Having had the privilege of heading up one of New Zealand’s leading Youth support organisations for over a decade I have been appalled at the progressive destruction of community-owned Non Government Organisations (NGO’s) through the control freak mentality of politicians and the bureaucratic system.
Back in 1994, while between jobs, I was asked to find a way of helping young people who were failing to find their place in the workforce. My investigations showed that the major barrier preventing them from obtaining long term stable positions was their poor response to the employment opportunities that were offered, as well as their rejection of normally acceptable social standards.
While numerous training programmes were available, many failed to provide assistance after the programme was over and very few followed through with job search assistance. It became clear that what was needed was an initiative that would not only deliver training, but provide support after the programme was over while the young people made their transition to work.
To ensure that our new youth support initiative was based on real needs and founded on realistic goals we decided to carry out some in depth market research. We found that under normal circumstances young people experienced three stages of learning: ‘formal education’ from primary school through to Tertiary institutions, ‘life skills’ through informal education -daily experiences, friends, families and peers – and ‘non-formal activities’.
In an ideal learning environment the Government provided formal education, with the other two facets of learning being delivered by the private sector. However in today’s more complex environment it became acceptable for the Government to partner the private sector in the delivery of Informal and Non formal activities.
The problem is that the present Government has now assumed responsibility for all aspects of young people’s learning, dictating not only the learning content but the delivery procedures as well. For example their “Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa”, which aims to give young people aged between 12 and 25 years complete autonomy, has now become a major contributor to the relationship problems that exist between young people, their family and the community they live in.
Many young people now feel insecure in terms of their identity and they face the future with an increasing fear rather than with confidence and hope. The break down of the traditional family and the increase of single parent families has a major bearing on the young person’s inability to cope.
We entered the market in June 1995 with Youth development programmes, which were imported from the UK. During the delivery of our first programme we realised that the best way to provide for our students was through a partnership network, bringing together the skills of the private and public sectors. Amongst our partners were the Ministry of Youth Development, the Employment Service, Income Support, the Defence Forces, and the Employers’ Federation.
Many of our young people came from dysfunctional families, had anger management problems, failed at school, were drug and alcohol dependent, were constantly in trouble with the law, and wandered through life completely directionless, lacking in self esteem and confidence. I recall one 15 year old who was referred to our programme after attending a family group conference for committing violent assault. This young lad came from a dysfunctional family, his parents were separated and there was no male role model in his life. Most of his time was spent with youth gangs and street kids, where fighting and drug abuse was the norm. He was completely out of control. His mother couldn’t cope and she couldn’t get any support from Government agencies. This problem was compounded by the fact that he often experienced deep depression and had serious attitudinal problems, viewing everybody as his natural enemy.
Government agencies had placed him on programmes that were not designed to address his problems. This always resulted in his being dismissed for inappropriate behaviour and attitudinal problems. Left to his own devises this young man would inevitably have spent most of his life in prison.
After a twenty week programme with us and through the provision of long term post programme support, he developed a more positive attitude and he subsequently settled down back home with his mother. His attitudinal change and his positive response to the help we gave him enabled us to place him in stable employment, which he has maintain over a long period earning the respect of his employer and his elders.
Our organisational philosophy was to spend the first few weeks of our relationship with each young person building a mutual trust then working with them to develop a positive future. We often worked with some young people for very long periods, ensuring that each positive step they made led to another. Many of the young people we worked with had drug and alcohol problems and they were used to pushing boundaries. It made no difference whether they were male or female.
One young lass that we had on one of our programmes showed very clearly that she could match it with the boys whether it was on a drinking spree or in a fight. Eventually we were forced to remove her from the programme because she was too disruptive. We offered to work with her outside of the group which she initially refused, threatening to bring her boyfriend into my office to deal with me. After weeks of subsequent threatening telephone calls she final decided she needed our help and asked for it.
It would have been easy to refuse to help this young lady because of her attitude, but that would not have met our philosophical belief nor our experience that once the cycle is broken, change can be effected. We later discovered that she had been rejected from a number of support programmes because of her attitude and refused any further assistance by the providers. But our response to her problems had eventually enabled us to build up trust so that after eighteen months we were finally able to place her into long-term employment with a retail sports company. We understand that she is still doing very well and is now engaged to be married.
During my tenure with the organisation we worked with over three thousand young people and we were able to achieve positive long term results with 85% of them.
When The New Zealand Employment Service and New Zealand Income Support were merged in 1998 to form WINZ our partnership continued in most areas although with the introduction of thirteen separate Regional Management teams there were some difficulties. However, with the election of the Labour Government and the restructuring of WINZ to form the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), public/private sector partnerships were restricted, only being available if the private sector partner accepted that MSD had the right to dictate the terms and administer all aspects of the relationship.
Over more recent times MSD has introduced so-called outcome based contracting regimes that are entered into on a non-negotiable contract basis. Government funding is only available to those that agree to terms and conditions that would be unacceptable in the commercial world
Under the Labour Government the Ministry of Social Development has grown into a high cost inefficient provider of social services with the ability to control the market and almost all aspects of people’s lives.
In August 2003, the Ministry of Youth Affairs was merged with the Ministry of Social Development: “Our Government is keen to strengthen and improve our delivery of services to young people who will get much better value out of this new ministry”.
Youth service providers across the country predicted that this would effectively end the proven partnership between the private sector and the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Three years later the destruction was complete, with many of the original highly experienced providers withdrawing their services or being forced to close their doors through lack of funding. The new Ministry of Youth Development had become a bureaucratically driven statistics orientated organisation that no longer consulted with the private sector regarding policy development.
During my eleven years of involvement with some of the country’s most complex young people I saw many valuable youth initiatives destroyed by the government’s youth policies and bureaucratic pressure. Unfortunately their loss is becoming increasingly apparent as we see more youth crime, assaults on elderly people, property damage, theft, drunken behaviour, increased drug abuse and more truancy from school than ever before.
Under the guise of a youth participation philosophy, young people are being encouraged by the bureaucratic administrators of Government policy to defy their elders and to make more demands on a society that is now being stretched to its tolerance limits. These current youth development policies ignore the fact that young people must be given the chance to fully develop – both mentally and physically – before they can contribute appropriately to the future of their family, their community and their country.
This Government’s destructive social policies have created divisions between cultures, within families, and across communities, and until there is a full realisation that the problems are politically motivated – and the people of this country demand appropriate action – the situation will continue to deteriorate.