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What it looks like when you write-off a youth's potential

What it looks like when you write-off a young person's potential

19 August 2016

With the Government's decision on whether or not to raise the age of youth justice expected by the end of August, one organisation that works with the young people who will be affected is speaking out about what this means for the young people they work with.

"Supporting the potential in all young people to be positive members of their community has to be our priority" says Tūtaki Youth Inc General Manager Ellen Hall. "Raising the age of youth justice would mean we can better support 17 year olds to turn their lives around. The current system is getting in the way" she says.

Tūtaki youth workers want to share their experiences of working with young people in both the youth and adult justice systems to highlight the need for change.

"I worked with a 15 year old boy who stole from his friend's house. He was able to have an Family Group Conference and was supported by myself (his youth worker) and the youth aid officer at the Stratford Police Station to complete community hours and get enrolled back into education. This process allowed the client to gain a positive relationship with the police, realise the mistake he had made and turn his life around and he has not offended since he completed his FGC plan." says a Tūtaki youth worker, who is convinced that raising the age of youth justice is the right thing to do.

The youth worker says working with those in the adult justice system is another story. "A 19 year old I worked with was sentenced to a term of imprisonment aged 17. After engaging with him once he was released from prison, it was saddening to see that he genuinely struggled with forming healthy relationships, self-esteem and simply knowing how to participate in society after serving his time. His struggles involve finding permanent housing, securing employment, finances and negative relationships."

Like so many, his story did not begin at 17, but with "exposure to domestic violence, drug abuse and unhealthy relationships his whole childhood. By the time he was 14 years old he was using cannabis and other drugs" explains the Tūtaki youth worker.

At the select committee on the CYF Bill last week a whole hot of organisations talked about how 'illogical and impractical' it is not to raise the age of youth justice at the same time as raising the age of care. "We are so often talking about the same young people" says JustSpeak Director Katie Bruce.

"The vulnerability of someone’s age needs to be taken into account when looking at sentencing of a young person as this young man has shown that it is possible to make positive long term change by engaging with services, remaining in your own community and being given a chance" says Ellen Hall.

Tūtaki Youth Inc have joined an unprecedented group of 32 organisations from across the social sector calling on the Government to raise the age of youth justice. "This Government is talking the talk when it comes to the use of evidence and best practice in policy making. If they do not raise the age of youth justice then it will show that they are not interested if the independent evidence and experience of NGOs doesn't suit their political interests" says Katie Bruce.

Organisations signed up to raising the age of youth justice:
Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, ADHD Association, Alcohol Healthwatch, Anglican Diocese of Wellington, Ara Taiohi, Brainwave Trust, Challenge 2000, Children’s Issues Centre, Community Law, Donald Beasley Institute, Dyslexia Foundation, FASD-CAN, Hui E, Human Rights Foundation, Human Rights Lawyers Association, JustSpeak, Lifewise, OMEP, Pillars, Prison Fellowship, Restorative Practices Aotearoa, Salvation Army, Talking Trouble, Te Taitimu Trust, Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge, Tūtaki Youth Inc, Unicef, Victim Support, Wellington Women's Refuge, Wesley Community Action, YouthLaw, Youthline.

Supporting experts:
Professor Mark Henaghan, Dr Nessa Lynch, Dr Kim Workman, Associate Professor Nicola Taylor and Megan Gollop.

Media release from the sector 7 June 2016 (contains more detail)

Factsheet on raising the age


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