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Community Oral Health events: Helping prisoners’ families access local health services

The Community Oral Health Service visited Auckland South Corrections Facility (Kohuora) in July 2019 as part of their family health initiative. In New Zealand, pre-school and primary school children have access to free, publicly funded basic oral health services. Statistically, Maori and Pasefika children experience worse dental health outcomes than children of other ethnic groups.

While providing health services to prisoner families is not part of Kohuora's contractual obligations, they are committed to helping them access health and other social services. Kohuora's families often experience significant stress when a family member is imprisoned and their health and wellbeing may be compromised as a result.

Our team were introduced to the Counties Manukau Community Oral Health team by Kohuora Head of Healthcare, Tracey Mitchell. The Oral Health team explained that not all families were enrolling their children, possibly because they were unaware that the service was free.

In particular, the team were struggling to connect with certain families, many of whom have family members in the prison. To help tackle this issue, a trial of two dental sessions in the Kohuora Visitor Centre was arranged, with prisoners booking visits for their children.

The sessions offered a welcoming environment to assess patients and provide caregivers with information and support to look after their children’s teeth. The children had fun playing with a set of over-sized model teeth and practicing their brushing technique while staff checked they were enrolled in local dental services and confirmed appointments with their caregivers.

In total over the two days, there were:

  • 89 visitors to the Oral Health team;
  • 12 new enrolments;
  • 42 sets of contact details updated;
  • 19 new appointments booked; and
  • 13 children who visited from outside Auckland, referred by their local District Health Boards.

This was the first health support visit for prisoner families at Kohuora and was such a great success that the Oral Health team are already planning their next visit.