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Packages to help tamariki involved in police matters

Mikayla Wright
Danae McConnell posing with distraction packs
Altrusa Chair Danae McConnell with distraction packs  Mikayla Wright

A non-profit community group is on a mission to support vulnerable tamariki and the Christchurch Police.

International non-profit organisation Altrusa has 19 Aotearoa clubs which run a number of projects every year. This is the first time the packs have been rolled out in Christchurch after one of the North Island clubs saw the need in the community and started them. The group put the packs together last week, ready for distribution shortly into local police branches and patrol cars. 

One hundred packs have been made, split up into three different age groups; 3-6, 7-9 and 10-13. Each pack contains a number of items to keep the children ‘distracted’ in a multitude of situations. 

President of Christchurch Altrusa, Margaret Simpson, says they’ve tried to give each of them something to hold and be interactive with, the older ones able to write notes down or draw. The packs also include activity sheets supplied by the police. Some items have been specifically made for the project, the finger puppets and marble mazes handmade by member Helen McNeill.

Distraction packs infographic
Distraction packs infographic Mikayla Wright
“They get to keep everything- it’s theirs, and we don’t want it back.”
Margaret Simpson

Simpson says similar initiatives have run in the past from Red Cross and other community groups, but they have tended to be for major disasters. These packs are differentiated by being geared towards more everyday scenarios. 

Constable James Marshall, from Phillipstown Neighbourhood Police Team, is involved in the facilitation of the packs into the Police. Marshall says there are rarely ever two situations the same but he can see many situations where the packs would be beneficial. This could include family harm episodes, motor vehicle accidents, investigations where police attend and during inquiries where police need to take the parent or caregiver focus away from their kids. 

Marshall believes the packs have the potential to be effective in a number of ways. They may reduce the pressure on parents or caregivers when they are trying to speak with police and worrying about their kids. It’s also something to occupy a child’s mind from what they might have witnessed or experienced. They are also a way to show children a side of police interaction they might not have experienced.

Distraction packs in a pile
Distraction packs in a pile Mikayla Wright
“One thing I love about kids is how the simplest item can keep them occupied and bring a smile to their face.”
Constable James Marshall

Marshall explains family is a huge part of police culture so for many officers attending situations where these packs could be used, it can be very confronting for many reasons. He says being able to give something to a child, see a smile and help them feel special in a time of stress or uncertainty is very important not only to the child, their parent(s) or caregivers but also the attending officers.

Margaret Simpson says if it’s successful and police are happy, Altrusa Christchurch will look to continue making them as an annual event alongside their other fundraising projects.