Lack of support for people with intellectual disabilities in Northland a 'huge issue' - principal

A Northland school principal is heartbroken at the lack of support for people with intellectual disabilities in the region, which has seen some end up in a police jail cell. 

In a survey completed last year, more than 80 percent of disabled people surveyed in Northland think their councils aren't doing enough for their needs.

Blomfield Special School principal Sally Wilkinson told AM on Tuesday there are two respite facilities in Whangārei, with one of them currently turning people away. 

"I've got another mum whose son has been turned away for five months. He's supposed to be getting fortnightly respite, so it's a huge issue and it's really heartbreaking," she told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.

Appearing on AM alongside Wilkinson, grandfather and adopted father of a disabled student Graham Bond said his 20-year-old grandchild ended up in a police holding cell because of the lack of support. 

"We had an incident a few weeks ago where we had to get the police down to escort her off the property where we are because she was getting very aggressive," Bond explained.  

"When they [police] took her up to Whangārei, they rang mental health to come and get her and they basically said, well she's not one of ours, it isn't mental health, we don't want to know about it." 

Bond said his grandchild ended up spending a Saturday and Sunday night in the holding cells at Whangārei police station. 

"She's a 20-year-old girl with a seven-year-old mentality, so it was very, very traumatic for her to be down there," he said. 

Bond told AM the experience has affected him as he feels he's not doing enough to support his grandchild. 

"Well, like most parents and grandparents, it's very hard when you can't help your young child to get over a problem. You feel as if you're not doing enough when they can come to you and get the quick relief from whatever it is that's wrong with them," he said.

"She's been turned away from the units because, according to them, she doesn't come under the criteria to get assistance."

Wilkinson said the lack of support is a "huge issue". 

"Graham [Bond] is not the only whānau that we have who've been struggling to find either residential support or respite or even emergency respite in Northland," Wilkinson said.

She said the door is closed to young people, who may present as more challenging and need the support the most. 

Whaikaha - the Ministry of Disabled People - told AM in a statement it's aware of the pressure on respite facilities in Northland in particular and is working to expand the range of options for disabled people and their whānau.

Watch the full interview Graham Bond and Sally Wilkinson above.