It’s early days before Ashley will be let out and there is still a lot of planning to do and at least six months before Ashley will move,” said Dave.

Whether the couple will eventually return to Gisborne was “an open question”, he said. They still have their Gisborne home but they have rented it out for years so they could live closer to Ashley and visit him frequently.

As well as having the neurological condition autism, and an intellectual disability and sensory processing problems, Ashley has also developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since his time in mental health care — care that costs $1 million a year according to recent reports.

For his parents, who love him unconditionally, this has taken over their lives.

The frustration at the inadequate care, at such a high price both mentally on themselves and their son, but also financially when the money could have been better spent, has been a heavy burden.

Instead of a more holistic approach, Ashley has been treated according to a “medical model”, which has seen him prescribed a total of 10 anti-psychotic medications during his time in psychiatric care.

“None of which could be described as a success, and many of which caused unacceptable side effects,”says Dave.

They describe how Ashley was kept locked up in seclusion, like an animal, while they were prevented from seeing him for lengthy periods.

When finally allowed access, they would see him crawling, howling and with faeces in his nails.

Dave says his son’s environment in the de-escalation unit he lives in at Tawhirimatea is noisy, sometimes with people screaming 24 hours a day.

“It’s not a lovely place to be in at all and he has to be in there still for six months or more.”

But that is an improvement.

From December 2010 to December 2013, Ashley spent 1000 days in seclusion, out of a total of 1095 days. During that time he spent only 30 minutes outdoors, mostly in what has been described as like a chicken coop enclosure with wire mesh on the sides and roof.

Other than that, he was held in a three-by-four-metre seclusion room with only a mattress and a urine bottle in which to go to the toilet.

His mental state deteriorated further during this time, and as predicted, to the extent that Ashley became angry and assaulted staff.

Professionals waded into the debate.

In 2009, expert clinical psychologist Dr Angela Arnold-Saritepe stated that Ashley would continue to deteriorate both mentally and physically.

“To my knowledge there are no treatment goals for Ashley that will support reducing challenging behaviour and increasing adaptive functioning,” said Dr Arnold-Saritepe, who is experienced in autism and intellectual disabilities.

Dave said this report was ignored, as were earlier reports in 2005 and 2006.

In 2012 another report, also written by Dr Arnold-Saritepe, stated, “It is clear that Ashley’s current treatment plan is not working and has not for some time.

“I do not see how the current care situation for Ashley meets ethical or legal standards so see there to be no option than to change it radically and immediately.”

This report was also ignored, said Mr Peacock.

Another report in February 2016 by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier described Ashley’s care as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.”

This report followed unannounced visits by the office of the Chief Ombudsman to the Tawhirimatea Unit under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989.

The Ombudsman’s report confirmed what Ashley’s parents already knew, the Human Rights Commission had also said and advocates, lawyers and autism experts had all been saying for years. He urgently needed to come out.

Despite all these reports, a petition signed by 5195 people, and continued lobbying by Ashley’s parents for more than 10 years, nothing was ever done.

Mr Peacock refers to it as “systematic issues” that have been largely responsible for the tragic deterioration of their son’s wellbeing.

“We knew that a mental health institution would be quite the wrong place for a naive, anxious, autistic individual with an intellectual disability.”

Mr Peacock said over the years there has been virtually no psychological intervention.

His behaviour became aggressive and after he assaulted staff, he was locked up in seclusion.

“Being autistic and with a low IQ he couldn’t understand why, and this just made him angrier.

“Staff who had not been trained to deal with autistic individuals, reacted to his aggressive behaviour by locking him back into seclusion, which only aggravated the situation.”

In Marlena’s submissions to the Select Committee she expressed her strong feelings about how Ashley had been “dumped” in to inappropriate services without specialised staff, and resources to habilitate individuals with autism, ID, PTSD and mental health issues.

“Such services are doomed to fail.

“Ashley has been dumped into a number of such services. All have failed him. His first dumping occurred in 2004 into ward 27, Wellington Hospital.

“On admission he did not have the necessary paperwork and spent the first night in a cupboard-like space as there were no available beds.

“After three days the psychiatrist declared him ready for discharge.”

Ashley remained ready for discharge for 10 months while a placement was found and finalised.

Marlena said not one of the placements that followed were adequately prepared.

“During the early placements it was heart-breaking to hear him as he constantly sobbed, ‘I can’t cope anymore’. We would hug and try to keep his hopes alive but this became more difficult as promises were repeatedly reneged upon.

“During his lengthy time in seclusion we would often hear heart-wrenching sobs and animal-like howls,” she said.

Yet Ashley’s’ parents were stopped from seeing him or making direct contact — often for weeks.

“Then when contact was allowed we watched him crawl around the floor with faeces in his nails.

“This was a difficult period for us and we felt hopeless and powerless and endured many sleepless nights.”

There were practical financial matters to be dealt with at the same time. Mr Peacock worked 10 years past his planned retirement to cover the costs of renting a small house on the Kapiti Coast to be closer to their son.

Retirement plans took a back seat. The couple are now in their early 70s and Dave says this decision, “could not have come any later”.

careful response from DHB

Capital Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) is responding cautiously to the upcoming changes for Ashley, and there are no promises or firm plans in place.

CCDHB general manager mental health, addictions, and intellectual disability services Nigel Fairley said it was too early to comment on specific questions about whether the DHB was house-hunting, training staff to care for Ashley around the clock and when these changes could be expected.

“It is not possible to put a time frame on this,” he said.

“As is the case with any client, any move to transition out of the rehabilitation unit must be based on their and others’ safety.

“We are working with the Peacock family, and their comments are consistent with the conversations we have had with them.”

Mr Fairley said the transition from hospital into the community was something they aimed for with all clients in their rehabilitation service.

FOR 13 years, Gisborne man Ashley Peacock has been kept locked up, not because he has committed any crime but because he has behavioural difficulties resulting from his autism and mental health issues.

The 39-year-old’s “home” for the past 10 years has been the secure psychiatric unit Tawhirimatea in Porirua, north of Wellington.

His parents Dave and Marlena Peacock left their Gisborne home to be closer to their son as they fought, pleaded, lobbied and lost sleep in their efforts to draw attention to Ashley’s plight.

On Wednesday, the couple, now in their 70s, made submissions to a select committee at Parliament.

Their submissions make for harrowing reading but the outcome is finally what they have been asking for.

Ashley will be re-homed into the community in a rural environment.

It is what the couple have been trying to tell authorities for years — that what he needs is nature, that’s what calms him, levels him. He has an amazing connection with animals, says his mum.

But nobody has listened to them.

Their requests to authorities repeatedly fell mostly on deaf ears.

“We‘ve had this news since February but it was just informal and we didn’t want Ashley to know too much about it,” said Dave.

“He still doesn’t know. He gets so excited and has been let down in the past so many times.”

After so many disappointments it is understandable they are treading carefully.

A cottage or small house in the country still has to be found.

And, as with all things bureaucratic, it is going to take a while yet.

“It’s early days before Ashley will be let out and there is still a lot of planning to do and at least six months before Ashley will move,” said Dave.

Whether the couple will eventually return to Gisborne was “an open question”, he said. They still have their Gisborne home but they have rented it out for years so they could live closer to Ashley and visit him frequently.

As well as having the neurological condition autism, and an intellectual disability and sensory processing problems, Ashley has also developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since his time in mental health care — care that costs $1 million a year according to recent reports.

For his parents, who love him unconditionally, this has taken over their lives.

The frustration at the inadequate care, at such a high price both mentally on themselves and their son, but also financially when the money could have been better spent, has been a heavy burden.

Instead of a more holistic approach, Ashley has been treated according to a “medical model”, which has seen him prescribed a total of 10 anti-psychotic medications during his time in psychiatric care.

“None of which could be described as a success, and many of which caused unacceptable side effects,”says Dave.

They describe how Ashley was kept locked up in seclusion, like an animal, while they were prevented from seeing him for lengthy periods.

When finally allowed access, they would see him crawling, howling and with faeces in his nails.

Dave says his son’s environment in the de-escalation unit he lives in at Tawhirimatea is noisy, sometimes with people screaming 24 hours a day.

“It’s not a lovely place to be in at all and he has to be in there still for six months or more.”

But that is an improvement.

From December 2010 to December 2013, Ashley spent 1000 days in seclusion, out of a total of 1095 days. During that time he spent only 30 minutes outdoors, mostly in what has been described as like a chicken coop enclosure with wire mesh on the sides and roof.

Other than that, he was held in a three-by-four-metre seclusion room with only a mattress and a urine bottle in which to go to the toilet.

His mental state deteriorated further during this time, and as predicted, to the extent that Ashley became angry and assaulted staff.

Professionals waded into the debate.

In 2009, expert clinical psychologist Dr Angela Arnold-Saritepe stated that Ashley would continue to deteriorate both mentally and physically.

“To my knowledge there are no treatment goals for Ashley that will support reducing challenging behaviour and increasing adaptive functioning,” said Dr Arnold-Saritepe, who is experienced in autism and intellectual disabilities.

Dave said this report was ignored, as were earlier reports in 2005 and 2006.

In 2012 another report, also written by Dr Arnold-Saritepe, stated, “It is clear that Ashley’s current treatment plan is not working and has not for some time.

“I do not see how the current care situation for Ashley meets ethical or legal standards so see there to be no option than to change it radically and immediately.”

This report was also ignored, said Mr Peacock.

Another report in February 2016 by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier described Ashley’s care as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.”

This report followed unannounced visits by the office of the Chief Ombudsman to the Tawhirimatea Unit under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989.

The Ombudsman’s report confirmed what Ashley’s parents already knew, the Human Rights Commission had also said and advocates, lawyers and autism experts had all been saying for years. He urgently needed to come out.

Despite all these reports, a petition signed by 5195 people, and continued lobbying by Ashley’s parents for more than 10 years, nothing was ever done.

Mr Peacock refers to it as “systematic issues” that have been largely responsible for the tragic deterioration of their son’s wellbeing.

“We knew that a mental health institution would be quite the wrong place for a naive, anxious, autistic individual with an intellectual disability.”

Mr Peacock said over the years there has been virtually no psychological intervention.

His behaviour became aggressive and after he assaulted staff, he was locked up in seclusion.

“Being autistic and with a low IQ he couldn’t understand why, and this just made him angrier.

“Staff who had not been trained to deal with autistic individuals, reacted to his aggressive behaviour by locking him back into seclusion, which only aggravated the situation.”

In Marlena’s submissions to the Select Committee she expressed her strong feelings about how Ashley had been “dumped” in to inappropriate services without specialised staff, and resources to habilitate individuals with autism, ID, PTSD and mental health issues.

“Such services are doomed to fail.

“Ashley has been dumped into a number of such services. All have failed him. His first dumping occurred in 2004 into ward 27, Wellington Hospital.

“On admission he did not have the necessary paperwork and spent the first night in a cupboard-like space as there were no available beds.

“After three days the psychiatrist declared him ready for discharge.”

Ashley remained ready for discharge for 10 months while a placement was found and finalised.

Marlena said not one of the placements that followed were adequately prepared.

“During the early placements it was heart-breaking to hear him as he constantly sobbed, ‘I can’t cope anymore’. We would hug and try to keep his hopes alive but this became more difficult as promises were repeatedly reneged upon.

“During his lengthy time in seclusion we would often hear heart-wrenching sobs and animal-like howls,” she said.

Yet Ashley’s’ parents were stopped from seeing him or making direct contact — often for weeks.

“Then when contact was allowed we watched him crawl around the floor with faeces in his nails.

“This was a difficult period for us and we felt hopeless and powerless and endured many sleepless nights.”

There were practical financial matters to be dealt with at the same time. Mr Peacock worked 10 years past his planned retirement to cover the costs of renting a small house on the Kapiti Coast to be closer to their son.

Retirement plans took a back seat. The couple are now in their early 70s and Dave says this decision, “could not have come any later”.

careful response from DHB

Capital Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) is responding cautiously to the upcoming changes for Ashley, and there are no promises or firm plans in place.

CCDHB general manager mental health, addictions, and intellectual disability services Nigel Fairley said it was too early to comment on specific questions about whether the DHB was house-hunting, training staff to care for Ashley around the clock and when these changes could be expected.

“It is not possible to put a time frame on this,” he said.

“As is the case with any client, any move to transition out of the rehabilitation unit must be based on their and others’ safety.

“We are working with the Peacock family, and their comments are consistent with the conversations we have had with them.”

Mr Fairley said the transition from hospital into the community was something they aimed for with all clients in their rehabilitation service.

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