Scouting New Zealand AGM: Youth Work in New Zealand

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs

Tatum Park, Levin

Dr Francis Small, Members of the National Council, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening.

It is great to be here at Tatum Park. This is a beautiful place and I'm sure a great asset to Scouting New Zealand.

Tonight I want to address a couple of things. I want to look at what youth work is, who is doing it and what we can all do to improve it. Secondly I want to tell you a bit about the Government's new Employment Strategy and the role that organisations like Scouting can play.

What is Youth Work?
There is a common misconception that youth work is something you do with at risk young people. Or, worse still, do to at risk young people.

Wrong. Youth work is about purposeful interaction between adults and young people. It comes down to the development of a young person and the input someone close to them might have.

We all know that when helping a young person to develop, one focus must be the development of the whole young person. This means that as well as considering their education needs, we need to acknowledge that physical health, spirituality, relationship skills and self-esteem all contribute to success in future life.

Things like the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and your own set of awards are a good way of meeting the developmental needs of young people. They also have the added extra of being something tangible that the young person can use when applying for a job or entry to further education.

Another excellent example of youth development is the New Zealand Conservation Corps and Youth Service Corps which are run by my Ministry.

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.

The participants are a disparate group with some significant signs of difficulty. In spite of that, on average, Conservation Corps boasts a whacking 80% of participants entering employment, education or training within six months of completing the course. That makes it one of the most successful Government training programmes.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs is in a unique position because when it comes to Government departments it is one of the few that can work with the whole of a young person's life. The Ministry's work programme is based around the themes of family, working, well-being, learning and citizenship.

Working in that way has made Conservation and Youth Service Corps the success they are today.

There are some other characteristics that I would like to mention.

Firstly, the programmes challenge. They challenge life's limits - mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Secondly, youth development helps a young person to respect themselves. It is important that our young people respect others by not doing things like stealing or tagging. However, if they have no self respect, then what chance do we have of really improving their life options?

We are not born with self respect. We need to be taught it, we need to learn how important it is to respect who we are, our body and what we stand for. Sure, things like parenting skills, budgeting and social skills are important, but we need to first of all teach young people that they are of value. Young New Zealanders need to be shown that they are intelligent, that they can participate and that they have a right to be on this planet. No more, and no less, than anybody else.

One of the important things that youth work does is help young people identify their value base. The values that we hold dictate the boundaries that we set for ourselves.

If you can successfully help young people relate to the values you promote in Scouting then you will have achieved a lot. The values of honour, trust, duty, helping others, loyalty and tolerance are very worthy.

If youth work can help people achieve these things, then it has the potential to be an awesome force.

The role of youth work
Increasingly youth work is being valued. And that is because we know that we can't just teach young people in schools. Learning has to be experiential and some of it has to be outside of the classroom. So, organisations like Scouting have a role to play.

However, with anything that aims to develop youth we have to make huge efforts to deliver programmes that are acceptable to them. We need to be prepared to work on their terms and be smart enough to design and deliver appropriately.

Another major contribution to how young people develop is the way that we as a society typecast them.

Some new research by a Porirua youthworker has shown this to be true. The research was funded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Crime Prevention Unit.

This work has shown that being typecast as 'bad' is the greatest barrier to achievement.

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 on the way to adulthood. If that happens youth are likely to be enticed by other options such as gangs and crime.

As a nation we have an obligation to ensure that young people's connections to their family, school, peers and community are strong and lasting. Certainly, the recently released code of family and social responsibility has sparked debate around some of these issues.

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

Students preferred to relate to someone who understood what it was like for them and who was prepared to treat them as something other than a 'bad student' or a child.

The study recommended that we need people, like youthworkers, to act as links to the adult world. And it also requires respect and a special rapport. That involves a lot of listening and understanding. I think that far too often we let children and young people down by failing them in this regard.

This type of intervention is very important in a young persons life. For that reason we need to ensure that we have the most informed and best qualified people to do it.

In order to improve the skills and support that is available to youth workers, the Government is currently looking at developing formal and recognisable training for youth workers.

Helping people to work
One of the major scourges that faces young people today is unemployment. I think it is fair to say that people who participate in organisations such as Scouting are less likely to face long-term unemployment.

That is because of the confidence, skills and self esteem that they gain from participating.

We are doing a similar thing with the new Employment Strategy. The Government's employment strategy is about changing some of the age-old attitudes about unemployment.

The Budget confirmed that from October we will introduce a new benefit system called the Community Wage. A new deal for the unemployed.

Young people make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, yet they account for a staggering 34% of those who are unemployed.

Our new Community Wage scheme offers a way out of unemployment and supports people in a much more positive way than previously.

We are aiming to break the vicious circle of 'No job, no experience - no experience, no job'.

The new Community Wage will turn a negative payment into a positive payment. Now, rather than simply picking up a benefit, job seekers will have to work in the community for about 20 hours a week.

So how is this going to work?

The four different agencies that currently deal with job seekers will be integrated. From 1 October this year, job seekers will have one place to visit that will help them get back to work and provide support.

There will be more flexibility in the way that we use our resources. If a method of helping people back to work is successful, then there will be greater flexibility to move additional resources into delivering things that work.

We are also going to move the management and resources of employment programmes from central government to regional bases. It makes much more sense for the mix of services required to be decided within the community in which they will be delivered.

And, as I mentioned earlier we are going to introduce a Community Wage to replace the Unemployment Benefit.

The Community Wage will keep job seekers connected to the workplace and community, to maintain motivation, and prevent loss of confidence, skills and self esteem. It is positive and it can work. In fact, it needs to.

For young people unemployment is a curse, and the old benefit system was of very little assistance. I heard of a young guy who had left school and went straight on to the dole for six years. In that time he lost all sense of self esteem and motivation. There was nothing to give him the boost he needed to get into work.

The new Community Wage will stop this. It means people will no longer be able to simply leave school and end up on the dole. If you are unemployed, then you are going to have to work for your wage.

In the UK a similar scheme that is being set up has been called the new deal for young people.

I think that is a good way to put it. The new Community Wage is about a deal. It is about a deal between yourself and your community. But even more importantly it is about a deal with yourself to get back to work.

Just like all deals there will be a contract. Once you sign-on as a job seeker you will enter a contract to actively seek paid work, and to be available for any appropriate community work that is provided.

I think that this is a fair and good deal for young job seekers.

Community organisations like yourselves have the potential to gain a lot from the Community Wage. From October people receiving benefits will be expected to do 20 hours of work a week. They will be required to do work that otherwise would not be done. There are literally thousands of jobs like that round the country.

I'm sure that organisations like Scouting will be able to tap this new resource. Scouting would benefit from the extra work it would be able to do. And the unemployed would benefit from the experience and skills that they would gain.

How can we become involved in this new deal?

That is a challenge for you all to think about.