Evidence Centre Seminar: December 2022
Published: December 12, 2022 · Updated: February 16, 2023
This virtual seminar featured Prof Ian Lambie ONZ, Chief Science Adviser to the Justice Sector, presenting his research on young offenders and how the system has failed them. Ben Hannifin, Director of Youth Justice System Development at Oranga Tamariki also spoke on current trends and opportunities for improvement. The Evidence Centre presented supporting data and research.
While offending rates for youth are historically low, the issue is very topical. Prof Lambie’s research delves into the broad systemic issues that underpin much youth offending, and challenges agencies, schools and all those involved in children’s lives to do better. He spoke of the importance and value of early intervention, the pressures on the Family Court system and the impact of COVID-related lockdowns, particularly in Auckland.
This important research was supported by insights and contextual information from Ben Hannifin and the Evidence Centre contributed with relevant data and trends.
The event was recorded and video footage is available below.
MALE SPEAKER 1: We'll start off with a bit of context and then move into the keynote with Professor Ian Lambie and then we'll have a presentation from Ben Hannifin. So, to start with, we'll bring in Phil Spier with some context.
PHIL SPIER: Tena koutou katoa, ko Philip Spier toko ingoa. I'm just going to do a very brief whirlwind tour of what's happened with youth crime over the last eight years, up to October of this year. This is using Police proceedings data for 10–17 year olds. This particular dataset didn’t allow a split between children aged 10-13 and young people aged 14-17 but children will account for about 20% of the numbers, and young people around 80%. So, from this slide we can see that youth crime has halved over the last eight years and, in fact, this declining trend started at least five years before then. Numbers have plateaued somewhat in recent years, but there has been an increase in the last six months, although numbers are still very much lower than they were previously. Those very large blips that you can see in the middle of 2016 and 2018 weren't crime spikes, I understand them to be back loads of police data towards the end of the financial year. So these are trends by ethnic group, and a similar pattern occurred for the three ethnic groups: European/Other, Māori and Pacific. The top one is Māori, the blue one is European/Other and the green one is Pacific.
So there's been decreases, large decreases, over time for each ethnic group, although the rates of change have differed, so it's very positive that there's been a downward trend for each ethnic group. Some caution is needed in interpreting that data because of a growing proportion of people with no ethnicity recorded, which is the purple line. If we look at the breakdown of ethnicity for young people with known ethnicity, we can see that Māori remain considerably over-represented in the youth justice system, and the gap between Māori and other ethnic groups has widened in the last few years. So, for Māori 10-17 year olds, the proportion has gone from 55% up to 67% in the latest year. Generally speaking, the proportion who are Māori is higher for children who offend than it is for young people who offend.
So this is a breakdown of offence type, selected offence types, and the left-hand bar is the year to October 2015, and the middle and right bars are the last two years to October 2015. Clearly there is a differing pattern of changes in crime by offence type. Towards the middle of the graph you can see that some offence types have continued to decrease over time, such as shoplifting and other forms of theft not involving motor vehicles, public order offences, which are mostly disorderly behaviour, and trespassing, and injury-causing acts, which are mostly assaults, those have continued to decrease for youth.
In contrast, however, on the left side of the graph, you can see that motor vehicle theft offences, which is where the person is a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle that's been unlawfully taken, those have continued to increase over time and, in fact, motor vehicle theft accounts for much of the increase in youth crime that we saw earlier and recently. Motor vehicle theft seems to be a particular issue for children who offend as well. An analysis that we published on our website recently looked at all the children who were arrested by police in the 2020/2021 financial year and 54% of those children were arrested for a motor vehicle theft offence, and another 11% were arrested for failing to stop for Police, so, they were fleeing from Police, usually in a stolen vehicle. You can also see some small increases in burglary and robbery-related offences over the last two years. Those are the crimes that offenders would likely be charged with, or otherwise proceeded against, as a result of a ram raid or smash and grab type offence.
So youth crime has dropped over time in every police district; however, the recent increase in youth crime is limited to only a few districts: Counties/Manukau and Canterbury have seen the largest recent increases in youth crime with much smaller increases in Auckland City and Wellington.
And so, just to summarise that whirlwind tour, youth crime has halved over the longer term. The decreases occurred across all ethnic groups, although not evenly, and Māori remain considerably over represented in Youth Justice. There has been a rise in youth crime over the last six months, but numbers are still well down on earlier years. Much of the recent rise in youth crime involves an increase in motor vehicle theft, and the recent rise has only been seen in a small number of police districts, such as Counties/Manukau and Canterbury.
And so where to for youth crime? I'm not Nostradamus, but as some Queensland researchers pointed out, from the Griffith University, in March 2021, as COVID containment measures ease conditions are likely to be conducive to a resurgence in youth offending, as unemployment increases, financial supplements decrease and interruptions to schooling impact on educational engagement, and certainly in New Zealand we have seen a growth in economic hardship and lower than usual school attendance rates, which may imply that youth offending may continue to rise, in the short term at least.
MALE SPEAKER 1: Understanding what works for our Tamariki means understanding evidence and today we're very fortunate to have with us Professor Ian Lambie. Professor Lambie is not just a highly regarded clinical psychologist, but with 30 years' experience with working with children, adolescents and their families. He's been honoured with awards from the New Zealand Psychological Society for Services to Clinical Psychology, the American Institute of Violence, Abuse and Trauma for his work on childhood trauma. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Clinical Psychology and Youth Justice in 2020. Ian is a Professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Auckland, as well as Chief Science Advisor to the Justice Sector. He'll be presenting some highlights from his recent report, "How we fail children who offend and what to do about it: A breakdown across the whole system."
PROFESSOR LAMBIE: Tena Koutou Katoa. Ko Whakaari te maunga, ko Owhera te awa, ko Māori hu te taku a, ko Otepoti te turangawaewae, ko Lamont te iwi, ko Ian toko ingoa, no reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, katoa. A very warm welcome from a beautiful day in Wellington. I'd like to say it's always like this when I come down here, but sadly it's not. So I hail from the deep south, a beautiful place called Otepoti, Dunedin, and I have a nursing background, and also a background in psychology, and have spent 30 plus years working with young people in the youth justice system.
And what I'm going to talk to you today is, actually, we're going to run through some research, but I'm actually going to talk a bit more broadly too, and really I wanted to start off with these questions. And the things to reflect on, who on this webinar has had a choice about the family to which you were born? Who has been shaped by an experience prior to the age of 15 that impacts on you today? And who has not been impacted by crime? And I think if you reflect on those, and you reflect on your whānau and tamariki, I think we'll all realise that actually, none of had the choice about the family to which you were born, we've all been shaped by an experience prior to the age of 15 that impacts on you today, the good things, the less good things, and probably all of us have been impacted by crime. And I drive an old car, but it was broken into recently and the steering column smashed as young people tried to use it for a ram raid. So I know what it's like first hand. It didn’t end up on the TV1 News, 6 O'Clock News, which is a good thing, but had to be towed away to get fixed, so that's my personal experience.
What I am going to do is talk a bit about what I would frame as the opportunity of a lifetime. And I think the role of - I'm standing here obviously - sitting here as a researcher, as a clinician, but also as a nudger, and the role of the chief science advisor is to nudge the system and to, kind of, put science and evidence out in the public domain in a way that people can understand it, and then make it accessible, and some of the things I'm going to say today are probably things that are maybe quite surprising, new for some of you, and also, potentially, maybe a bit nudging the system, and that's what I see my role as doing.
But really, I want to thank a whole lot of people. This research was pretty complex, to be honest, and it's great to be here at the Evidence and Insights Centre, and Phil has been a great support of our kaupapa. But really, to all the stakeholders we interviewed, the whānau and frontline staff, to the research advisory group, Arohanui and Huia, Leland, Zane, John Horwood, Emily Lodge and others, and obviously the team from Oranga Tamariki, without them, Lisa, Debbie, Peter, the staff from the Otara and Onehunga sites, Beth and James from National office, this would not have been possible. So I really want to thank them for that, and Vince Galvin from StatsNZ, and also Jessica and Olivia, for doing the number crunching, so thank you very much for that.
It's an interesting title, I suppose, and, you know, how we fail children who offend and what to do about it, and I was saying to a colleague, having spent, really, 30 years working in the youth justice system, I think if I had realised this 20 years ago I would have thought, gosh, we need to go younger, and the title is a breakdown across the whole system, and this research was funded by The Law Foundation and The Borrin Foundation and it was focused on the Family Court, and I think that's very important to really highlight that at the outset, it was really looking at what could the Family Court and other Ministries do to change and improve the experience and outcomes for tamariki, and with my colleagues, Jerome, who actually did the interviews, obviously, and Andrew Becroft, you all know, and in the background, in the engine room, Ruth Allen. So what I'm going to do today is talk about it, about the research, talk about some broader system stuff and we'll see where we end up. But thank you for joining us.
So we prepared two reports, and not much is free around Christmas, but these things are free,you can go into the Borrin Foundation website and you can download the one on the left. The orange one is the longer one and then the shorter one is the blue one, and they have got, particularly the blue one, quite actionable recommendations, and it's very, very short, it's been adapted according to feedback we received from our first report. And really what we focus on is that young tamariki who have offended between the ages of 10 and 13, they are at increased risk of long term offending and a range of poor outcomes in life, and a vast majority of these children are engaged in the child welfare system, Family Court, as I said, and Māori, unfortunately, are over represented.
So this is a quote from a lawyer called Talia, and I know it's quite long but what she says is:
"All I see is this little boy, the first thing that comes to mind are the faces. I'm not very good at names, but I remember the faces. I just went yesterday to a sentencing, an 18 year old. I didn’t go in my capacity as the lawyer for the child, I just went to support him because he was my client when he was 13. I visited him in [prison remand], this 18 year old, I sat opposite him and all I could see was the 13 year old boy when I first started acting for him. He's up for sentencing for aggravated robbery. He was sitting with three other co-defendants, all of the same age, all similar histories.
My guy that I first acted for was uplifted from care of his mum and his stepdad, due to physical abuse from both parents at the age of 13. I acted for him and the youngest sibling, who at the time was 3, and he was already displaying behavioural issues at school. I'm looking at him and all I see is this little boy and he's saying, 'Talia, the longer I'm here, I'm really scared that I'm going to get really hardened and it's worrying because all these people around me, these bad people, and I feel like they're taking me down with them.' He's scared and to me … when I saw that I just thought, the first thing I see is these little children's faces and they are real kids and this, and each file I have are separate children with histories and stories."
So that really is, as you think about the research and the numbers, you know, behind that are stories, these are real kids and real people's lives.
Often researchers, often what they do is they release these reports and make these things very public. Very few of you, in fact many of you would probably know nothing about this research at all, and we did that very deliberately because there are certain groups, probably, namely the media, that, when you have titles like this, they like to grab hold of them and, well, you know, a breakdown across the whole system. And so we frame this as a solvable problem, and in 2020 there were 170 children under Section 41(e), and that's still under 14 years old. So we said, look, there are 200 kids, so really, can't we do something about this as a country, can't we solve this problem? And that's what we frame this research around.
So what did we do? We basically got scientifically up-to-date information, the IDI analysis of nearly 49,000 kids from 2000 to 2019. With the support of Oranga Tamariki we had case files on 14(1)(e) children, that's at Child, Youth and Family, and you can look at that, and those are young people that obviously have significant care and protection issues but also come to the Police and Oranga Tamariki for offending behaviour, and that was from 2019 to 2020. And we interviewed 33 stakeholders, and these were people that were involved with young children, justice-involved whānau, iwi representative, lawyers, Police, social workers, school leaders, psychologists and lay advocates. They were all often involved in the Family Court because these children, which is what they are, had come with care and protection issues. And so what I'm going to do today is I'm going to talk to you about the IDI analysis, just a brief overview, and we'll have some quotes from some of the people that we interviewed, and then I'll leave you with a few nudges.
So what we found is that offending doesn’t stop and, for kids under the age of 14, 75% of those are still offending at 18 years old, and of the kids who did not offend as a child, 10% of them offended as a youth, so it's a significant risk factor, if you're under the age of 14, if you're a child who is offending, the likelihood that you're going to offend during teenage years and continue is quite significant. Most offending, this is the frequency of offending, only happened once as a child; however, even then they went on to offend significantly more as a youth, and those who offended as a child and as a youth offended significantly more times than those who only offended as a youth. So we were finding that, even if a child does not offend significantly and frequently when they're younger, under the age of 12, that they're still more likely to carry on during childhood and into adolescence.
What we did is we broke down the areas to research into three areas. We looked at child welfare issues, education issues and socio-economic issues, and what we've said is, really, offending doesn’t occur in a back gate area, it just doesn’t come out of the blue. And we looked at reports of concerns, out-of-home placements, family group conferences, self-harm, justice-involved parents, suspensions, expulsions, multiple school enrolments, school decile and receiving a benefit, and I won't touch on all of those, more detail of those are in the reports, particularly the long report, but I'll touch on those briefly this morning.
This is a graph, obviously (inaudible), but what we've found is that, basically, a child who is abused under the age of five was six times more likely to offend as a child in youth, compared to a child who has not been abused. So just to go over that, if you were abused under the age of five you are six times more likely to offend as a child and youth compared to a child who had not been abused. So we can see that this is actually a care and protection issue, and this is really why we were thinking we wanted to focus on the Family Court. Reports of concern, notifications to Oranga Tamariki in their early lives there were thousands and thousands of reports of concern for the children who went on to offend: reports of concern under the age of five, over 1,000, between the ages of five to ten, 2,800, so that's getting up to 3,000, and between the ages of ten to 14, 3,200. So what we find is that these kids have multiple, multiple reports of concerns to Oranga Tamariki for abuse, neglect and maltreatment.
Alongside this, out-of-home placement and state care, so this is where the children, because of their care and protection needs and their abuse experience, they were removed by Oranga Tamariki or put into whānau placements. The out-of-home placements before the age of five, they were more likely to offend across all age groups compared to those that weren’t. So a child that was taken out before the age of five, it was a big risk factor. Those who offended as a child and had been in placement before the age of five were significantly more likely to offend as a youth, and 82%, so it's significant. So, if a child was removed, it's a significant risk factor.
Family group conferences, and most kids, the children who offended, had at least one family group conference, a few had as many as four, before the age of fourteen. The average length of time it took for a referral of an under five year old to an FGC being held was five months. So that's a long time, and we're talking at around 147 children, so we're not talking about extensive numbers, we're not talking about thousands of kids. So that's something around family group conferences, and clearly an opportunity here to improve them. Children who had an FGC before the age of five and offended as a child were more likely to re-offend between the ages of 14 to 18, compared to those that didn’t.
So just thinking about that, if a child with abuse, neglect, had an FGC as a result of that before the age of five and they offended as a child, they were more likely to continue on as a teenager. What we also found is that offending could be inter-generational, with the risk of offending increasing with the justice-involved parent, and that's kind of not surprising. And the stats would show that at any one point, in any one day in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are around 23,000 children who have a justice-involved parent in the justice system at any one time, so it's significant.
Education issues, this is suspensions, and children who were stood down or suspended from their school before the age of ten were significantly more likely to offend at all age groups. Basically, a third of those who have offended as both a child and young person have been suspended, and children who had offended, had been suspended or stood down between the age of five and ten, were significantly more likely to re-offend. We're talking about school suspensions of 47%, we're talking about 102 kids, so that's a significant risk factor, if a child's suspended because of behavioural issues, you'd think about where do they go and what do they do and what happens to them? And as I said, the 47% is 102 children, so nearly half of those expelled from school before the age of 14 offended both as a child, a young person. So we're not talking big numbers, we're basically talking 100 children in Aotearoa New Zealand, so that's a solvable problem. 85% of those who had offended as a child and had been expelled before the age of 14 offended again from the age of 14 to 18.
And probably what I would say is that, if there was one silver bullet, it would be keep the kids at school, because it's more than just about learning, it’s about a community, it's about support, it's about awhi. And you and I have a similar experience, we'll all be able to remember the teacher we liked the most and the teacher we liked the least, and for the teacher we liked the most, it's a very, very big protective factor for kids. So, clearly, one of the things we did was, how do we keep these young tamariki at school?
But what we also find, sadly, is they have multiple school enrolments, for each extra school enrolment by the age of ten, the odds of offending increase 1.6 times, and so often we know that the families may be transient, they go from school to school to school and that interrupts the child's learning. Of those who have been to seven or more schools by the age of 14, and that's a lot of schools, almost a quarter of them, 25%, had also offended by that age, so that's significant. And children who had offended were less likely to be enrolled at school at the age of 16 than those non-offending peers. So we again see that disruption to school experience, disruption to school life, impacts on the child's learning, but also impacts significantly on the child's behaviour, and their offending behaviour.
And in relation to poverty and disadvantage, offending risk decreased as the school decile increased, so nine year olds at a decile 1 school were 2.1 times more likely to offend than their peers at a decile 10, and that probably isn’t surprising. And here's just a quote from a police officer we interviewed:
"So, if you look at the poverty aspect… to raise these people out of the poverty blights that they're in. There's the historical nature that goes back to colonisation, cause obviously Māori particularly are over represented."
So poverty and disadvantage is significant. Financial hardship is a risk factor for offending, having a parent eligible for income support, that's payments, as was having a parent who was involved in the justice system, and here's a quote from a lawyer:
"I guess I think about racism, I think about generational racism, the fact that a resource has not been provided for those families."
So really what we identified from this, what does all this make? Well, we identified three key issues: that intervention is far too late, there is poor engagement with the whānau and the tamariki, and it's very difficult for them to access support, and we're going to talk briefly about those and have some quotes that support those.
So intervention is far too late, this it from Talia:
"It's too late by the time I see them. I've seen it in kids as young as three, in preschool, the ones that step on the kittens' heads, who whack other kids. I'm thinking, wow, okay, that's one that I can identify straightaway - unless there are some supports, even at early childhood, that ECE (early childhood education) level, then I will see that child again."
So there's a lawyer involved with kids in the Family Court. The police officer:
"We always think about prevention, but I'm not sure we actually do it that well. I'm thinking there are opportunities. If we're talking about risks of offending, we're talking about siblings of known offenders, we're talking about behaviours that are evident in small children at early childhood, at kindy, at early primary school years."
And poor engagement, the ones that work well are aware you've got a social worker who is on side with the family, who's got the trust of the family, and the family realise that Oranga Tamariki are not out to get them and Oranga Tamariki actually wants to help. Another example of a police officer:
"We see Youth Aid staff coming in and out, social workers changing all the time, all this does is to reinforce for the child that everyone, anytime anything good happens, people leave. Consistency is really important."
And those that work with young people know that that's a big, big protective factor, having a few people that are there in your life with you over a long, long period of time, often.
Difficulty accessing support, is from a lawyer:
"So I've got an FGC today. Police referred him under 14(1)(e) because Oranga Tamariki weren’t taking any action. Police referred him in September last year for an FGC, we're getting to it 11 months later. So what's the problem there? Delay. It's the same with the Family Court, delay, delay, delay, not in the child's sense of time, not the action needed when it needs to be."
And difficulty accessing support, from a whānau member:
"If a doctor had listened to me back when she was smaller, I reckon she would have got the help she needed when she was two, I believe it would have been different.'
What is all this, where does all this come from? And I'll probably point to some comments right at the end, but what I think, there's been a disconnect between what the evidence would say and applying that to policy and practice. And why have we got that? Because around the top tables of, probably, some key ministries at the DCE level, which is the Deputy Chief Executive, and I think this goes back a long way, I think, really, what we haven’t had is, we haven’t had people around the top table with the specialist knowledge that can promote and advocate and talk about the evidence, and that can flow through to policy and practice, and I think there's been a disconnect, and I'll talk about it in my final few slides; I think we've known about this for a long, long time.
So despite new justice reforms since the late 1980's in New Zealand, law and practice about children who offend between the age of 10-13 has been often overlooked. This limits the child welfare system's and the Family Court's ability to use evidence-based resources to improve outcomes and hampers systemic improvement. And here's a slide, if you compare the Family Court to the Youth Court and look about what options are available for young people in the Youth Court compared to the Family Court. There's quite a few things that happen in the Youth Court which need to be, I would say, in the Family Court that aren’t actually happening: time to make informed decisions; small caseloads; same judge presiding over cases; hearings with the child, family and professionals involved; more regular meetings; culturally responsive; ease of access to specialist assessments; communication assistance; mentors not readily available; lay advocates also not readily available; and counselling or therapy for children, rarely.
There was a review of the Family Court, I think probably about five years ago, but what I think it didn’t do, it didn’t focus on these children, sadly.
So I would say there's a lack of joining the dots. This is from a whānau member:
"If they had looked into the police callouts, where I tried to stop the father turning up at my house uninvited and disrupting our household, the way that I was trying to struggle, managed and raised the kids, that they could have been a bit more helpful in the situation instead of labelling me as a bad mother, that I couldn't provide for my children."
And systemic challenges:
"It's amazing how a great social worker will make a whole lot of things happen where another social worker might not make things happen. So the personal responsibility is really important, but also the resources."
And I would totally echo that comment:
"The Family Court has some barriers, it's a very, very busy court. One of the chief complaints of the Family Court judges is the lack of time to make informed and meaningful decisions. … they are literally given minutes to make their mind up whether a child should be removed or not."
That's one of the challenges about the Family Court, that it currently faces.
So what can you do? Well, remember it's a solvable problem, and there are fewer than two hundred young tamariki each year that are 14(1)(e) children, so I think it's very, very solvable. And I think as a country we really haven’t seen this and really looked at it. Trauma-informed care gets bandied around but I think we need to really stop asking what's wrong with this child and why can't they just buck up their ideas, stop this, do that, and I think we need to start thinking about being, I suppose, more sophisticated in our thinking, start asking what happened to this child, what has happened to you, how did it affect you, what sense did you make of it and what did you have to do to survive?
And I think it's interesting, I was at a family violence hui down in Tauranga last Thursday, and in the United Kingdom they are using trauma-informed frameworks, and across boroughs. So in some boroughs they’re training up a whole borough, and it's quite inspirational what they’re doing in terms of it's not just that Oranga Tamariki should be trauma informed or Ara Poutama, Department of Corrections should be, they're looking at the City Council, education, obviously, but a whole lot of other groups, so they’re trying to bring the community understanding of it to a different level, and I think that's quite inspiring and I think we could actually learn a lot from that here.
And also thinking about this comment: "The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways."
So if you reflect on that for yourself, have you or your kids ever behaved badly to get your needs met? Have you ever drunk too much alcohol, driven your car too fast, overspent on your credit card because you're really upset about something? So that's what we may be doing because we're upset, spend on your credit card, whatever, have too much booze, but actually, the kids that actually need the most love, maybe they’re behaving in a way that they're actually asking for love but really don’t know about it because of where they come from.
You know I think as a country we need to do, obviously, early intervention far better than we do. I think the word in here, actually, was "autism":
"The longer a child with autism goes without help, the harder they are to reach."
But actually, you could put any childhood disorder in there, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol, learning problems, behaviour problems, and it's the same issue, and the longer you leave it, the worse life outcomes, the more costly it is to society, the more costly it is to that child, and every bit of evidence, both scientific and, I suppose, human wise, and also financially, would say that we need to focus far more on early intervention than we do.
So change that works, to assist in a change programme there must be adequate investment in piloting and evaluating early intervention and prevention initiatives to ensure that evidence-based, cost-effective programmes are implemented. It's all so simple, what do you and your children need to thrive, how can everyone have that for themselves, not just a few people? Change that works. Systems and services, currently measured by individual outputs, must work together to meet the needs, and with sustained leadership, and get staff trained and supported to work well across sectors and diverse communities. But it's also about us reflecting on our own beliefs, and our relationships, and who is responsible for whānau/family wellbeing in our communities, and how public and private resources should be applied. We need to take note of implementation science, start with the needs of children and families at the centre and work out how to meet them, guided by evidence from science, te ao Māori and real-world experience. And here's real-world experience, a young defendant with neurodisability reporting about his experience in a Youth Court:
"I couldn't hear, I couldn’t understand, but I just said yes to everything, anything, because if I say I don’t know, they look at me as if I'm thick."
So how about that? So in concluding, this report is about young children, those under the age of 14. With fewer than 200 tamariki each year, it's a solvable problem, and if we get better at responding to those children and their families, we can be more confident about helping others who are heading in the same way but not there yet. If there was ever a case for early intervention, then this report tells us why. Trouble for most of these children started when they were infants, or well before the age of five years old, so we’re talking about babies, we're talking about infants and we're talking about pre-schoolers, we are not talking about teenagers, we're talking about babies, infants and pre-schoolers, I think that it's very important we get that very clear, this is a care and protection issue.
And this report highlights a problem that's never been addressed in Aotearoa New Zealand and goes back 30 years, it goes back a long way. It's kind of like if you look in the criminal justice research, potentially these children could be seen as life-course persistent offenders, and I think we've known about this for a long time, and it's kind of like, to me, the elephant in the room, the thing at the end of our nose. But the legislation and structure to address it are in place, it just hasn’t been addressed in terms of system leadership. We need broad inter-government and community co-operation, collaboration to solve operational and practical problems that could be so easily fixed if there was a will to do so. But talking about the wellbeing of babies seems a long way from arguments with politicians about the prison muster, but that is where the evidence says we must begin. Thank you very much, no reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
BEN HANNIFIN: Thanks team, kia ora koutou. Ko Ben Hannifin toko ingoa. I had a couple slides but I'm probably not going to refer to them, they talk more about the youth justice system and we're very much talking about the kids before they reach that, so it would be quite nice just to have a bit more conversation, some thoughts I've had. My first job when I started Oranga Tamariki was the general manager of the youth justice residences back in 2017, and just before I began, Ian published a paper around residential care, and I dug it out this morning because I take what Ian says incredibly seriously.
My very first youth programme, I want to park the embarrassment of the fact that I had to tape bits of paper together to write it, but it was all about how I wanted to improve the experience kids had in the residential settings, and ideally stop them getting there in the first place, and a lot of the themes resonate to the conversations we had today, which is kind of desperately sad, but also means we kind of know to a point, how to fix this problem. The paper that Ian referred to today got released in August this year and, to the point that we take what Ian says incredibly seriously, we in Oranga Tamariki had already begun to understand what could we do around child offenders, what could we build as a better response to what they were currently receiving, and this paper, and the Office of the Children's Commissioner also did a thematic review the year before looking at child offenders, and those two documents were the real foundations of where we wanted that work programme to go.
But guess what also happened in August this year? It was the peak of the ram raids, August was our peak, and inevitably, things have been sidetracked to deal with that, and I guess one of the frustrations a lot of us have is this is not about ram raids, it's not about the offence, it's about the experiences these kids have had that have led them to do these behaviours, and I guess the tone of some of the questions and some of the comments around how do leaders drive a response to this when a lot of the narrative is around "Ram raids need to stop, ram raids are out of control, youth crime is out of control"; elections are next year, it's an election topic. How do we move the narrative away from the offence type to the underlying causes of the behaviour that's diving it? And that's probably our job.
The thing that I've been grappling with a lot is the thought process that must go on in the young person's mind when they decide to commit a ram raid or nick a car, like one of Ian's BMWs, is so disconnected from their community, they have such little affiliation to it, because of the environment in which they've grown up in, they just do not think of what the consequences will be, there's every probability that they get caught, the return on the crime is pretty low, they cause a huge amount of damage to themselves and to others, all for, potentially, some notoriety in a social media feed, and that's a really hard thing to kind of grapple with when you're trying to build what a solution and support needs to be, but that's what it is.
And I heard a really good definition of it, because that's another thing I've been trying to understand, we talk about "trauma-informed" a lot, but do we really understand what that means, and the quote was:
"Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside of you as a result of what happened to you."
So we know these young people, they're developing survival mechanisms to get themselves through this pain and this fear, and it means that they're more comfortable making some decisions and acting out some behaviours that we as a society just find really abhorrent and wish they wouldn’t, but that's what they're doing.
And to Ian's point about how do we intervene at that really young age, is another thing that we're really toying with because, unfortunately, there's a family harm call to 111 every four minutes; they think there's 80% more events that happen beyond that, and over 70% of those harm calls involve children, so we're talking a huge volume of family harm incidences across the country, that's the actual national shame. Not all of those kids are going to go on to become child offenders, of course, the child offenders all have that history, but, as a statutory agency, we don’t want to start pulling young people into a system that they may never have been part of in the first place.
So how do we respond to that absolute need, that crisis, but how do we do it in a way that makes sure that the family and the young person stay safe? And what I've been really encouraged by over the last couple of years, and we have actually made significant investment in early intervention, especially in (indistinct) youth justice, because our numbers, Phil said this earlier, have been going down. So we're putting a lot more resourcing into that earlier intervention; it's that earlier intervention should be led by the community, not by Oranga Tamariki or state services, and then it's a safer space, it's the school that that kid is already a part of, it's the community that the young person is already belonging to.
One of the great examples I can think of, as we were talking, was an investment made into Huntly, so an Oranga Rangatahi programme, and Huntly was a real outlier with demand a few years back, we had lots of young people in custody that came from Huntly, and an idea that was absolutely created locally, by the local principal, the local Police, the local social worker, was that that wasn’t something they were willing to accept anymore and, with Iwi there, developed Oranga Rangitahi, and it was a commitment by the school that they wouldn’t exclude any more young people, that was it, but to make that promise, the school needed supports.
And I think that's probably the other key thing, just park that for a second, is we say education has a huge responsibility here, and I totally agree, but I also understand what it must be like to be a teacher, teaching 30-odd children where a number of those children are really, really hard to manage, who are having a significantly negative impact on the other kids, I can understand where those teachers come from.
So what do the schools need from us to allow that commitment that they won't exclude to happen? And that's what we saw coming out of Huntly, and the commitment was that the day for those young people might look slightly differently than the standard kind of academic day, so the young people would go out and do some programmes either with the Police, with our staff, with Iwi, the Iwi set up mother's groups, I mean, it became a proper wrap around community response, not just to the kids in school, but to the kids in the community. And it's solutions like that, that are locally led, locally designed, nationally kind of enabled and supported through funding, or whatever the requirement might be, that's where we see success.
The other one that you're probably more familiar with because it's getting a lot of headlines is Kotahi te Whakaaro, which is in South Auckland. That was developed, again locally, in response to the fleeing driver spike we had last summer, turned out the fleeing drivers are now the kids that are doing the ram raids so it kind of captured that need, but a response again, that the number or car crimes was just getting out of control locally, so what did they want to do, and they set up that immediate intensive response, so within 24 hours of a young person coming to the attention of any of those parties, but predominately it's the Police, then the response is a collective one, and the person who leads that response represents all of that collective view. So we have one person who represents what MSD, what housing, what the Police, what Oranga Tamariki, what the local marae, what they could offer a whānau, is channelled through one individual, and the whānau are a big part of what that support pack should look like.
So of course that's amazing, and lots of people think it is, and we want to replicate that, but it's not as simple as just asking other parts of the country to go and do the same thing, those parts of the country need to develop that in a way that suits their communities to suits their personalities and their strengths in their areas that they really want to prioritise, but it's how you enable that intensive, immediate, that wrap around response, because I think, back to Ian's point, that's what the gaps are, waiting five months for an FGC where you might have that first chance to have a conversation about something; five months in a young person's life is a significant part of it.
So I 100% endorse that recommendation and it's really encouraging to see a response like that gaining national attention because of the success of it. It's just how you protect those initiatives, those ideas in a climate that's so emotive and sensational around youth crime, and I don’t think that's going to go away, especially next year, I think this will be a hot topic right through up to the elections. And we're already seeing narratives from multiple parties around what else could be done, and they're coming from a good heart, I believe, I truly think people think about youth crime in the context of their own experience, they grew up and what would have worked for them if they were getting into trouble as a teenager or what would sort out their own children but, of course, their children, and them as children, have not experienced the same lives that these kids who are committing these offences have had. So they're trying to develop solutions to young people that are actually causing the offences, and it's just, again, how do we kind of shift that conversation around, because I have a huge degree of sympathy for shop owners and retailers who slave away for, probably, a pretty tough living and then their whole businesses get destroyed at the blink of an eye, maybe multiple times over a period of time, I can completely understand why they might want to talk about retribution and punitive punishments and consequence, that feels completely normal to me, but that's not the solution. So how do you sensitively, kind of, have that conversation, as us, as the practitioners, as the experts, how do we own that feeling but also deliver the results which they ultimately want, which is less kids kind of committing crime?
So some things that are going on at the moment, I think it's probably a cool thing to talk about. So as a result of a spike in youth crime, particularly out of Auckland, the Government set up what's called a Youth Engagement Ministerial Group. The secretariat, coincidentally, for that is Ministry of Education, so Minister Hipkins, of course, is the Minister of Education and Police, so kind of a nice fit there, we're, of course, party to it, and a lot of the announcements of late, the investments in Kotahi te Whakaaro, the expansion of that type of model, has come out of the Youth Engagement Ministerial Group.
The big focus, probably into next year, is what's being defined as the 1%, sort of the 1% who met a particular criteria, kind of what Ian alluded to at the start, experiencing family harm, multiple reports of concern, excluded from school, unmet health needs, they're trying to capture the number of kids who would be within that cohort, it's between sort of 6,000, 7,000. These are not kids, necessarily, who are going on to offend, but these are kids who have experienced those kinds of challenges through the early parts of their life. So the Youth Engagement Ministerial Group want to understand, what can we do to be lifting those young people, and actually, it's not just those young people, it’s the whānau around those young people, siblings, or the entire family, out of that difficult space
So great intentions, the pace of change is chaotic, they what things very quickly, and again, back to the political kind of narrative, they want things immediately and they want things off the front pages, but this is generational work, this will take a significant period of time and it's no ten-week programme, this needs ongoing, potentially enduring life support to really help this move.