Indigenous Peoples and Justice

Hon Roger Sowry, Minister of Social Welfare, Work & Income

NB: content may change during delivery

Good morning and welcome to the start of day two of this conference.

I want to start by talking for a few minutes about our Youth Services Strategy.  This is what you could call the Ďroad mapí weíve been carefully developing to target youth at risk of offending, re-offending and poor life outcomes.

It strengthens Children Young Persons & their Families Agency (CYPFAís) current youth justice practice through the use of assessment tools which will help to identify young people at risk of offending and providing a wider range of services and programmes for those who are. It particularly addresses one of the main objectives in the CYP+F Act by placing rehabilitation and accountability in partnership. Young offenders must be held accountable for their behaviour, but accountability alone wonít stop them re-offending. And stopping kids re-offending surely must be the overriding objective in any youth justice system.

Iím aware there is some anxiety that the practice changes arising from the Youth Services Strategy (YSS) could potentially blur the lines between Youth Justice (YJ) and CP. My response is that research confirms that between 60 to 80% of the positive changes in offending behaviour are related to the types of treatment and rehabilitation programmes young people receive.

 Research also clearly shows the use of deterrence or sanctions have virtually no effect on re-offending rates - in fact they sometimes have the opposite effect.  I know itís a widely held belief that thereís a group of young offenders which the CYP+F Act cannot deal with effectively and that this group is responsible for a large amount of youth crime.

 I can tell you that a study conducted last year found this belief is simply not true. The group of repeat offenders is relatively small only 10% of young people had 3 or more Family Group Conferences in period 1 July 94 - 31 December 96, 72% in that period had had only one.

 That study also confirmed that the care and protection issues for repeat offenders are important.... and that often not enough attention is paid to this aspect of their lives in the early stages. YSS works on two levels using structured decision making tools to identify those at risk of offending and the needs of those who have a range of interventions - including rehabilitation programmes, short term care associated with rehabilitation programmes, specialist group care and programmes and residential care.

 These programmes and services will cover a range of behaviours Ė such as drug and alcohol, sex abuse, conduct disorder behaviours. And itís encouraging to know that in August the first new facility will open in Christchurch - Te Poutama Arahi Rangitahi (Sex Abuser Residential Treatment facility) for our most high risk youth before they enter the youth justice system.

 I cannot emphasise enough the impact the YSS will have on that group of children and young people embarking on a criminal career. I guess itís nice to be able to stand here and say that CYPFA hasnít had any significant increase in the percentage of Maori clients over the past three years. However, I donít like telling you that Maori or European/Maori children account for 48 percent of child abuse and neglect findings. Thatís not good enough.

 This is one of the reasons we have put a lot of time and effort into our Neglect and Abuse TV campaign which aims to educate people about the problems these issues create. And itís important to remember that there has not been an overall increase in referrals to youth justice family group conferences over the past few years.

 However what is happening, is that courts are referring more children and young people to us under the youth justice provisions.  We used to get about four police referrals for every one court referral.  Thatís changed now, and itís a one-to one ratio. This huge increase in the number of court referrals reflects the steady increase in the serious offending. Iím talking about aggravated robbery, serious assault and other shockingly violent crimes which are being committed by young people.

 Kids are not born Ďbadí.  Itís a cocktail of disadvantage that sets them along the road to crime and prison. You know the story....

        poor parenting, 

       alcohol and drug abuse, 

       health issues, 

       unemployment, 

       not getting a proper education, 

Now, Government is already doing a great deal to address these problems. Weíre putting in place strong early intervention programmes around the country - like Family Start - to break these cycles and stop kids ending up in the system. Weíre working to educate parents about what help is available and how to reach that help, with initiatives like Strengthening Families. Weíve developed a comprehensive approach to dealing with the ones who are already in trouble - with our Youth Services Strategy and Residential Services Strategies. 

Weíre addressing health issues with free doctorsí visits for under five year olds, and education issues by providing free glasses, I could go on, but what I want to talk to you about today is equally important if weíre serious about building a future for young Maori. 

Itís responsibility. Societyís responsibility, the communityís responsibility and the familyís responsibility. Frankly, Iím not interested in people sitting around moaning that itís all the Governmentís fault. Thatís a cop-out, and itís letting our kids down.  Stop talking fault and start taking responsibility. 

Itís everyoneís responsibility that we have fourteen year-old kids breaking into peoplesí home and assaulting them. The Government canít solve problems like these on itís own. We need communities up and down New Zealand to decide that theyíll take responsibility for their kidsí behaviour.  We need families to start spending time with their kids. 

We all need to look at our own behaviour. Are we giving them the right sort of role models? We need parents to get off the sofa, turn off the TV and go and check what the kids are up to. Play a bit of sport with the ten year-olds. Talk to the teenagers about whatís happening at school.  Spend some time with the littlest ones reading books.   Take the time to listen to your children. 

Let me give you one example of communities not taking responsibility for the problems our children are facing. One of the issues Iíve been closely involved with as Minister of Social Services is making sure weíve got safe places to keep kids when they get in trouble or canít stay at home. Places where we can give them long-term help to sort their problems out, and get back on the right track. 

Now some communities around New Zealand have been fantastic when weíve talked to them about providing such a place in their neighbourhood. Theyíve had concerns, weíve discussed the issues, and theyíve ended up being really supportive of the whole thing. Other communities have reacted differently.... with the NIMBY syndrome - Not In My Back Yard... I have to say, thatís not much help to a 16 year-old kid whoís been arrested and faces the prospect of being sent to an adult prison while awaiting trial.... And itís not much help to a troubled ten year-old... who has suffered sexual and physical abuse and has to be removed from a family for his or her safety. 

Do those communities expect me to tell these kids, ďIím sorry, we canít look after you tonight because the neighbours think youíll lower the tone of the communityĒ?  Or should I explain that they wonít be able to have mum and the family visit because weíre sending them to the other end of the country where there is a bed? 

This Government is doing our bit to help these families.  Iím not saying we canít continue to do better for them.  But we canít do it alone.  Weíre not going to give up on the families and young people who need our help.  Weíre doing everything we can to give them options in life.  Iíll tell you here and now, Iím making empowering people my priority. 

Iíd like your help to emphasise what individuals can do to take control of their own lives. One last thing before I finish.  We must not forget that we all have the same goal helping people make a better future for themselves and their children.  And that working together, we can make a huge difference to the society our children will grow up in.

 

Thank you.