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Dr Pita Sharples; AGM: Te Puna Whaiora

AGM: Te Puna Whaiora; Children's Health Camps

Miramar Golf Links, 1 Stewart Duff Drive; Wellington

Thursday 26 October 2006; 6.30pm

Dr Pita Sharples; Co-leader, Maori Party

I must admit that the question you have given me, is one that I ask myself every day. How do we make Aotearoa a better place for younger generations?

I think the clue might be in a programme that many of us will be glued to next Sunday night as the nation hands out the accolades to another New Zealand Idol.

And the two in the Grand Final - two twenty-one year old, incredible young people: the Tongan star Indira Moala; and Samoan/Pakeha man, Matt Saunoa are indeed an inspiration to us all. Talented; confident; and embraced with incredible support. The entire Levin Mall closed to welcome Matt home; while the closeness of Indira’s whanau and church are evident to all.

Yet, across town from the NZ Idol studio, another community was mourning the tragic death of 14-year-old Manaola Kaumeafaiva in what police described as "a random act of fatal violence".

It seemed to me, an absolute barometer, for reading the temperature of Aotearoa. On one hand we have future generations who dazzle us all with such stunning and distinctive talent and enormous brimming potential. And on the other, we have burgeoning youth crime, devastating grief, violence and challenges upon challenges, as we look to create better pathways for those at risk.

This organisation, Te Puna Whaiora, has an important role to play in walking the tight-rope between these two levels of the continuum. Knowing that every young person in Aotearoa, deserves the strength of solid whanau support around them; knowing also that every young person deserves to live their dreams.

You have been doing that mahi, since 1919, balancing between the challenges faced by your tamariki who come into health camps needing support in physical, social or mental health; and the right of all whanau to thrive in a caring, supportive and healthy environment.

Balance is the operative word.

A study by Robin Kearns and Damian Collins in the year 2000, highlighted that the restructuring of the welfare state has recast the role of health camps and placed them in a precarious position. The status of a New Zealand Institution - something we saw as an essential part of this country's health service - is suddenly being challenged in terms of both financial viability and public acceptability.

And so I come to this AGM tonight, knowing something of the revolution your organisation has been in, in adapting to the constant state of flux.

The questions you will have been asking yourself will have raised the tension, again, on how we all contribute towards making Aotearoa a better place for younger generations.

I know there are still significant health issues - and the reinforcement of regular routines, such as sleep patterns and eating/ table manners, healthy nutritious kai, physical exercise - are no doubt as much a part of the camp six week programme as back eighty years ago.

I recall an outbreak of Shigella infection as an Auckland health camp back in 2001, which was partly influenced by the condition of the children upon entry to the camp, which contributed to a very high attack rate among both children and staff. Some 94 camp staff and students were at risk, and within one week of illness, eight were positive, vomiting and with stomach cramps.

But there will be other, more complex needs, anger management; loss and grief; respite care so urgently needed for the 4000 children and their whanau who come through your services.

And uppermost in this, will be the pervasive presence of poverty.

When my colleague, Tariana Turia, met with representatives of Te Puna Whaiora earlier in the year, she was told that 48% of the current health camp population is Maori; and that poverty plays a significant role in bringing people to the camp.

A report into foodbanks last year found that 100,000 Kiwi homes faced food shortages. The report byChild Poverty Action Group found that despite the growth of the economy, demand at New Zealand's biggest food-bank, Auckland City Mission, had soared in the past decade. The author of the report, Donna Wynd, figured that about 80 per cent of users owed money, mainly to Work and Income.

At the other end of the country, food-bank users in Christchurch had to be turned away the week after Christmas as demand exceeded supply. The foodbank was seeing a lot more first-time users and growing numbers of employed people; and was staggered at the huge increase of referrals - up 38 percent - from social agencies, such as Work and Income and hospitals.

So how can we create the conditions for success when the threshold for change is so constricted?

The solution, of course, is in all of our hands.

The state has an absolute responsibility to reverse the neglect of family incomes, and it sure isn’t doing that through Working For Families. It is now part of the shameful record for this Government that their decision to discriminate against beneficiary parents in preventing them from accessing the In work payment, effectively means many of our our poorest families are being left behind".

The Government’s own report released in July, revealed that close to two-thirds of beneficiary families with children are suffering severe or significant hardship - a 20 per cent increase in four years. The Living Standards report described hardship as being faced disproportionately by Auckland families; Pacific Island, Maori and sole parents.

What is most tragic of all, is the fact that 61 per cent of beneficiaries with children reported severe or significant hardship problems in 2004 - up from 41 per cent in 2000.

So if our families are suffering from a state that doesn’t care; what is the role of NGOs, iwi providers, social services in making New Zealand a better place to live? How do you cope with the limitations that flow on from the fact that most of the 5 to 12 year old children attending your camps are from Decile One schools and low income families?

A key part of this is advocacy; and I really commend the work of people like Susan St John, the Child Poverty Action Group; the community and voluntary sector; social enterprises who are counting the cost and making the Government accountable.

But your role, is also, importantly, about delivering success through the leadership and continuity of care you can invest with the whanau who access your services.

In a market space dominated by both market failure and government failure, it is up to social enterprises like Te Puna Whaiora, to provide the commitment, the innovation and the investment to make a difference for the families that are being left behind.

The Children's Health Camps of today’s market, are driven by a philosophy of striving for early intervention in collaboration with the whanau. Unlike earlier times, when the rationale was the poorly child would be sent to the camp to get 'fixed'; leaving their environment untouched; today’s interventions are based on the needs of the child and the whanau. The involvement of parents and the wider whanau is now encouraged and seen as an important part of the holistic approach of the camps.

I really commend you on this approach, which I believe is far more useful in paving the way for success.

And I want to also mention the enormous capacity of those in the camps to make a resounding difference.

I recently read an article which profiled five of the staff at the Gisborne Children’s Health Camp who are studying extramurally through Massey as part of theTe Rau Puawai programme, a development of the Maori mental health workforce.

The article described camp manager Awhiora Nia Nia-Tai completing a post-graduate Diploma in Health Service Management; kaiakapono Hori Houkamau studying a postgraduate Diploma in Te Reo Maori and Flo Pahuru embarking on a Bachelor of Social Work. I thought it was really exciting that the health camp workforce is clearly looking for new ideas as you carve out your niche for contemporary times.

This AGM, as I sure the last few AGMs have also discussed, you will no doubt be revisiting the current status of health camps and the unique visible difference you make. The environment is at best ambivalent, given the pressures of de-institutionalisation philosophies and the compromises and conditions laid upon you in accepting formal contract arrangements with funders and providers.

What will be the niche that characterises Te Puna Whaiora as you move between the state and non-profit sectors over time?

In closing, I want to just refer to two birds, which featured in the popular Health Stamp series issued in 1961. The birds chosen were the kotuku (white heron) and the karearea (bush hawk).

The kotuku was of course, nearly wiped out in the 1870s,. as European settlers used its feathers for hats. It has been cared for and protected in the safe haven of the breeding ground at Okarito on the West Coast of the South Island, and today, remains a stunning, distinctive, absolutely unique taonga of our land.

The karearea, also threatened to extinction, has clawed its way back to thriving prosperity, through fast and fearless courage.

May all the whanau and tamariki who access your services, continue to be nurtured and cared for, like the kotuku, your arms around them as they develop the strength to endure and indeed succeed. Your role in strengthening families as a whole, is critical in helping our children, our most 'vulnerable species', in overcoming disadvantage and yearning for success.

In order to make Aotearoa a better place for our young people, maybe Te Puna Whaiora, needs to reflect on the relentless pursuit of opportunity that characterises the karearea - taking the steps necessary to make the difference, through fast and fearless courage.

The Maori Party will be watching your journey with great interest, and will always be available to share your successes and learn from your challenges, as together, we proceed through the state of transition, to create the optimal conditions for success.


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