Whakatau 2023 | Kelvin Davis

For government’s programme for the worst youth offenders to work, poverty must be addressed - youth worker

A Māori youth mentor believes that for the government’s new intense programme for the worst youth offenders in the nation to be successful, poverty must be addressed.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis and Police Minister Ginny Andersen yesterday launched the programme, which aims to break the cycle of serious youth offending.

But ram raids and fleeing from police are an adrenalin rush for New Zealand’s worst youth re-offenders, the youth experts say.

“It’s the same buzz other kids get from scoring tries but these young fellas don’t get the opportunity to play in sports clubs, just with the cost of being part of it, the cost of uniforms, the cost of going to the games,” Māori mentor Eugene Ryder says.

Ryder says a holistic approach is needed, with a focus on the family of the offender and the issues that affect that family.

“What the system tends to do is put band-aids on wounds and not address the underlying causes of whānau struggle, especially in urban settings, so a lot of focus goes on an individual as opposed to the whānau and the challenges that the whānau are facing in terms of trying to provide a safe space for their tamariki,” Ryder says.

Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis announced the launch of the youth intervention programme at Te Mahurehure Marae yesterday. The programme is tailored to the needs of each child and family.

“Māori groups have said, community groups have said ‘We know best how to look after our young people’ and the majority of re-offenders are Māori. That is one of my biggest concerns. These youth that are offending and reoffending, they are relations of ours. That is an issue I have stipulated to Parliament. is to support Māori families and our Māori children to stop offending.”

60 recidivists

It would see up to 60 recidivist young offenders and their families assigned an intensive support social worker to develop an immediate plan which includes mentoring, alcohol/drug treatment, support to navigate the housing and education systems, mental health and cultural support.

Davis says, “If they happen to offend again it’s appropriate that we continue to support these children and their families until reoffending stops entirely.”

Ryder says Davis’ programme is going in the right direction “because we know that when our rangatahi are offending and they’re taken from their whānau, no support is given to the whānau, so the rangatahi end up in the same environment that got them there in the first place.”

Ryder is currently mentoring a 13-year-old re-offender he hopes will be able to help change his current course in life.

“And this particular rangatahi, those that are opening their arms to him are the gangs and he doesn’t see anyone else opening their arms to him, you know, so to that extent, our whānau, our hapū and our iwi have a responsibility to open their doors to our rangatahi when they require them,” Ryder said.

Since the launch of the Fast Track initiative last year, 230 children have been involved and 78 percent had not reoffended in both South and West Auckland.