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Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa - Harre Speech

Hon Laila Harre
11 February 2002 Speech Notes
Launch of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa
50 Victoria St;


Welcome to Zeal and to a very exciting and long anticipated event for myself and the staff of the Ministry of Youth Affairs: the launch of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa.

I would like to pay a special tribute to the people involved in our two reference/advisory groups: The Youth Advisory Group, which was made up solely of young people and The Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa Reference Group, which included a range of people who have worked a long time with young people in various fields of work.

This strategy would not have been possible without you.

It also would not have been possible without the tremendous dedication, skill, enthusiasm and hard work of the staff at the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Their commitment to the wellbeing and happiness of the young people of Aotearoa is genuine. This strategy now becomes the Ministry’s touchstone.
I would particularly like to acknowledge Anne Carter, the CE of Youth Affairs, David Hanna, the Ministry’s policy manager and Rosie Pears the project manager, as well as Mereana, Rebecca, Stephanie and the rest of the team at the Ministry for the way that they have led the work on this project.

Welcome also to my colleague, the Hon Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Services and Employment, who has played a supportive role in all this. For this strategy to work it is vital that there is cross-government understanding of and commitment to its principles. Thank you.

One of the first lessons a young litigator learns is not to overstate one’s case. So when I say that this is the most comprehensive, relevant, inclusive and potentially effective government document relating to youth development, I mean it.

This strategy has the potential to shift the way we all think about young people and the difference we can make to their development – as peers, parents, teachers, government officials, local government, voluntary organisations, neighbours and friends.

It encourages central government, local government and the non –government sector to move away from the “deficit” approach to young people, where we separate out individual “problems” and identify young people according to these problems. This strategy isn’t called “five quick steps to solving teenage pregnancy” or “drug-free kids in ten easy moves” because it simply does not work like that.

Behind all the negative statistics are young people experiencing disconnection from one or more of the four key environments (family/whanau, school/work, community, and peer groups) they dwell in. Young people who are lacking protective factors (eg a positive adult role model, staying longer at school and achieving well, meaningful employment) and who are ticking off the risk factors. Young people who do not have the skills and resilience to make healthy decisions. Using a condom, drinking moderately, driving safely, helping a mate in need -- young people do these things when they have a sense of responsibility, a felling of connectedness to others and to society, a belief that they have choices for their future, and a feeling of being positive and comfortable with their own identity. And those are precisely the things that this strategy values.

This strategy is a resource that encourages us to engage with young people in an active and intentional development approach. It underlines the importance of young people participating as equals in the communities within which they exist.

And to emphasise that, youth participation is not just a process - it is the whole point: identity is developed through participation. Participation is not an optional extra, however brilliant you think your youth policy ideas are.

Youth is not just a transition phase to adulthood. It is an active state of being, and a time when we as adults should be resourcing young people and welcoming their participation. Youth might be “temporary” but it is also perhaps the most complex period of life. Decisions made in adolescence and early adulthood shape most adult lives.

Having access to services, support and information is vital. And formal access rights are not enough. We know for instance that young people under-utilise health services. We know a lot about what would change that too. A commitment to this strategy is a commitment to do just that.

For me the point behind the strategy was sharpened when I went to high schools in West Auckland and Northland and discussed its principles with students at these schools. I was struck by their understanding of their often problematic relationship with the broader community and the way that they are perceived by this community as well as by their readiness to identify solutions to these problems.

All groups of young people identified a need for ‘safe space’ in the community as a key to inclusion within that community. Facing high levels of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and early pregnancy, the young people of Northland cited boredom and the lack of youth facilities and venues as being major reasons many of their peers were drifting into what they saw as unattractive lifestyle options. Similarly, the young west Aucklanders thought that their relationship with the community would be much improved if they had somewhere safer than the streets to hang out and entertain themselves. It seems like such a simple thing to do – provide young people with a safe, drug and alcohol free space of their own – yet most communities lack such a place.

The Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa doesn’t direct communities to establish such facilities. What it does do is to challenge us to engage with young people and involve them in implementing these and other ideas.

“No-one ever asks us”, or “we’ve really appreciated being asked what we want – its never happened before” were common refrains that I heard throughout the consultations.

I know that this strategy sets us on the right path for the positive development of young people. The next step is in all of our hands, whether we are policy makers across all sectors of government, or teachers, youth workers, politicians.

Never underestimate how much more complex life is now for this group of New Zealanders than for any recent generation of adults. Paths are not well-lit, choices are far more extensive, which paradoxically makes them so much narrower for so many. Informal, family and community based-means of transition are less common. Unless we intentionally reconstruct them in our education, community and workplace institutions we leave the path to fuller independence to chance. The current generation of young people and those entering it are much more likely to have experienced major economic and personal stress than any recent generation of New Zealanders.

And ultimately, this strategy will allow us to challenge the expedient treatment of young people in public policy in recent years. Big policy moves, like the introduction of user-pays tertiary education, the abolition of the training benefit for 16 and 17 year olds, the artificially created dependence on parental income for income support perhaps until the age of 25 have had an enormous impact on the experience of youth but have not been looked at according to a youth development model. This will change that.

I am proud of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa. It is a collective pledge which we now offer to you and for which we are prepared to be held accountable.


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