Welcome to my blog! Today’s chat is a personal development story. Much in a reflection of my work as a youth advocate. For those who do not know my background, I study Architecture and public Policy. Here’s why…
During my time growing up, I was always so sure that Architecture was all that interested my skills set. It was always apparent to me that there was soo much excitement in the world of physical graphics and that it was the process that I wanted to be career married too. That when you grow up you’re only designed to do a certain skill set of jobs that probably only met a handful of real job criteria. Occasionally I would see people going through their last years at high school making the huge assumptions that they knew precisely what they were going into University to achieve and that they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. I guess that’s nice, but we all know those people are full of shit we just hold them in a high regard and call them success stories.
Without getting into the statistics of how many students actually leave University with the degree that they originally intended on completing at the beginning. It is necessary to say that my support goes out to each and every student excelling in the field of their childhood dreams, that’s amazing. It’s actually hugely inspiring to see people going into what they originally planned on going into and then seeing that individual grow up into the career they set out to achieve. In many ways, it is like watching a marathon sprinter start at humble beginnings, work through every obstacle and then cross the finish line. it is something we can all be a part of and support.
But for many people, sometimes the story isn’t so linear. Sometimes you find your second wind to be the most momentous gain made. For me, that was the decision to chase after both Architecture and Public Policy. It all began when a social worker contacted my mum and asked if I might be interested in applying for a position as a youth advocate for the Minister of Social Development, who at the time was Minister Paula Bennett. The government took an interest in asking children and youth who had experienced a failed children’s ministry, how they might want their care experience to be. At the time I wasn’t nearly prepared for the huge mountain that was thrown in front of me so I took it on with full speed thinking it would be an easy accomplishment. Little did I know that it would seriously make waves with my life story, some of which I’ll outline for you below.
In 2015, I applied to be a part of the newly formed children’s advocacy team who would oversee changes made within a proposed children’s ministry. After being unsuccessful in my original application, I was offered the opportunity to be a part of something more vital, which was the focus groups that would occur all over New Zealand hosting children all over the country who had experienced the failures of Child Youth and Family, the previous children’s ministry, to help target the main problems our government faced. Sitting amongst these other kids who had experienced more pain, more suffering, and more neglect than any amount any child should ever receive, I began to learn that their pain was not dissimilar from my pain. That these kids had something in common with me and that was they were ripped out of their families. That these kids had been placed into homes without being told why, without being given the opportunity of choices based on beliefs or cultural significance. They had literally been shit on by a system that did not work.
This is not a blog aimed at upholding the values of government but is equally uninterested in the excuses of families to not be able to look after their children. There was very clearly mistakes on both sides, both systemically as well as socially, from an adult’s perspective. The truth was that none of the children in that focus group, including myself, knew that we had any rights available to us under the constitution. Not one child knew exactly why they were taken away from their parents, some of whom were nearly 17 years of age, had been informed that they had a right to ask for their information be given to them. It didn’t breed change in my direction though. It was a shock to my life plan, definitely.
In 2016, I was re-approached by the office of the children’s commissioner, who was commissioned by the Minister of Social Development, the then and now, honourable Anne Tolley, regarding a second youth advocacy panel who would be appointed to go through and refine all of the work the previous panel had enforced. After an immediate yes, the following three months led up to my first meeting. Not knowing what to expect from the entire situation, not knowing how to study, what I was supposed to know. I went in naive to the fact that I was going to be conducting a service that would be vital for the lives of thousands of children all over my country. The first day of working with my advocacy group I learned all about the people that I was working with. Their incredible stories helped me appreciate how retarded our governing system truly was. My experience within the system was for lack of a better expression, almost perfect. But the word ‘almost’ to entail that it was still not good enough. My first day working as a youth advocate I didn’t sleep. Being slapped in the face by statistics that the majority of kids in care were of my own ethnicity, Maori, and that so many of them committed suicide, were victims of sexual abuse below the age of 5, that these kids would likely never become a functioning adult because of intergenerational poverty made me upset beyond the stage where I was able to carry on with my own selfish desire to become a guy who designed cubes for really rich people an architect. That I had to make a difference in one place, where I knew was to advocate for the injustices that had happened to these kids, and do so in the biggest way imaginable, to speak to those in power.
On the second day of my role as a youth advocate, I met the wonderful Minister Anne Tolley on the fifth floor of parliament. After being informed by The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, that the new system would be called “The Ministry for Vulnerable Children” my heart sank. So it was the first thing I brought up when the minister asked us what she could do better. While there are still confidentiality agreements between myself and the conversations had within my role in government, there is no legislation that prevents freedom of expression. So fuck off. I was depressed by the notion that the new ministry emphasised the importance that these children be put into a box simply because they received funding for a situation, through no fault of their own, they find themselves in. That it was through our cabinet that this name was decided and that the minister herself felt the need to defend the name even though in her eyes it was visible for all to see that she herself did not agree with it.
Politics is a fickle world. It is twisted and warped by the hierarchy that exists because every member of parliament is frightened by the idea that their voices may be quelled if they fail to win the popularity contest, the vote. I learnt that this is a very real problem through my own experiences working within the ministry. That their needs to be a voice that persists that is un-manipulable. That is incorruptible. Somebody who exists to tell the story from the bottom of the food chain in the mot “vulnerable” of beginnings who can say, from an educated position, that they know what’s up. Over the period of a year, I had many dealings with the creation of the children’s ministry. It was shaped and moulded in a way that made adults at every single step of the process question their entire motives for what they were actually doing.
It is true! There are many people working within the public sector of the government who genuinely care about their jobs. So many who actively pursue the rights of children as being their primary concern for working on a boat that they know is sinking from every capacity. Although I met so many people who really knew how to make shit happen, unfortunately, there were so many who were led by conceptual designs made by other adults who were looking for patch job fix ups rather than complete and utter overhauls of a system that everybody knows sucked shit historically. So although their hearts were in the right place. It was their work and their experience that always would have meant that their result wouldn’t have been quite what was necessary. The biggest changes always occurred where the voices of experienced people, in this case, were the voices of care experienced children, that actually provided the necessary clarification that led to the ultimate change necessary.
There is a point where all of us reach that we can no longer carry on telling ourselves that we shouldn’t run with an idea. That when something is so abundantly clear to us that we should consider seriously pursuing, it is probably worth looking over again. It wasn’t long before I applied for a degree majoring in Public Policy. The decision informed by the knowledge that Policy was another word for rules. Rules which affect people. Rules that if they aren’t designed correctly make the little guy, in this case, a literal little guy, somebody else’s bitch. That my skills were the art of the pen. The art of sitting behind a desk and creating waves, that public speaking was a second gift that I possessed. That by sitting a degree in public policy would give me background skills in government would give me a detailed understanding of how the rat race works. So that one day I might be able to work from within the ministry and make everyone accountable for the rules in which they make. It’s a start in the right direction, right?
In the words of the joker. “It’s all apart of the plan.”
Below is a link to my interview with the media regarding the coverage of the launch of Oranga Tamariki.
Below is the link to the VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai interviews with the Youth’s who made it all happen.
Thanks for checking in…