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Report Full Of Excuses, But No Confidence

Report Full Of Excuses, But No Confidence

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

Last week, the Government released a report on youth justice and social service delivery to the children and young people convicted in relation to the 2001 murder of Michael Choy.

The review was undertaken in order to examine how police, CYF, health and education services dealt with the offenders, in order to ascertain what needs to be done to improve service delivery to such young people.

On September 9 2001, Whatarangi Rawiri (17), Phillip Kaukasi (16), Alex Peihopa (15), Riki Rapira (15), Joseph Kaukasi (14) and Bailey Kurariki (12), hatched a plan to rob a fast-food delivery agent of food and money. Three days later, the planned robbery took place and Michael Choy died.

The offenders were found guilty - convicted of manslaughter, aggravated robbery and murder - and sentenced to prison.

The report outlines the interventions of state agencies with each of these young offenders - and raises more questions than it answers.

Most came to the authorities' attention at an early age. Bailey Kurariki was seven years old. During the next five years, 36 separate events were recorded that required the involvement of agencies, the last being just two days before the murder.

Alex Peihopa was six when he first came to the attention of authorities. There were 11 separate occasions where agency interventions were recorded.

Joseph Kaukasi had 10 interventions from age eight, Riki Rapira had 15 starting at 11, Phillip Kaukasi had 17 starting at the age of 14, and - while little is known about her early history - Whatarangi Rawiri came into contact with CYF and police as the victim of a serious crime about nine months before the Michael Choy's murder.

The report highlights that plans developed to address their needs and behaviour were largely ineffective, failing to tackle the underlying causes of their problems.

Years ago, I met a Canadian- trained psychologist who explained that many children exhibited behavioural problems due to undetected hearing, eyesight, or motor skills development problems. She said schools automatically screened such children and, as a result, most were diagnosed as needing glasses, grommets or help with dyslexia.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence in New Zealand to suggest that an automatic screening programme, to identify physical causes of behavioural problems, would be of benefit. The report exposes the disturbing fact that, in spite of their age, only one of the young offenders was enrolled in, and regularly attended, school. It states, "This case highlights concerns about the heightened risk of offending by children and young people who are unsupervised and receive little positive stimulation due to non-engagement in school".

It is almost common knowledge that failure to attend school is a major factor in youth delinquency and crime. Yet student truancy, non-enrolments, expulsions and suspensions continue to grow. Many difficult children - like Bailey Kurariki - are unable to find a school to take them, and are enrolled by the Education Ministry with the Correspondence School. Everyone knows, however that this course of action is a complete cop out.

Overall, the report points out that, because of a range of contributing factors - a history of offending from an early age, mixing with anti-social peers, substance abuse, family problems, poor performance and attendance at school - many of these young people were on the slippery slope to criminal offending from an early age. The failure of state agencies, to impose appropriate sanctions to hold them to account, exacerbated the problem.

Unfortunately, the report does not expand on which of the young people had 'family problems' - although it is well known that family breakdown, leading to a lack of structure, stability and supervision, can be detrimental to a child's development.

Nor does the report attempt to explain how a child - Bailey Kurariki - in CYF care could possibly have been in a position to take part in a murder.

It is clear that many agencies working with children and young people are not conversant with the laws that should be guiding them, are inadequate in record-keeping, fail to follow up and monitor outcomes, and are unaware of the other agencies - government and non-government - that could be called upon to provide additional assistance and support.

Overall, the report paints a grim picture of systemic failure and dysfunction between, and within, those government departments regarded to be the last resort when dealing with difficult cases. While the report does make a number of recommendations to improve training, coordination, and information sharing, it does not evoke any confidence that more young people will not fall through the gaps.


Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested. View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html

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