National | Corrections

Mother and daughters on a mission to support rangatahi offenders

Ariana, Maria and Taasha - Photo / File

To help support the growing number of offenders at an Auckland youth justice residence, a mother and her two daughters are using their relationship and the power of tīkanga Māori to help rehabilitate rangatahi.

Mother Maria Toetoe, of Ngāti Raukawa, was inspired to become a social worker after working as a cook at a youth justice residence in South Auckland in the 90s.

Now she works as a youth justice supervisor in Papakura while her daughters Taasha and Ariana work at Korowai Manaaki youth justice residence. Together they have almost 50 years of experience working to support rangatahi.

“It takes a village to raise a whānau to raise a child, and in that sense, that's what we do,” says Toetoe.

Ariana was inspired by her mother to get a job at the age of 19 at Te Maioha o Parekarangi residence in Rotorua. She's since moved to South Auckland to work at Korowai Manaaki.

“I could never ask for any better people to be working with than my own mum and sister,” says Ariana.

Ariana, Maria and Taasha - Photo / File

In July 2019 the youth justice age was raised to 18, ensuring offenders 17 and under would be dealt with in the youth court, away from more hardened criminals dealt with in District Courts.

The change means there's been an increase in demand for youth justice services and Toetoe is confident her and her daughters can help change more lives.

Taasha says, “Mum is a supervisor out in the field, I’m a team leader in operations here so I have staff that I manage and my sister, she is a programme coordinator".

At Korowai Manaaki, 80 percent of the youth offenders are Māori. The goal is to reconnect rangatahi to their culture through activities like kapa haka, karakia and learning te reo.

“Aroha, manaaki, being tika and pono, and we bring that to the everyday work by incorporating karakia, explaining to the rangatahi what these concepts are and how they can imply them in their lives,” says Taasha.

Ariana, Maria and Taasha - Photo / File

Recent statistics by the Ministry of Justice show the proportion of Māori 16-year-olds who reoffended within a year after their release fell from 57 percent in 2015/16 to 45 percent in 2016/17.

Ariana says, “If there is a group of people around one person including the iwi, hapū, ourselves as our Korowai community...for me that is creating a small community around this young person that will support them”.

By monitoring the progress of the 36 young offenders at Korowai Manaaki, the hope of this whānau is to the rangatahi get their lives back on track.