Are we listening to the voice of our children and young people?

By Tema Hemi

Māori students from the Wellington area have participated in the first of a seven-part series of wānanga to give feedback to the Māori Language Commission on how to advance te reo among youth, providing an insight into the opinions of our future leaders. 

The subject is also at the forefront of the newly released report by the Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, entitled 'Are We Listening'.  The report focuses on ten ideas to improve children's participation in the development of policy and legislation. 

Are we listening?  It's a simple question that the leaders of tomorrow need answered today.    

Student at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, Watene Moana Campbell says, "For me sometimes our opinion on things is over-looked and put to the side.  Adults misconceive that we may not have an opinion or what we think isn't right and does not serve any purpose to whatever the subject is.  But for me, us youth have a voice."

Becroft's 28-page report outlines the value of children and young people's opinions on decisions made by government that pertain to them.   

Becroft says, "In terms of the community as a whole, government, government departments, local government.  We're doing a very good job of it and we've done pretty badly ion the past. Now that's a concern because hearing from young people and children always adds value."

The decision-makers in our society often think that our children don't have an interest in the issues of the day and Judge Becroft says its a fault that most tend to make.

"They might have a view one day but they're still forming a view now- and I actually think children unsettle adults, they're pretty direct. They put it  out there, they lay it our on the table and they provoke and they challenge and i think adults find that difficult sometimes," Becroft says. 

Ngāti Kahungunu Whānau Services was established in the 70's and dealt with issues around street kids of the time. 

CEO Ali Hamlin-Paenga says, "I think its critical to our future, they are our future.  We need to uplift our future, they're our foundations, they have a whakapapa, they're the next stage of that so they have insight into things we don't see."

"These perhaps are the times when we should challenge ourselves to express our opinions at these sorts of events, when the focus is purely Māori ... that will bring excitement and those thoughts of our youth will grow and expand," says Campbell.