Speech to Auckland Regional Youth Aid Officers Conference

  • Judith Collins

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to join you today.

It is a real pleasure to be here with a group of men and women who are dedicated to improving the lives and the futures of our young people.

New Zealand is the only country to have a branch of Police whose job is specifically to deal with young offenders.

It is an area in which we lead the world. The work you do breaks new ground and pioneers new ways of reducing youth offending every day.

I would like to congratulate and thank you for choosing to be Youth Aid Officers and for being a part of a unique and successful organisation.

It takes a special kind of person to be a Police officer. But it takes an extra dash of compassion, understanding and the desire to build better lives to be a Youth Aid Officer.

I am sure there is not a person in this room who does not believe that our young people deserve to grow up in a loving and supportive environment where they are happy and healthy and safe.

Sadly, too many of our young people do not have these things.  

I'm sure you see them every day in your work - children from gang families, children from violent, abusive or dysfunctional families, children from desperately poor families, children from families that have not had hope, education or prospects for generations.

Many of these kids will not have had the benefit of someone they can turn to for guidance and advice, who can introduce them to ideas and opportunities and who can show them how to apply themselves, work hard and make good things happen.

Police is a frontline service which has the potential to influence the course of their lives.

It is sobering to think that you might be only one of a handful of people these young people meet during their lives that can make a positive difference.

I saw an example of this earlier this year at the Prime Minister's Youth Programme in Waitakere.

One hundred young people were given the opportunity to meet and learn from inspirational New Zealanders, such as the Vodafone Warriors, Oscar Kightley and Frank Bunce in a month-long programme.

The young people were chosen by a working group that included Police Youth Aid.

They came from a range of backgrounds, but each had addressed issues such as low level offending or truancy and made significant changes in their lives.

What struck me about the programme was that it exposed these young people to a world of opportunity that they wouldn't otherwise have had.

All of them were bright and enthusiastic. It wasn't hard to see just how big an influence the programme would be.

I spoke to a couple of the young people who told me they had grown up in an environment that had little respect for the Police or the law.

One even said that his goal was to be a Police officer and he was working hard towards that.

Now that's success!

Lowering the rates of youth offending, keeping young people out of institutions and giving them opportunities and pride are real goals of this Government.

We understand that our young people are the future of this country, and the quality of that future depends upon the care, the confidence and the leadership we give them today.

Our Youth Justice system is based around the idea that using families and communities to steer the lives of our young people rather than the formal justice system, offers the best chance of enduring change.

In 1998 there were 2000 children in New Zealand state institutions, such as borstals and boys' homes. Today it is around 140 with an extra 10 beds planned next year.

The Ministry of Social Development, Child Youth and Family and the Department of Corrections have all undertaken work on how people end up as adult offenders.

The one conclusion they have all reached is that if young people end up in a youth justice facility, there is a good chance they will end up in prison later in life.

Youth offending and youth employment are two of the main areas of focus for us.

The Children, Young Persons and their Families (Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders) Amendment Act includes the legislative changes required to implement parts of the Fresh Start package announced last year.

The Government listened to Judges and Police and recognised that we need to extend the current range of options for dealing with youth offenders.

The care and protection and youth justice systems deal very well with most children and young people who break the law.

For our most serious, recidivist offenders though, we need options that are stronger and more intensive. 

Much of your work deals with the "deeds" and the "needs" - making sure young offenders are held accountable, that they accept responsibility for their actions and are dealt with in a way that addresses what they need to move forward in a responsible way.

Experience shows us that some young people need extra time to turn their lives around.

Greater legislative flexibility and wider sentencing options will make a difference for this group, holding them to account while focusing on the underlying causes behind their offending. 

These options include giving Youth Courts more power to issue new orders that address parenting education, mentoring, and drug and alcohol treatment issues.

Longer sentences will be created for the worst offenders and the Youth Court will be empowered to deal with a small number of 12 and 13-year-olds charged with serious offences.

There will be more Court-supervised programmes, more Youth Development Programmes, and an Innovation Fund to encourage communities to come up with new solutions to youth offending.

The new legislation will come into force no later than 1 October 2010.

Child, Youth and Family has also called on the New Zealand Defence Force to help develop training camps for the worst young offenders who are on their last chance with the Youth Court.

NZDF has, of course, had a lot of success over the years using discipline and personal responsibility to turn around the lives of young people.

These camps will also address the causes of offending with mentoring, literacy and numeracy skills and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

These camps won't be a walk in the park - there is a punishment element to it because these young people have committed serious crimes.

We're also introducing programmes to target young unemployed people.

You'll all be aware that young people with skills, good jobs and career prospects are more likely to stay out of trouble than those that don't.

We don't want young people languishing for months or years on the Unemployment Benefit. It does nobody any good.

Our Youth Opportunities Package was launched almost a year ago and was designed to help young people through the worst of the recession by creating almost 17,000 jobs or training places over 18 months.

The programme has also indirectly helped businesses by supporting them to fill entry roles with limited risk.

Job Ops halves the cost of hiring a person for 30 hours for six months at the minimum wage. It targets unskilled 16 to 24 year olds with low or no qualifications and gives them that all-so-important foot in the door.

Once in, it's up to the young person to work hard and prove their worth. The feedback so far is that this is exactly what most of them have done.

Community Max will focus on projects which benefit communities by combining on-the-job-learning with skills training for young people with low or no qualifications.

We're also expanding the Limited Service Volunteer Scheme. This has been running for nearly two decades and has been a great success - half of all participants have gone into work after completing the six-week programme.

We're going to boost the numbers of places on the scheme with new programmes at Hobsonville, which was opened by the Prime Minister on 1 June, and Trentham.

This will create just under 2000 new places for young people who are unemployed and looking for direction.

Most will be referred by Work and Income although Police often send them along too. Police also provide mentors for three of the six weeks.

The support doesn't end when the course does. Work and Income case managers help the LSV graduates capitalise on the skills and experience they have learned with job placement or further training.

The results so far have been brilliant.

Our Youth Justice system is something we can all be proud of.

Research by Victoria University in 2002 and 2005 showed about 80 per cent of young people that came to notice of Police were dealt with by Alternative Action. Of those over 80 per cent did not re-offend

Your success is measured by the number of people that don't show up in the Police crime statistics later in life.

There are still many challenges to be met.

The high rate of Maori offending is something none of us should be proud of, and is an issue the entire justice system is grappling with.

A good education is the key to a good life, yet too many of our young people come from families that don't value education.

Keeping young people in schools and encouraging them to go on to tertiary study or further training will benefit not just them, but their children and the generations to follow.

The relationships that young people build with Police are extremely important. But often we find that when an officer leaves or is transferred, the relationship with Police is broken.

It doesn't take much for these young people - who often have a history of broken relationships with adults - to go off the track after losing what might be the only real mentor and role model in their life.

We need to find ways to ensure those positive relationships with Police are maintained and strengthened. They mean so much.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to speak to you this morning.

I hope that this conference builds on the considerable knowledge and experience that has been built up by Police Youth Aid and which can be put into practice.

Again, thank you for the great work you do with the young people of this country.

I would like you all to know that the Government is behind you, that we support you and we really do appreciate the difficult but important work you do.