Blog 103 – Being A Ministerial Youth Advocate

My role involved being part of a seven-person panel over 15-months. The young people were all care experienced and all had their own stories. A youth panel was requested by the orders of Minister Tolley, Social Development Minister, and set up by The Office of The Children’s Commissioner.

Our name was Te Whanau Aroha or The Love Family, and we all had incredibly valuable insights into what we want to see in a system that looks after and cares for the most vulnerable youth in New Zealand.

You might ask why the adults needed our voices in the first place, and you’d be right to ask that question. But the why is important because it symbolises a huge shift in authority from the adults back to the people who matter the most in that equation and that is the young people.

Like a school kid catching the school bus. Young people in the care system are users of that system and so they occupy its service. Because they are considered as consumers or users of their care system they are effectively the best people to ask about the process. To help uplift and feedback on how the system operates and where it might be overlooked.

That’s why the voices of young people matter. Not because they’re the last resort, kick it down the street,, token. But because they used the system and are the best people to ask how it’s going and if it works or if it could do better.

What It Was Like Talking With A Minister. 

Normally I would say they’re just another person. That they are just another human being a deserve no more respect or effort than a service station worker or a bus driver. While that’s true, talking with Minister Tolley about the changes that need to occur from a tiny group of six people meant that we had a huge responsibility to ensure that she was informed at an educated level.

We would meet for two day periods bi-monthly and talk to all kinds of people from Judges to Policy Analysts to ensure that the people who are working on the ground and had hands on experience drafting policy or speaking with young people in youth justice facilities. It meant that we were informed about how the system was going and that drawing from our own experiences in the system we could then relay that information back to the minister or help the people working in those areas and point out things that could be easily overlooked.

It was a really nerve racking process talking with a lady who was renowned for being stern and to the point. Somebody who took no hostages and was very forthright at telling you how things were. Then to add that she was a politician really made things interesting and trying to convince a politician that some things she was saying you didn’t really agree on was really nerve racking.

One of the things that I wanted to put into the bill was to prioritise that brothers and sisters be kept together when they were taken from their families. That sometimes kids get split up because of gaps in the system. That these mistakes can sometimes go on to affect their lives all the way up until their late teenage years when in some cases, like mine, they’re reunited again.

But she was a lovely lady. She came to be known as Aunty Anne. Not this scary, wicked, power hungry machine that people call her out for being but this really eye’s open, down to earth figure that took on board everything we were saying.

Because of that, I am happy to announce that we were able to influence change onto the new legislation amendment that was designed to look after and protect young people in the care system.

And that’s pretty amazing.

Thanks for checking in.

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