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Impact of youth-related reforms

What will be the implications of the youth-related changes in the Oranga Tamariki reforms?  Now is the time to review your organisational policies if you want to get on board.

Today, I’m going to overview the changes. I consider how they address a key area of positive youth development – belonging – and the implications of the reforms for community and community services.

The Oranga Tamariki (OT) reforms.

The upcoming OT reforms establish new legislative principles and include age changes for leaving care, aftercare support and youth justice. The changes support positive youth development, in particular, “belonging” as a key developmental area for our youth.

Belonging in what sense?

The new legislation addresses three meanings of belonging for our rangatahi/youth:

  • the tangible - physical spaces we occupy and to which we connect – home, turangawaewae, whenua, land, community, neighbourhood, country
  • the relational - our membership and connections with whānau, family, hapū, aiga, peers and spiritual beliefs. This is the basis on which a young person can say “I am loved” (according to the Circle of Courage, a positive youth development approach)
  • the restorative – recognising a feeling of belonging is essential to resilience, the ability to cope with life and pain and to recover from trauma, mental health and addiction issues.

New principles

The new principles of the Act will guide the Ministry in the exercise of its powers and functions. Some of them apply generally to children and young people and some are specific to young people involved in youth justice, and to youth who are 18 years and over transitioning from care.

A young person’s need to belong in tangible, restorative and relational senses is recognised and supported:

  • young people should be increasingly supported to make their own decisions
  • young people should be supported to address the impacts of harm
  • the relationships between a young person and their family, whānau, hapū, iwi and family group should be supported and strengthened where appropriate
  • their mana must be protected by recognising the young person’s whakapapa and respecting whanaungatanga responsibilities
  • respect for a young person’s identity- gender, culture, sexuality, language, religion etc
  • recognise and address barriers to inclusion and participation that can be faced by disabled children.

Raising age for youth justice

From 1 July, most 17-year-olds who offend will come into the Youth Court jurisdiction. This is a long overdue reform and will hopefully lead to further reforms enabling even older youth to be dealt with in the youth system in preference to adult courts.

The youth system, like the adult system, holds offenders to account. However, there’s more scope in the youth system for the tangible, relational and restorative aspects of belonging for a young person to be recognised and addressed. In other words, more scope for positive youth development.

Instead of having to appear in the adult courts, from 1 July, most 17-year-olds will be either diverted by police (as an Alternative Action) or,  be referred directly to a family group conference before any charge can be laid against them. A family group conference has the potential to address a young person’s need for belonging:  their tangible need for a place to call “home, and for trusting relationships to support them to take responsibility for wrongdoing, make amends and if appropriate, provide reparation to victims.

Age increase for leaving care and support for independence

The new legislation finally makes our country compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, making Oranga Tamariki the responsible parent it was always meant to be.

The care and protection system will apply to 17-year-olds. The reforms also provide a lot more support for rangatahi to transition from care to independence. A young person in care will be entitled to live with a caregiver up until age 21 and to access advice and assistance up until 25 years.

Oranga Tamariki already makes some provision for young people to be supported to transition from care. But the support to remain with a caregiver and provision for assistance until 25 years old are big shifts.

Supporting the young person’s path to independence is the kaupapa and addressing their need for belonging (in a tangible, relational and restorative sense) is crucial:

  • maintaining their sense of home (tangible) with an existing caregiver
  • supporting and building trusted relationships (eg whānau, aiga and others that exist)
  • supporting the young person to address the impacts of harm

Implications for community and youth services

The changes are going to have a significant impact on OT itself. Funding for the changes was announced by the Minister of Children earlier this year.

Most youth services already work with rangatahi up to 25 years. But there may be impacts on these and other services, for example, more demand for:

  • youth-friendly placements and care opinions
  • health services to extend and open up to 17-year-olds (instead of making 18 the magic age for accessing a service)
  • for iwi and others who are delegated to run FGCs
  • for youth and other services who assist young people transitioning from care.

Buy-in from the community is crucial if these reforms are going to work. Rangatahi are part of families, whānau, hapū and family groups. It is at these levels therefore that the potential of the reforms to support young people’s sense of belonging and positive development has to be activated. Adequate resourcing and funding by government and local authorities for the community to do so is vital.

Review your organisational policies

If your organisation wants to be part of these changes it is a good idea to review your policies and procedures.

Some issues to consider include:

  • your definition of a young person
  • if you’re wanting to get on board with the extended youth justice jurisdiction, whether your policies adequately address legal obligations such as reporting and intersect with the court
  • do the changes impact on your duty of care
  • how you address youth participation
  • whether your policies adequately support  youth inclusive practice for the diversity of youth in this country
  • the alignment of your policies and practices with the new legislative principles (general and specific youth principles).

Do you want policy help?

Contact The Policy Place if you need help with reviewing and updating your policies to support service provision to rangatahi. We want to awhi you in order to support some of our most disadvantaged young people. Let’s work together on this!

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