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Youth Services veteran Constable Roger Holford shares his observations after 20 years’ working with young people in Porirua.

Youth Aid is a long game. Much longer than the legal definition of the age of a young person and longer even than the career of any one police officer.

Those who choose to work in the field have to be, as Police youth and school manager Senior Sergeant Caroline Bailey says, “resilient realists who are also emotional and professional”.

After 20 years in Youth Services (YS), Constable Roger Holford knows the drill. He’s had to deal with inter-generational family failure – in one case, three generations of the same family – and sometimes he despairs about the future.

What makes the 57-year-old father of four great at youth development work, however, is that he never gives in to those feelings and he never gives up on anyone.

This month, Roger’s dedication is being recognised by Police with a Meritorious Service Award from the Commissioner. “They told me on April 1 that I was getting it, so I was a bit suspicious,” says the streetwise officer. But it’s all true.

Roger joined Police in 1991 and apart from a six-month stint in Bougainville he has worked in Porirua, progressing from GDB, the crime control unit, court escort and traffic to Youth Services in the early 2000s.

Since then, as myriad reports on the subject have been compiled by successive governments and multiple public servants, Roger has noticed a few things. Here, he talks about what he calls “the positives” and “the things we need to work on”.

The positives

Schools that have adopted the restorative justice model

Showing kids how their actions affect other people and how it can be put right is a better model than suspension. If you make a mistake and know how that affects the victims, how their parents feel – if they are exposed to that during their whole schooling, and it is dealt with by the school and not by police, it’s a big mindset change. (Roger takes part in these sessions to explain the law and options.)

Social workers in schools

Before this came in about five years ago, any sort of pastoral care was done by the principal or the deputy, but they had other commitments. The social worker’s sole focus is to help the pupils, to discuss abuse of any kind, or any other problems.

Extra support in colleges

They used to only have a guidance counsellor. Now, Mana College in Porirua, for example, has a nurse, a doctor once a week, a physio, a drug and alcohol counsellor, and now a mental health nurse.

If we are serious about tackling mental health, we need to get more mental health nurses. It’s about prevention – getting to them at that stage. The mental health nurses are the missing piece in the puzzle.

With this sort of pastoral care, we have fewer victims and offenders. They at the very least know what things are supposed to look like and how to get help. It should be normalised for people to seek help, especially for mental health. You see a doctor if you’re sick or injured.

It has to start at school

That’s where anxieties begin, especially with social media, which ramps up existing problems. That didn’t used to happen in the days before social media, when you could walk home from school and mull things over without input from others.

Oranga Tamariki

Their social workers are really hard working and motivated. We have a fighting chance now. We need to get to these people while they are young. We can’t tackle them later when they are entrenched in gangs or poor lifestyles.

Youth One-Stop Shops

There are 11 around the country and Porirua is getting one soon. Young people are getting to know that is where they can go for support for a range of healthcare services within the scope of the Youth Mental Health Project.

The Loves Me Not programme in schools

This is really successful at teaching young people about appropriate relationships.

Compulsory preschool attendance

It encourages good socialisation and modelling of resolutions in the classroom. Parents should attend too.

Things we need to work on

Mental health support needs to be increased

School pupils need to learn the signs of mental health struggles among their peers and what can they do to support and help.

More options for trade and skills training and getting away from gang families

There are 3000 unemployed in Porirua. Young people should leave school fully aware of the apprenticeships, training and trades opportunities available to them. For 17 to 24-year-olds, there are life-changing opportunities, like the Limited Service Volunteer course, run by NZ Defence Force and Ministry for Social Development, and supported by Police mentors. But it all has to be followed up before they choose the life that gangs can draw them into.

Iwi solutions and capabilities

Close partnership with iwi and Māori service providers produces amazing results. For example, Te Pae Oranga (formerly iwi community panels) can reduce the harm caused by reoffending. The more this option is available, the better we can steer young people, and adults, away from crime.

Intergenerational family failure

People don’t know what they don’t know. To someone who experienced harm growing up, what they might believe to be acceptable behaviour could be more harmful and create more problems than they realise.

Government policy must enhance communities

That starts in schools and having community cops in all areas. We need to enhance community connectedness. All the agencies have to be all in – if it’s part time, young people slip through the cracks.

I’m not an expert in anything, but I seek help and advice from a lot of really dedicated, knowledgable hard-working people in the community who are experts in their field and will help every time I ask.

Roger admits he does get disheartened, but says that’s part of the job. “It’s the same for a lot of cops connected with their communities.”

As for what success looks like to Roger, the bar may seem low to others, but it can be significant, he says. “It’s a success if they are not actually hurting people. It’s a success if they have a licence and are drug and alcohol free, and if they understand family harm and have access to work skills.”

Steering youth away from crime

Strategies for dealing with youth crime continue to evolve, with our members playing a huge part in a multi-agency response.

Keeping kids out of trouble begins in the home, but if it doesn’t happen there, it falls to police and other agencies who are the next line of defence in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system.

Official stats show there has been a reduction in Youth Court numbers in recent years, mainly due to a big push for alternative resolutions, better remand options and a focus on limiting reoffending.

This has occurred despite more 17-year-olds entering the system since July 2019 when the age for entering the adult system was increased to 18.

A multi-agency approach, led by Oranga Tamariki (OT), which has been in place since the 10-year Youth Crime Action Plan was launched in 2013, is currently focused on three main strategies.

  • A big change has been the drive to transition young people out of custody into family-style remand homes rather than into secure youth justice residences. OT is planning for up to 16 such homes throughout the country.
  • A review into offending by children under the age of 14.
  • In Police, ROIT (remand options investigation tool) is embedded in the districts and must be used by Police prosecutors for young people aged 14-17. If bail is opposed, there is an obligation on police to consider other options, such as bail conditions or a relative’s home, to keep the young person in the community and out of custody. Continued next page.

In the Bay of Plenty, a collaborative programme between Police and Blue Light is proving highly effective at dealing with reoffending, according to Sergeant Trevor Brown, based in Tauranga.

Hooks for Change (HFC) pairs a Blue Light youth worker with young people who have had their first appearance in the Youth Court and been remanded for a Family Group Conference.

“Young people appearing in the Youth Court often have a range of complex and challenging issues,” Trevor says, “from family/whānau relationships, alcohol or drug abuse to unemployment, mental health issues or disengagement from school.”

Each young person who comes into the programme has a plan tailored to their needs, created in consultation with whānau, school and community, with the aim of reconnecting them with their hapū and iwi, sports, clubs, school or alternative education and helping them get their driver’s licence.

Trevor says Hooks for Change is also helping to break down barriers between police and young people.

After a 12-month pilot in the Bay of Plenty, the programme is due to roll out in the Rotorua and Hamilton regions

In April 2020, OT reported these key findings.

  • Youth crime has reduced across all levels of seriousness – more so for low-level offending, leaving a higher proportion of more serious crime in the youth system.
  • Youth crime has reduced in other countries indicating the reduction is not likely to be solely due to police behaviour.
  • Comparison of reoffending statistics between the youth and adult systems is not straightforward as the systems are fundamentally different.
  • Stopping young people reoffending entirely is unlikely due to the serious nature of cases and offending history dealt with. However, Oranga Tamariki interventions coincide with a reduction in the frequency and seriousness of reoffending.
  • The vast majority of young people with care and protection statutory involvement are never involved in the youth justice system.

At PNHQ, the Youth Services (YS) team is made up of Senior Sergeant Caroline Bailey (acting manager youth and schools) and youth coordinators Senior Sergeant Kirsten Evans and Sergeant Justin Smith. Between them, they have decades of experiences in the field.

Their big picture goal is to help districts to steer youth away from a life of crime. Day to day, however, they are dealing with grassroots stuff: daily monitoring of youth in custody nationally, working with OT to ensure that any potential placement options have been considered; engaging with other government agencies and NGOs; and making sure districts are up to date with the latest information and any policy or legislative changes relevant to doing their jobs.

To be a Youth Services officer, they say, you need to be a resilient realist who is also emotional and professional. It’s a specialist area. You need knowledge of a wide range of Acts including the Privacy Act, the UN Rights of the Child, the Bill of Rights, OIAs and the Land Transport Act.

“Youth Services are at the problem-solving area of policing, rather than investigations and resolutions,” says Caroline. “It’s more long term. And we have to support the whole family, not deal with youth in isolation, which is part of the multi-agency approach. We were into prevention before it was even invented.”

There are no quick wins. “The process is slow,” says Justin, “but we have got our foot in the door. Even hardened and resistant families know who we are and that we have a job to do.”

The officers agree that all parents want the best for their children, and they know that YS wants that too. “They do react differently to us than to frontline officers.”

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