Vulnerable children strategy misses opportunity

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Government plans to better support children at risk of abuse have a range of good ideas but miss some important opportunities to reduce reliance on agencies according to a group using volunteers to improve child safety.

“The white paper strategy is almost exclusively focused on professionals and agencies – both government and non-government. We think they have missed a critical piece of the puzzle, which is utilising the healthy, caring adults in communities and neighbourhoods that children are being raised in. It takes a village to raise a child and healthy villages raise healthy children” said Manu Caddie the project manager for Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki, a neighbourhood project focused on keeping children safe in two suburbs of Gisborne and Whanganui.

“We have seen how adults within neighbourhoods can develop their skills and grow their commitment to supporting vulnerable families, including parents and children. Everyone can agree that kids should be safe, and providing opportunities for neighbours to get to know and trust each other reduces isolation and risk.”

Mr Caddie said some of the measures in the Government white paper released today sound ‘big brother’ and intrusive but there are a group of adults who should not have children in their care.

“It’s disappointing that most of the measures seem to give more power to the state and professionals, I guess we would have liked to see more focus on Government supporting neighbourhoods and communities to become healthy, trusting and well connected” said Mr Caddie.

“The Vulnerable Kids Information System to identify risks prior to birth may be useful, because it’s quite possible to see the train crash coming, but combined with the recently announced Government sterilisation of beneficiaries, there is a risk you are heading down a pathway to eugenics”.

A database of at-risk children could be a very powerful tool in child abuse prevention, but Mr Caddie points to existing national databases of at-risk children and wonders how successful these have been.

“We know for all the good work Child, Youth & Family do, their extensive national database that tracks children and families still contains many, many children who are being mistreated.”

Mr Caddie said he hoped parents would be supported to access the information agencies held about the families as professionals can misuse their power, even when they think they are helping.

Mr Caddie said Te Ora Hou Aotearoa, the organisation he works for supports the white paper proposal for a national education campaign to identify signs of abuse, but would also like to see a campaign focused on keeping kids safe and cared for.

Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki involves ‘Community Animators’ mobilising neighbourhood residents and other volunteers to build trusting, supportive relationships within communities with a focus on keeping children safe and healthy. The three year project is privately funded and a recent evaluation suggested it is demonstrating value for money as an investment in the prevention of child maltreatment.

Te Ora Hou is a national network of faith-based Māori and Pacific youth and community development organisations established in 1976. Te Ora Hou supports volunteers to mentor children and young people as well providing a range of educational and developmental opportunities for children and parents including teen parenting initiatives, early childhood centres, alternative education programmes and rehabilitation services for young offenders.

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More information:

www.teorahou.org.nz

Tel. 0274202957

Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.

Tairāwhiti families encouraged to go Screen-Free for the week

International Screen-Free Week starts today and Gisborne families are being encouraged to think about taking a break from technology.

Head Librarian Pene Walsh says: “Over 20,000 Gisborne people can’t be wrong. The members of HB Williams Memorial Library have increased their book borrowing by 20% over the same time last year. Surely that must mean their screen-time has shrunk by 20%.

Even though it is easier than ever to goggle at the telly, google on the computer, txt and tweet, fiddle about on Facebook or game the night away, when you add all that time up I reckon you’d be amazed and maybe feel there is a teeny bit more to life.

In our house all screentime is counted together so we choose and when time’s up, it is up.

Just ask Councillor Manu Caddie’s whanau – they have agreed to stop watching TV or going on the internet in the evenings – good on them, why don’t we join him for Screenfree week and try some ‘faceface’ time and visit one of our 200 friends or even try a bit of ‘bookbook’ time – yep, actually read one!

I for one will be reading several of the 120 children’s books entered in the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards and getting off my backside to visit my old neglected friend – yoga.”

Father of two and Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie said his family had recently put away the TV permanently and this week were having a break from the internet at home and it may stay that way.

“Most Kiwi families have television at home now, some screens are really dominant – both in the sheer physical size and the time its on all hours of the day and night.

Our kids love using the computer but some of the stuff is so compelling they forget about playing outside. We live in paradise and I want to make sure the kids get to enjoy their environment, use their imagination to create and not be completely sucked in by multinational corporations forcing brands down their throats.”

Screen-Free Week (www.screenfree.org) is an international project of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and this year runs from 30 April to 6 May. Since 1996, millions of children and their families have participated in Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff). Each year, thousands of parents, teachers, librarians, youth workers and clergy organise Screen-Free Weeks in their communities.

New Zealand research has found links between watching too much TV in childhood and later problems, including obesity, high cholesterol, poor fitness, smoking, short attention span, poor concentration – and lower rates of school and university qualifications.

One of the researchers, Dr Bob Hancox, said the educational effects of television viewing could not be explained by intelligence or socio-economic factors.

“It’s not just that children with little natural ability decided to watch more television. Children of all levels of intelligence did worse if they watched a lot of television.

“Similarly, the association between watching television and poor achievement was not because heavy television viewers had poor socio-economic backgrounds.

“There is extraordinarily strong evidence now that [screen] media have a major impact on children and adolescents. It’s not surprising because they spend many hours a day with media, of which television is the most important.”

Youth health package just scratches surface

One of the unforeseen knock on impacts of mass lay offs, benefit restrictions and high youth unemployment brought on by the privatisation agenda of the late 80s and early 90s was a tripling of New Zealand suicide rates in the 1990s.

So Martyn Bradbury suggests the $62 million for youth mental health announcement earlier this month is like taking an aspirin for a gunshot wound.

It’s a win, albeit a small one for Sir Peter Gluckman, someone who has constantly called for Key to take the plight of New Zealand youth seriously.

As someone who has called for youth workers in high schools for a decade it is pleasing to see a select few of the poorest schools will now get this support, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the needs.

All the initiatives like additional school nurses, anti-bullying programmes, parenting information services and a little top up for the few youth one stop shops that have survived sound great but barely scratch the surface in terms of the challenges facing at-risk young people.

Of course the government cannot fund everything, especially now they are borrowing so heavily to cover the tax cuts no one really needed.

Taxes have been described as ‘the national expression of corporal love’ – and it is fascinating to look at what has happened over the past twenty five years since top tax rates started reducing. Income inequality in New Zealand increased faster than in any other OECD country. Most of the increase was due to larger rises in overall incomes for the top 20% of income earners. Incomes for the bottom 20% actually decreased over the two decades from the mid-1980s.

British academics Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett use ten key indicators mapped against income inequality measures to compile an Index of Health and Social Problems. New Zealand features as or amongst the worst on most of the indicators.

The damage being done to the next generation living in deepening poverty will exact a terrible price on our communities. It is good to see some acknowledgement of the need to invest in the health and wellbeing of young people, but this token gesture is far from what is really needed.

Hoping Hēkia’s here to help


I appreciated the opportunity that Minister of Education Hekia Parata provided last week for local school Board of Trustees and Principals to meet with her.

The Minister has been passionate about the benefits of education for a long time and it is exciting to see someone born on the Coast in such a senior position again.

I was excited to hear about developments in governance coming out of the Christchurch situation. Ten years ago the Kiwa Education Partnership discussed a campus-based approach to schooling in Gisborne but it doesn’t seem to have eventuated. Cluster governance makes sense when we think about a village raising a child and a seamless transition between early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling.

It was somewhat reassuring to hear the Minister say she doesn’t see any need to link performance-based pay to National Standards. One of the big fears in low decile schools is that such a policy could see highly skilled teachers moving to schools where more students have participated in quality early childhood education and have better access to support for their learning. Advice from Treasury officials also reject pay based on test scores.

Ministry of Education research shows that students from poorer communities generally have slower progress than their peers – the level of material resources available to families, health problems, substance abuse and conflict, all have a deep impact on the ability of students to attend school and learn. If pay is based on the rate of progression, this may also disadvantage teachers and communities where progression is slower because of external influences.

High student expectations from parents and teachers is essential and building strong partnerships between home and school is one of the most important things we can do.

Class sizes do have a major impact on student achievement and the secondary teachers current collective agreement limits class size to no more than 26 students. While it may save money to squeeze more kids into each class, we should expect learning to be compromised.

Though it seems to go against the whole basis of the National Standards her government pushed through in their last term, I was pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all and progression in learning and achievement levels should be ‘flexible’.

It was also reassuring to hear the Minister sees inequality as a major issue that the country needs to address – both in terms of educational achievement and socio-economic status. Of course we are yet to see what the plan is for addressing the growing inequalities, fuelled in part by some massive tax cuts for those of us who least need them while future generations are being burdened with government loans from China.

Schools are not solely responsible for addressing every issue facing kids – neither is central government, nor parents or the wider community. But together each stakeholder has an important part to play in pulling together the pieces of the puzzle.

Beginning a ‘conversation’ on what the goals should be and how as a community and country we can achieve them is an admirable and pragmatic approach for any new Minister. I hope the commitment to a mutually meaningful dialogue is genuine and key stakeholders all have a real opportunity to shape the direction of education in New Zealand. Tough choices have to be made all the time by those wielding power in public but including all of the people most affected by decisions in the process is essential for good results to be achieved and enduring.

Manu Caddie is Chairperson of a school Board of Trustees but these views do not necessarily reflect those of the school staff, whānau or BOT.

Tairāwhiti tops the country for sexual health diseases… again.

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According to latest laboratory testing results, one in ten teenagers in the Gisborne district is infected with a Sexually Transmitted Disease.

Tairawhiti is consistently the worst performing District Health Board in quarterly lab reports produced by Environmental Science & Research, the Crown Research Institute for health sciences.

“This is not just a blip in the numbers or a case of regularly ranking in the top 10, we are the worst district every quarter” said Manu Caddie who prepared a youth health services plan for Tairawhiti DHB in 2008. Most of the plan was shelved after the 2008 election and the subsequent shift in national health priorities.

“It is not surprising given STI prevention does not feature in the TDH Annual Plan, youth health in general was dropped off the priority list of the previous government and the last national sexual health strategy is over ten years old” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie says sexual health education is obviously not effective for a high proportion of local young people.

“Teenagers are saturated with sexually explicit ‘entertainment’ on a daily basis and we now have a culture where early sexual activity is the norm rather than an exception.”

Mr Caddie says that while he has heard from pharmacists of a Rhythm & Vines attendee returning three times in two days for the ‘morning after pill’, the statistics demonstrate it is local young people who are continually compromising their reproductive health.

“In many ways it is perfectly natural for teenagers to be having sex, but the risk of catching a disease is clearly higher here than anywhere else in the country.”

“During the development of the Youth Health Plan we found that more than half the work of local school-based doctors and nurses was providing contraception and advice on sexual and reproductive health. We have just over 100 births to teenagers every year and a similar number of abortions – I know of a 12 year old who already had two abortions.”

Mr Caddie said his reading of the data suggests that Chlamydia rates in Tairawhiti have trebled since 2007 and Gonorrhoea cases have jumped from around 30 cases per year between 2004-2007 to 167 in 2010.

“We can attribute these dramatic increases to better awareness and more regular check-ups, but the rates of positive tests from clinic visits are continually increasing which suggests a real crisis and publicly funded messages that are not registering with those most at risk.”

Mr Caddie said he would like to see an outcomes evaluation of the 2008 TDH document Sexual Health of Tairawhiti Strategy and a clear plan of how TDH with the support of other stakeholders intends to turn the curve. “Family members, school teachers, churches, sports clubs and businesses can all make valuable contributions to youth health – it’s about young people taking more responsibility for themselves and all of us protecting future generations.”

The Transforming Power of Love, Hope & Faith

A number of New Zealand studies suggest that more than half of people leaving gangs are assisted through the process by involvement with a church or faith community.

Taking Matthew 25 seriously, many church communities also provide an essential support for those coming out of prison who have few resources or support people.

Criminologist Professor John Pitts speaking at a gang prevention conference organised by church leaders in the UK said:

“The value of faith community involvement in gang initiatives is that church members are local, they are often connected with the young people and families experiencing these problems, they have made a personal commitment to helping and they are likely to be around for much longer than the professionals – and continuity is very important in this kind of work.”


He added:

“However good intentions and commitment aren’t enough. This is complex and sometimes dangerous work, and we need to find ways in which statutory and voluntary agencies can work with faith groups to provide high quality training and ongoing support.”

A new gang transformation initiative supported by Safe Tairawhiti, Gisborne District Council, NZ Police, schools and residents associations also needs local churches involved.

We hope to learn from the success of faith-based groups like Sam Chapman’s Awhi Community Development organization in South Auckland, Prison Fellowship NZ and Wesley Community Action in Porirua that have been working with gang leaders over the past few years.

While many of his contemporaries thought the best approach to beating the Romans was to meet violence with violence, Jesus advocated a more creative engagement. Designed to help people mature and move on from the ‘might is right’ paradigm, Jesus used the restorative power of love, hope and faith to transform both oppressive and marginalised communities. Perhaps we can too?