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You want to solve youth crime? then deal in facts

A lot of politicians, and commentators the last week have been scrapping out to see who can yell the loudest when it comes to youth crime and the ram raids that have been keeping news rooms busy. Lock them up say some, reduce the age of charging says another, it’s the parents fault, its Oranga Tamariki, the Police needs more powers – the list of blame goes on and on like the Nile river winding its way from its source to the sea.

Very few people talk about the source of what is happening and instead just go for the headlines. So here is a reality check. Building more youth detention centres is not going to solve the problem nor is yelling the loudest for the 24 hour headline. The issues that are faced as a result of a young person getting into a stolen car and ramming it through a shop are equal to the young New Zealand children who are shoplifting in supermarkets for food because either they or their young siblings have nothing to eat. The fact is that a percentage of our New Zealand children live in poverty and sadly the per head of population rate is more likely to mean those kids are either Maori or Pacific.

Another fact worth stating – this is not new and its called intergenerational poverty and its more a case that the young people involved are probably the result of parents themselves having children younger and so it goes. For some of these families this goes back not just one generation, this often goes back two or three. Another brutal fact – the issues involved include housing, lack of employment opportunities or those parents who do work are in the low skills and lo wage side of the economy.

These children and sometimes their parents would have come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki and CYFS by the very nature of the social issues involved and while drug addiction might also be involved in some cases with parents take a pause for a moment and think about the prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome in this country. And then we get to an issue that very people want to talk about – the presence of neurodiverse conditions across the age group. Kids that have been excluded from school, in their thousands, with things such as ADHD, autism or other learning disabilities. But how would we know the true number when, in this country, we exclude first and diagnose later? And as for a diagnosis its like a lottery purely because we just do not have the workforce in the field to diagnose or a system that makes it easier for parents to understand what they need to do.

So now that I have painted that not so rosy picture of the facts how about we spend some time focused on putting the child and the whanau at the Centre instead of making up headlines that do more to drive them further into a corner. The truth is it takes a village to raise a child and there is no time like the present to not only join services up but invest in the very programs and initiatives in the community that we know work. And there is both a diversity and plethora of them from drivers license programs run at Marae such as Waatea in Auckland or Ma Ta Waka in Christchurch, initiatives in Auckland such as BBM and David Letele and his crew or the work that the hundreds if not thousands of groups do every single day in the community and at the coalface. Driving community based solutions is where our future is because lets face – what has been happening for the last more than a century just isn’t working.

PS – message to politicians; surely this is one issue you can come together on instead of pot shotting.

Matthew Tukaki is Chair of the National Maori Authority and former Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Board of the New Zealand Ministry for Children. Matthew is also a former Australian Representative to the UNGC and a member of the Board of the UNGC.


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