Call for collaboration to help country's most at-risk youth

By Raniera Harrison

A Northland youth services trust is calling for a more collaborative approach nationwide to effect social issues plaguing Māori youth.

This comes as the cost revealed to service a single youth not engaged in education or training costs the taxpayer in excess of $250,000 annually.

Official Department of Labour statistics shows nearly 800 Kaikohe youth not engaged in education or training. However, it is those trying to help them who are feeling like they aren't being engaged.

"The issue that we have is that there's a lack of opportunities that are coming from other spaces that allow us to build our capacity and do that ourselves," says the CEO of Te Kotahitanga E Mahi Kaha Trust, Deidre Otene.

Capacity towards self-determination to provide cohesive Māori-focused services is a major concern plaguing Kaikohe-based trust, Te Kotahitanga E Mahi Kaha.

"Government organisations have come in and delivered projects for us. The focus needs to be on building capacity locally to be able to do that ourselves" says Ms Otene.

In a response to Te Kāea, Minister for Employment, Willie Jackson says, "The Government have partnered with three community-led initiatives to work with 795 rangatahi in Kaikohe with just under $3.8 million invested into these programmes."

However, Otene says the sector needs to remain vigilant.

"If we do nothing and young people are left to be not engaged in employment or educational training, it's obvious there will be issues down the line. It's estimated that approximately $300,000 per year to service that issue if we do nothing" adds Otene.

Department of Labour statistics shows Northland has the third highest NEET rate in the country behind Gisborne/Hawkes Bay and Manawatu/Whanganui.

"Some of their mothers and fathers are incarcerated in our prisons system. How will they know any different if that's all they've been shown?" is the question posed by Penetaui Kleskovic, who works daily with some of the country's most at-risk youth.

The trust adds the correct procedural response instead would be engaging with identified youth before they falter - 'the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.'

"The intention is to work together in pursuit of collective success. For families to return home to rehabilitate whatever may be plaguing them in their own environments" says Mr Kleskovic.