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Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa - Harre Speech

Hon Laila Harre Speech Notes

Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa
Presentation to National Community Development Council Conference
Waipuna Conference Centre
Mt Wellington


Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to take part in this conference.

I can't think of a more appropriate forum for a workshop on the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa. As a finished product the strategy will not only have implications for the way government policy decisions are made. At its heart it is about the positive development of young people in their communities, and the role of all sectors in raising happy, healthy young New Zealanders.

Much of the approach will sound straightforward to you. Indeed the YDSA takes much of the knowledge developed in the voluntary sector and applies it to Government. That's not to say that there aren't lots of different agencies and sector groups out there that are deeply committed to young people. But a vital ingredient has been missing ¡V an overall framework. This means that things like the "scare them straight" approach to youth offending can happen with support despite their ineffectiveness either in youth development terms or in reducing reoffending.

It is time to turn the more common "deficit approach" to young people on its head ¡V that is the approach that focuses on the negative outcomes and looks at addressing those, rather than focusing on the whole person.

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Increasingly the Ministry of Youth Affairs is applying a youth development framework in all aspects of its work. This has involved analysing, adapting and applying ideas developed all around the world, including in New Zealand, and has provided the springboard for the development of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa. The overarching aim is to make this a framework that is applied across government departments, not just by our dedicated youth ministry.


In short, "youth development is the process of young people growing up and developing the skills and attitudes they need to take part positively in society now and in the future".

This means taking into account what is unique about growing up in New Zealand such as our population size, our ethnic composition, the Treaty of Waitangi and our geography and political history.

It also means recognising that our young people are not a homogenous group, and there is much, much more to many of the social indicators by which we judge success or failure than simply a young person's ability to work hard or take advantage of an opportunity. Being young in and of itself is not necessarily the "blank canvas" it is often purported to be.

We are simply doing our young people a disservice if we don't take into account the broader social factors that influence youth development (both positively and negatively), such as the relationships and connections they have with their wider community.

Being young is also not just a transition phase we pass through on the road to adulthood. It is an active state of being, and a time when we as adults should be resourcing our young people and encouraging their active.


So what do we know about young people in New Zealand?

„h Ethnicity

Young people make up about 20 per cent of the population, a figure that is expected to fall to about 15 per cent in the next 50 years. Within this proportion an increasing percentage will be non-European. With an aging population and declining workforce the health and productivity of young people today is critical to the future wellbeing and wealth creating capacity of the country.

The youth population is more ethnically diverse than the general population, and younger people are less likely to class themselves as European than older youth. At the time of the 1996 Census the ethnic composition of 12 to 25 year olds was 66.8 per cent European, 19.9 per cent Maori, 6.4 per cent Asian and 6.4 per cent Pacific Islands people.

So improving the health and wellbeing of young Maori and Pacific Island people is not essential for them, it is essential for the maintenance of the standard of living of all New Zealanders.

„h Concentration

Young people tend to be concentrated in large urban areas in New Zealand, reflecting the educational, employment and lifestyle opportunities available to young people and parents in cities. Rural areas have a relatively high proportion of young Maori, especially in the North Island. Young people are also more geographically mobile than the rest of the population.

„h Education

Overall, young New Zealanders are spending longer periods of time in education and achieving higher qualifications. However there are significant differences between ethnic groups and young men and women in qualifications achieved. Young women are tending to out perform young men in secondary school examinations, and have a higher participation rate in tertiary education. Asian and European young people tend to leave school with higher qualifications than young Maori and Pacific people.

„h Employment

There's a lot we don't know about young people in employment, particularly those under 16 who don't qualify for minimum wage protection. Between 15 and 17 years women have a slightly higher rate of labour force participation than men, then at 18 this pattern is reversed. The involvement of young men in the labour market increases steadily with age. By comparison, those of young women remain fairly constant from 22 and show a slight decline at 25.

Overall, young people experience higher rates of unemployment than other age groups with Maori and Pacific young people experiencing higher rates of unemployment than other ethnic groups. Young people tend to experience shorter periods of unemployment but may experience them more frequently.

„h Financial independence

Young people today are taking longer to achieve financial independence than earlier generations of young people. This is due to a number of factors, including social and economic changes such as higher unemployment and increased participation in tertiary study. Government policy is a direct contributor, with student allowances now means-tested on parental income until the age of 25 and differential youth benefits. Maori and Pacific Island families are more likely to rely on young people in the family for financial support, and achieving economic independence can be a major challenge for young people who have grown up in a family dependent on government income support.

„h Young people as parents

Young people are less likely to be parents than in the past, yet Maori women in their late teens and early twenties have higher rates of fertility than other women of the same age.

„h Health outcomes

Young New Zealanders have the second highest suicide rate for 15 to 24 year olds in the OECD. Other areas of concern include car accidents, alcohol and drug abuse and sexual and reproductive health. Youth health, unlike the health of other population groups, has not been on a path of incremental improvement.


The youth development strategy will be an important tool to help raise the profile of the youth sector in New Zealand.

The youth sector currently is quite fragmented which will give us a benchmark by which we can measure the strategy's effectiveness in increasing the sector's capacity. The youth development vision will not become a reality without the buy in of this group, which will best serve young people if it is vibrant and communicates well within itself and to government.

At the moment, the youth sector is extremely diverse. There is no one organisation that represents the interests of the young people or the people that work with them. Fragmentation of the sector and limited recognition or awareness that a youth sector might even exist has impacted on the creation of a youth development strategy.

This situation contrasts with the high level of expenditure by Government on young people both in positive investment (education policies, health promotion) and negative investment (youth justice, accident and emergency services).

Many professionals are employed to work solely with young people. However, there is limited or no recognition of a ¡¥sector¡¦ of people with a professional interest in the wellbeing of young people. The dominant groupings relate more to the occupational or sectoral focus of an individual¡¦s work, for example a health worker or an education worker.

Youth work remains a low profile occupation with limited recognition. While in some parts of New Zealand specific initiatives have successfully helped to raise the profile and professional stance of youth workers regionally, this is not happening across the country. The recent establishment of a national qualification for youth work is intended to help shift the youth work profession from the pattern of low recognition, short-term funding, and high turn over.

Currently, there is no significant national co-ordination or representative body, and no permanent national forum of young people. However, a number of initiatives are being taken to improve national co-ordination, develop networks of young people, and building the capability of the wider youth sector in New Zealand. The Youth Development Aotearoa will support and extend these.


So why do we need a dedicated strategy to achieve these goals, and what is wrong with the existing approach?

We now know that to grow into healthy adults young people need to be actively participating in society and well supported by the wider community.

There is good research and evidence to base this on, both locally and internationally. For a number of years now the Ministry of Youth Affairs has been running a small number of youth development programmes that are designed to respond to the needs of young people identified as "at risk", particularly of long term unemployment. The Youth Conservation Corps and Youth Service Corps Programmes teach valuable life skills, self-esteem and encourage group work and co-operation among their members. Perhaps most importantly, they teach a group of young people that have been judged "at risk" by conventional terms that they do have choices, that they are valued and have a positive contribution to make. The success rates, judged by the number of young people that go on to employment, further training and education are unprecedented. Between 60 and 70 per cent of participants, young people identified as at risk of long-term unemployment no longer fit that bill.

This success isn't solely to do with a change in the attitude of the young people involved ¡V it relies just as much on the support offered by the wider community.

If we want all of our young men and women to:


„h Feel as if they are contributing something of value to society
„h Feel connected to a range of groups where they belong
„h Believe that they have choices about their future and;
„h Feel positive and comfortable with their own identity, then we have to make sure the right connections are in place.

There is a big difference between a young person who feels connected and one who feels isolated, and perhaps the biggest difference can be measured in outcomes.


The development of a young person through a youth development approach can be described as taking place in four interconnected social environments:

„h The family and whanau
„h Ethnic and geographic communities
„h Schools and workplaces; and
„h Peer groups

Good connections in these areas lead to the kind of outcomes we would prefer for our young people, but often take for granted as there for the taking for any young person who wants them.

These include the ability to cope with challenges, self confidence, a desire to learn, productive work habits, involvement in sports, a healthy lifestyle and behaviour and hobbies, interests and skills.

By contrast, we can predict vastly different outcomes for young people who are not well supported in all or any of their main social environments.


These outcomes include depression, self harm, high risk behaviour, poor qualifications, substance abuse, antisocial behaviour, crime and a low level of cognitive development, to name a few.

Within the community many people have a role in supporting positive youth development. These include parents, whanau, caregivers and friends. They also include teachers, health care workers, employers, community workers, and where necessary, social workers and police. Each person has the potential to compensate for gaps in the contributions of the others but ideally, these roles should all reinforce each other in supporting youth development.

The community environment includes the voluntary and not-for-profit sector that plays an important role in the overall provision of youth development opportunities. This grouping includes sports clubs, churches, cultural groups, and youth organisations. These groups provide:
„h opportunities to socialise
„h opportunities for recreation
„h opportunities to be of service
„h opportunities for spiritual development
„h opportunities for maintaining cultural practices
„h opportunities to strengthen their identity by mixing with people who have common interests or concerns
„h adult friends and mentors
„h opportunities to attend structured programmes
„h support for their families.


So to reiterate, the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa will help communities work more proactively, and therefore less reactively, towards positive outcomes for young people in a number of ways. It will improve government support for the positive development of young people, establish a framework for youth policy and initiatives, shift the thinking associated with young people to a positive focus and promote developmental opportunities for young people.

Many of these benchmarks have been incorporated into the overall approach Youth Affairs has taken to developing and consulting on the draft strategy.


The overall approach taken to the strategy can best be described as inter-sectoral, and the end result will hopefully be an agreed framework for all youth specific policy initiatives.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs has also used a very specific process to engage with non-government groups and young people themselves in developing the strategy. It was agreed pretty early on that modelling the youth development approach in the strategy's formation would be a key to its success.

For this reason the development of a draft strategy was as broad and open as possible and involved key government agencies, advice from a reference group and youth advisory forum.

This input was used to develop a discussion document and youth consultation pamphlet, which was taken to the community and consulted on far and wide. About 20,000 consultation resources were distributed, consultation kits were sent to all secondary schools, youth corps programmes and anyone else who requested them. Discussion documents were sent to all local authorities, key public health services, chief executives of government agencies, police, youth aid officers and safer communities' councils.

About 30 consultation meetings and focus groups were also held around the country, eleven of which were just with young people. A number of individual meetings were also held with other key organisations.

Youth participation was a key element in the strategy's development, and it will also be a guiding principle of the end product. Particular care was taken to make sure that young people who are hard to reach or "disempowered", for example with a history of offending, were involved in the consultation process. A range of urban and rural areas was covered and gender specific consultation was undertaken. The views of iwi and Pacific organisations and rangatahi Maori and young Pacific people were also sought.

Feedback from the consultation phase is now being analysed, and this will be used to develop the final form of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa. This will be in place by the end of this year.


I would like to end by reiterating the overall vision for youth development in New Zealand, which I hope will be reflected all the way through the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa.

This is that "all young people in New Zealand are supported and empowered to take up new challenges and to seek a fulfilling life".

I hope the Youth Development Strategy will enable us all to work together to make this vision a reality.

Thank you.

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