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Strengths-based mentoring works for youth

Strengths-based mentoring works for youth

Address to launch of Youth Mentoring Trust website
25 May 2006

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for inviting me to your launch of the Youth Mentoring Trust website. As Minister of Youth Affairs, I always welcome the opportunity to meet with people from the youth sector.

I want to begin by acknowledging the huge value of the Youth Mentoring Trust and your work to support, increase, and improve youth mentoring in New Zealand. To Trust chair Jim Peters, and to Trust members Ann Dunphy, Claire Stewart, Bill Gain, and Douglas Cowie, my warmest thanks and appreciation.

Mentoring is of enormous value to youth development. Research shows that mentoring can help a young person develop increased self-esteem and self-confidence. It can help a young person set positive goals, enhance their feelings of identity and wellbeing, and result in better relationships and decision-making.

The vision of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa, which as Minister I am responsible for, is of a country where young people are vibrant and optimistic, through being supported and encouraged to take up challenges.
Clearly, mentoring is one of the most effective ways to provide that support and encouragement.

Many of the Ministry of Social Development's programmes involve mentoring. They include programmes like Youth Transitions Services for at-risk young people, or the SAGES Older People as Mentors programme for young families. And mentoring is integral to the programmes funded by the Ministry of Youth Development, like the Conservation Corps, Youth Service Corps, and Young New Zealanders' Challenge.

A research report commissioned by the Ministry of Youth Development and published in 2004 highlighted the importance of mentoring in supporting young people to develop their strengths.

The report, Young Males, investigated strengths-based approaches to youth development for young men, and it looked at mentoring schemes here in New Zealand and around the world. It found that reliable, supportive, non-judgemental mentors who allow young people to decide how to achieve their goals make an enormous difference to the young person's motivation, confidence, and desire to succeed. You can find a full copy of the report on the Ministry's website, www.myd.govt.nz.

Another report commissioned by the Ministry last year, this one profiling 17 young entrepreneurs, reached very similar conclusions about the importance of mentoring. Successful young entrepreneurs often reported having had entrepreneurial role models when they were growing up, people they learned from, were inspired by, and modelled themselves on. Ongoing mentoring support is also important, as they make their way in their chosen field.

As an umbrella group for mentoring organisations, the Youth Mentoring Trust is an invaluable source of support, information, networking and advocacy for New Zealand's many and varied mentoring organisations. You are, in a sense, the mentors' mentor.

Each of your trustees is a leader in mentoring, education, and youth development fields, and through the Trust you combine your expertise and commitment for the benefit of mentors and the young people they work with. Now, your new website will do a great deal to raise your profile, and the profile of mentoring itself.

Accessible to everyone with a computer and a modem, www.youthmentoring.org.nz has resources to advise people wanting to start up a mentoring group, help people find a mentoring group anywhere in New Zealand, and provide access to local and international research about mentoring.

All successful mentoring is based on relationships, based on people, and your website reinforces this with its section containing the stories and comments of mentors and the young people they've worked with. The site looks great and is very easy to navigate, and I congratulate you for developing such a professional and useful resource.

Having a website should also greatly increase the awareness and understanding of mentoring among young people themselves. The Internet is fast becoming the information choice of young people, with an estimated 75% of New Zealand students having access to and using the Internet.

That's why the Ministry of Youth Development chose the web as our vehicle for the Youth Voices Aotearoa brand. Youth Voices Aotearoa draws together all the Ministry projects that aim to get young people involved in schools, communities, local councils, and in government throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Ministry's youth participation programmes are about giving young people a voice in decision making, getting young people's opinions heard so that change happens, and putting young people's ideas into action on issues that are important to them.

Projects include the Activate Youth Advisory Group, which keeps government informed about young people's perspectives; the PROVOKE project, encouraging advocacy among young people in schools and community groups; the New Zealand Youth Parliament; and projects promoting youth participation in local government decision making.

Getting young people involved and speaking out about the things that matter to them is not only important for its own sake. It's also important because it helps to dispel the all-too-common stereotypes of young people as disaffected, lazy, uninterested, or selfish.

Last week was Youth Week 2006, and the theme was to challenge these stereotypes and redefine young people as citizens with plenty to offer. It was a very successful week, with loads of activities that celebrated celebrating young people for who they really are, in all walks of life.

All the projects I've mentioned are about giving young people the right platforms and opportunities to use and develop their strengths. The Youth Development Strategy, as our framework for positive youth development, takes this strengths-based approach to working with young people.

This is not to pretend that young people don't experience problems. There is no denying that many of the young people mentors work with face some very challenging issues, and that mentors have a vital role in helping them face up to and resolve these issues. To do so successfully, we need to see the young person not as a problem to be solved, but as a potential success needing some help along the way.

I want to close this address by returning to the theme I opened with - acknowledging the commitment and the contribution made by the Youth Mentoring Trust.

As you point out on your website, our communities are becoming more fragmented, and traditional sources of support for young people are no longer as readily available as they once were. This makes it vital that we develop ways to ensure young people receive the guidance and support they need - that we don't just leave it to chance.

The good that you do, however, spreads well beyond the organisations you support, and the young people who are supported in turn. People like you, giving your time and energy to positive causes like mentoring, are vital to building our communities' social capital.

Social capital consists of the networks of trust, support, and goodwill in a community. It consists of the contributions people make to the community's wellbeing, contributions that go beyond their immediate self-interest.

Social capital is about people not living as isolated units, but recognising that we are all part of our community, and we all have something to give to that community.

Our young people today are the parents, workers, leaders, and mentors of tomorrow. The more we can do to help young people find their place in the world and move forward with confidence, the better that future looks. Thank you for your commitment to New Zealand's young people, and congratulations once again on the launch of your website. It will take you far!


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