Great Expectations

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs

Paihia, Bay of Islands


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. If there's one thing I've learned in the past year (and I assure you there are many things), the most important has been just how outstanding New Zealand's youth are. And seeing you all here today reinforces that. I understand that some of you have travelled for more hours than I have to be here.

Firstly I'd like to speak to you on the topic, "Great Expectations of Young People" and then I'd like to outline the functions of the Ministry of Youth Affairs.

Recently I read about a Teenagers' Bill of Rights designed by 14-16yr olds. Part of it reads as follows:

We have the right to be loved unconditionally, and our goal is to love you the same.

We have the right to speak our minds, love ourselves, feel our feelings, and strive for our dreams. Please support us by believing in us rather than fearing for us.
I believe that whatever our expectations of youth are - that's what we'll get.

When we see young people as a constructive and valued part of our society, making a difference to all those around them, and then communicating that to them, we will see youth thriving.

But when we are not prepared to do that, we are likely to see the opposite.

"Putting it right" might be fine for household appliances. But getting it right in the first place is what really matters.

A major contribution to how young people develop and become empowered is the way that we as a society typecast you.

New research by a Porirua youth worker has shown this to be true. The research was funded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Crime Prevention Unit.

This work shows that being typecast as 'bad', is the greatest barrier to achievement that there is.

The study defines 'at risk' students as young people whose connections with school, family, peers or ethnic or geographic communities have broken down.

A consequence of such breakdown can be a loss of support and clear direction.

As a nation we have an obligation to ensure that as young people your connections to your family, school, friends and community are strong and lasting.

Predictably, the most important thing that the students in the Porirua study identify, is their need to be heard. The need to be heard by an adult who understands 'their world'.

They said that they prefer to relate to someone who understands what it was like for them and who is prepared to treat them as something other than a 'bad student' or a child. I would be interested to know if that is your view too.

The study concludes that we need people, like youth workers, to act as links to the adult world. That involves a lot of listening and understanding. And it also requires respect and a special rapport. Often that respect works both ways: adults have to respect youth and youth have to respect adults.

Now the importance of all this is that improved youth development doesn't just help young people, it helps all of us. If we can help you as our young people to do better, then it will also lead to national prosperity, economic competitiveness, reduced unemployment, an educated work force, and safety for all of us.

By investing time and listening to young people we are investing in New Zealand.

As well as participation in decisionmaking, youth empowerment also includes equity and access to resources.

The Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment, which was endorsed at the Youth Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur the week before last, defines youth empowerment.

It says this: Young people are empowered when they feel that they have or can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of that action.

And this brings me to the role of the Ministry of Youth Affairs.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs was established in 1989 to facilitate the direct input of 12-25 year olds into New Zealand life. The Ministry is Wellington based and it has three key functions. In addition to administering grants for the Conservation and Youth Service Corps programmes, it is responsible for policy advice on youth issues. The Ministry also works hard to communicate and consult with young people.

Policy advice
In the policy arena, the Ministry is charged with enhancing the ability of all young people to reach their full potential, identifying effective models for delivering services to young people, and offering solutions for "youth at risk."

Youth make up approximately 20% of the population or 747,200 people according to the last census. While the proportion of young people is declining as the population ages, in the Maori, Pacific and Asian communities the percentage of young people is actually increasing. 50% of the Maori population is now under 21 years of age. So, the youth population is incredibly diverse.

This means it is particularly important for the Ministry to provide good policy advice in order to give young people an effective voice.

Current policy priorities
The current policy priorities are divided into five areas - Working and Earning, Learning, Families and Youth at Risk, Well-being and Citizenship.

This is because changes in the economic, social and legislative climate over the past 20 years have affected young people in all of these areas.

Current policy projects include the youth suicide prevention strategy (which has now been published and is well on track), sexual and reproductive health, employment, education, and a specific focus on young men.

We know that the risk taking behaviours of young men result in them featuring too frequently in negative statistics. So I have decided to look at strategies to work in a gender-specific way with boys. The first part of that work will be completed this month.

In 1993 New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child so the Ministry is also ensuring that New Zealand meets its obligations in that arena.

Communication and Facilitation
The Communications section exists to provide information to young people and those that work with them through publications, policy papers and the Website. In addition the Ministry promotes youth development opportunities at a variety of levels, through various networks, youth forums and Youth Councils and through it's own student rep scheme. There are 540 student reps in schools (and some of you may be one) who provide the Ministry with feedback on key issues.

In addition the Youth Parliament held every three years also provides a forum for young people to make their views heard at the highest level.

Youth Corps Programmes
The Ministry also runs two youth development programmes for 16-25 year olds. Conservation Corps and Youth Service Corps are designed to encourage self-esteem, confidence, education and work skills through challenging conservation and recreational activities.

Over 60% of Conservation Corps participants have no formal qualifications, nearly 30% have reading or writing difficulties, about 20% have behavioural problems, approximately 25% have drug or alcohol problems and roughly 20% are involved with the justice system.

But despite this, on average, 80% of Conservation Corps participants subsequently enter employment, education or training within six months of completing the course. That makes it one of the most successful Government training programmes there is.

Challenges ahead
There are many challenges ahead.

You are part of a very diverse group in a rapidly changing environment, which presents a clear challenge to Government, policy makers, community organisations, parents and teachers to be as responsive as possible.

By focussing on areas such as youth development where we can actually make a difference, we can all work to empower and engage you in the decisions that most affect you.

Developing a New Zealand Youth Policy will help us do that. And during July, August and September we will be asking for public comment. I hope some of you can be part of that.

Thank you for listening. I'm open to any questions.