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Hon Ruth Dyson Speech - Youth Justice Conference

18 May 2004

Hon Ruth Dyson Speech

Youth Justice Conference

Hon Ruth Dyson Speech Wellington Town Hall Auditorium 9am

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. I want to acknowledge Justice Minister, Phil Goff, your conference host Shannon Pakura, Members of the Judiciary, overseas guests and other keynote speakers and workshop leaders and all of you representing a wide network of agencies involved in youth justice. I hope the conference has already proved valuable for you. You do a fantastic job and I trust that you understand that you are valued and supported by our Government.

A Government for New Zealand Families This government is focused on improving the lives of all New Zealanders, and as Minister for Child, Youth and Family Services, my particular focus is on improving the lives of New Zealand’s children and young people. I want for them, what most New Zealanders want for their children, and that is for them to thrive in their families and communities. I know that we all share this goal.

The reality is that some children and young people will not be able to thrive without assistance. Strong families are necessary to provide care and support for their children and young people. That is why a core part of the work of this government has been on social development. Consequently, a feature of the government’s wider direction for the sector is increased support for families through a range of initiatives, including improvements in the welfare system, strengthening services, and supporting communities and community organisations. That emphasis will be further strengthened in this year’s budget which will focus on New Zealand families, and in particular, providing support to low and modest income families.

We are, of course, concerned about offending committed by children and young people. We want to reduce youth offending, and we have a range of strategies and actions to support this goal, including the Youth Offending Strategy, the Statement of Government Intentions for an Improved Community-Government Relationship, and the Care and Protection Blueprint.

Phil Goff will talk more about our work on the Youth Offending Strategy, but I do want to mention that it is designed specifically to ensure that all departments look at how they can contribute to reducing youth offending. You know as we do that the most effective plans and strategies will only be successful if the agencies and departments involved are working collaboratively.

The Place of Child, Youth and Family in Youth Justice Child, Youth and Family Services has a key role within the sector to directly deliver youth justice services. The department funds community-based organisations providing preventative and rehabilitative services to children, young people and families at risk. Its work focuses on families/ whanau who have been unable to carry out their task of caring for and protecting their children and young people.

A great deal of the department’s work is at the most difficult end of the spectrum and is very often demanding and draining.

Intervening when children and young people have committed offences requires considerable skill and judgment by Youth Justice Co-ordinators and social workers. I note and appreciate the complimentary comments that Judge Becroft made in his presentation about the quality of the staff at the Department and their work in this area. I don’t want to only single out the two people that Judge Becroft has mentioned, but I do agree with him that both Neal and Lisa are exemplar public servants who have provided the strength and leadership required in Youth Justice in our country and I thank them and their teams for their work.

Making Sure Child, Youth and Family Has the Tools For the Job The 2003 Baseline Review acknowledged that Child, Youth and Family was under considerable fiscal and service pressure. The Review recommended that the department focus on its core business, and that it needed to be part of a strong social services continuum. The Review found that an unprecedented growth in demand had placed pressure on the department’s care and protection services leading to some diversion of youth justice resources.

The government accepted the Review’s recommendations and has made significant additional investment and supported the structural changes to enable Child, Youth and Family to carry out its functions more effectively and to assist in making sustainable improvements in its services.

Fundamentally though the Baseline Review established the need for the department to: Stabilise so that it is better able to provide services to children and young people who need them; Become a learning organisation; and Improve service quality and reduce the re-occurrence of harm, neglect, insecurity of care and re-offending.

As a first step and in response to these findings Child, Youth and Family has adopted priority outcomes in the areas of care and protection and youth justice. These outcomes provide the central focus for management of the department. The department’s youth justice outcomes are to reduce the rate and severity of child and youth re-offending, to hold young people accountable for their offending and, to restore or improve the well-being of that person.

These outcomes provide a clear focus for the department’s youth justice work. They also provide direction for funding of community organisations.

The government has invested funding in areas such as the recruitment of additional social workers to relieve the pressures arising from demand on departmental services and to provide improvements in services for Family Group Conferences, for both convening and plan costs.

We have also updated the 1996 Residential Services Strategy and agreed to: a Youth Justice residential workforce development programme, better support for families in the care, discharge and re-integration of their child, post Te Poutama Arahi Rangatahi discharge, support for a comprehensive reintegration programme post Epuni Severe Conduct Disorder Unit discharge, Funding for continuation of Youth Horizons Trust Severe Conduct Disorder Services, Development and implementation of a Supported Bail Project, and, funding for identification and feasibility assessment of another Youth Justice facility, which will build on (literally) the additional capacity from the two new facilities in South Auckland and Canterbury. I reject any suggestion that we should keep our young people in police cells and I, backed by our Government, am committed to ensuring that appropriate facilities are built so that this becomes a legacy of the past

The government is also supporting Child, Youth and Family to undertake a review of its own Youth Justice capability. Phase one of this project will provide a stock take of the current resources used by the department in delivering its youth justice services.

Phase two will then consider the gap between existing resources and the resources required to deliver higher quality services. I look forward to seeing the results of this review and implementing its recommendations.

There is a significant work programme being undertaken, which I understand Dr Ballard spoke about yesterday, which will improve Child, Youth and Family’s ability to achieve sustainable services. The combination of the Youth Offending Strategy, Child, Youth and Family’s own Youth Justice Plan and the Baseline Review together with action, all contribute to reducing the rate of youth offending and re-offending.

I know that it has been suggested that Youth Justice should be moved from Child Youth and Family Services, and this has certainly been a consideration in the past. I want to say that the Baseline Review was the first comprehensive review of the functions and funding of the Department from a first principles perspective, and the idea of wholesale restructuring and the establishment of another unit in a new Department, with the disruption to the positive momentum in Youth Justice that is now occurring is not attractive to me. It was not supported by the Baseline Review and I frankly think that we should just ensure that the recommendations of that review are implemented. I am confident that this implementation will see the outcomes we all desire.

What are the Issues for the Future Direction for Youth Justice Services? Currently Child, Youth and Family’s youth justice population represents 1.24% of the total New Zealand child and youth population aged between 10 and 16 years. A small number of children and young people have committed some very serious offences, but the majority of offences committed by the children and young people are not violent or serious.

This is not to minimise the harm and damage that any offence causes to an another person, but we must keep this in perspective, and we can assume, because of the principles of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act, that much of the offending that comes to our attention is at the higher end of the offending scale.

New Zealand’s child and youth population is increasing, and from this we can expect an increase in child and youth offending, because, unfortunately, children and young people will and do commit offences. Projections for the young population aged from 0-16 inclusive suggest that by 2006 this population will reduce to fewer than one million (991,950). However; there will be an increase within the group of 14-16 year olds from 180,200 last year (2003) to 193,190 in the year 2006; the proportion of Maori children and young people in the total population of 0-16 year olds will be about the same in 2006 as last year, but it will include a larger proportion of 14-16 year olds; the number of Pacific children and young people aged 0 to 16 years will increase; and, the number of Asian children and young people in the same age group will also increase.

The changes in population will not be even across the country. There will be more children and young people (census projection data is for those aged between 0-15) living in the northern part of the North Island, i.e., the Auckland area, Hamilton and Tauranga.

I tell you this because these statistics have implications in a range of areas, most notably for Police, Health, Education, Child, Youth and Family and the communities that are working with young offenders. We all know that there is a group of youth who commit offences for whom we all generally accept that holding them accountable for their offending is all the response that is required. Many of them go on to have productive lives.

For those children and young people who are in the early stages of potentially developing chronic offending patterns, it is important that we identify, understand and address them thus the need to understand the implications of the demographic information and to plan for these.

Working Together – Working Better? I think we all agree that, regardless of the improvements made through strategy and operational plans, the daily task of working with young offenders will continue to be difficult, demanding, and draining, but we know we can achieve a better outcome for children, young people and their families. I’ve talked a lot here about Child, Youth and Family and of course there are several other agencies and people who do important work with young offenders. So how do we all work together?

The government is working hard on inter-agency collaboration and co-operation. The Youth Offending Strategy provides us with the framework through which this can occur. Inter-agency forums such as the Youth Justice Leadership Group, the joint Ministers group, the Independent Advisory Group and, of course, the Youth Offending Teams encourage us all to understand each others roles and responsibilities and provides a forum for information-sharing, exchange of ideas and the healthy debate that I was talking about earlier. None of us can do this work alone.

These structures reinforce the need to collaborate and co-operate, which is one key to reducing the rate of youth offending. Being aware of each other’s roles and responsibilities, and understanding how we can collectively contribute to reducing youth offending is crucial.

The Debate and the Challenges Over the course of this conference you will hear a range of views about how the youth justice system is working. I encourage the debate - debate is healthy – especially when we all look at the problem through a different lens. This is how we make progress, but we must keep the end goal in sight. The key challenges from my perspective are: The rising demand for youth justice services – what is the best way to tackle this demand while making sure dealing with quantity doesn’t compromise quality? Effectiveness of service delivery and interventions Service approach - how do we make sure that we do not apply a one-size fits all approach? Balancing the needs of victims and offenders - how do we make sure that young people are held accountable for their offending and victims are provided with the opportunity for redress? Working together better - how do we make sure we work well together as professionals all focused on the same or similar objectives? Staying positive - how do we make sure that we don’t become cynical and jaded with the youth justice system and especially with the young offenders and their families? Strong leadership within Child Youth and Family Services for the Youth Justice sector

It seems to me that the answers might be relatively simple. We manage demand by being sure of our role and responsibility in the youth justice system and ensuring that we are undertaking that role, with a focus on the provision of high quality services and within the parameters of the legislation, regardless of our position in the youth justice system. No one agency or person is more or less important than any other.

We can make sure our first contact with a child or youth offender is effective and we can ensure that the first family group conference is the best that we can have at that time. We can do this by making sure we understand why a child or young person might be offending, use risk and needs assessment. We should make sure that the right people attend that family group conference and that they have all the relevant information available that will assist them to make the best decisions that they can.

We must make sure that victims are supported and assisted to attend the family group conference, when they want to, and feel safe enough to have their say. We should make sure that the family group conference decisions are the best ones that can be made and then make sure that the decisions are monitored. If the child or young person comes back again, think about what you did last time and how you might do it differently this time. This applies to all of you who work in the youth justice system. All of us should always reflect on our practice. We also need to be sure that we have the skills and knowledge to work with an ever-changing population.

I asked you earlier how those of you who do not work for Child, Youth and Family might assist. One way is that we could all ask ourselves whether the family group conference decisions must be monitored by a social worker. I have emphasised the importance of monitoring, but perhaps a family member or a community organisation might be better placed to undertake this task. You could make sure that you access the Health and Education assessment process that government has funded. I’m aware this hasn’t been rolled out to whole country yet, but if you work in an area where these are available, use them.

When required, health and education services are two pivotal interventions that can contribute to reducing the likelihood of re-offending. In addition I’ve mentioned that Child, Youth and Family needs to work better with communities, and I think that communities need to think about how they might ensure that they are working effectively with young offenders.

Attend and participate in your local Youth Offending Team – understand the other agencies roles and responsibilities, understand the offending trends in your local community, and develop forward thinking strategies that could reduce these trends.

Some of you may be wondering why you keep going in this hard and difficult work. I say to you think about the successes you’ve had. Think about why that young person might have been a success, and try and replicate what you did with that young person with other young people.

I admire all of you who come to work every day and work with our young offenders, their families and their victims. I don’t underestimate the task that you have but I think that as a group of professionals we have a responsibility to ensure that we are delivering the highest quality service that we can. This conference provides us with a rare opportunity to listen to each other and discuss and debate, to focus on the task at hand and to remember that it’s never too early and it’s never too late to work with children and young people.


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