Ingredients for positive change in youth justice

Published: May 12, 2020

Auckland young people in Youth Justice have been cooking meals for their whānau during the COVID-19 lockdown, thanks to a ready-to-cook delivery experience developed by Oranga Tamariki social workers – and it all started with a bake-off challenge.

Oranga Tamariki Youth Justice Social Worker Kathleen Clark says that the project came about from needing to think about new ways to keep young people engaged in positive activities, and one young person getting bored.

“I challenged her to a bake-off and provided all the ingredients she’d need. It worked well, and it was fun sending each other progress pics. I think she really got a lot out of it,” Kathleen says.

ready to cook meals
Ready-to-cook meals young people are making for whānau

Social workers develop idea

The idea grew from there, and Kathleen and her fellow Auckland City social workers developed the idea into an opportunity for seventeen rangatahi to feed their families.

They’re devising the recipes, shopping for the kai, splitting the ingredients into ready-to-cook packs – each of which can feed a family of eight for two nights of the week – and providing contactless delivery to the families.

Some of the meals on the menu have been butter chicken, spaghetti bolognaise, chocolate chip cookies and Weet-Bix slice.

Project promotes family values

Kathleen says the young people have really enjoyed cooking the meals.

“Some have sent photos. One took a leadership role – giving his siblings the onions to chop and parts of the recipe to follow,” she says.

“His mum also rang his social worker to say it was the first time her kid had ever cooked for her.”

Tessa Iese-Oaariki, Oranga Tamariki Auckland City Youth Justice Manager, says the project is about going back to the basics of family morals and values.

She says it has been special for these young people to be able to provide and cook for their whānau.

Learning life skills

Kathleen is hopeful that learning these life skills will have a positive impact on the rangatahi.

She says the experience has also been incorporated into the young people’s Youth Justice plans and will go into the progress reports to the Youth Court judges.

“We can let the judges know the young people have been learning life skills during this time and not just playing PlayStation” Kathleen says.

Plans to continue after lockdown

Tessa says the project has been a big success, and she's excited that the simple idea has taken off.

"We're looking at ways we can utilise a similar concept after lockdown and see if we can get our community partners onboard."