It’s been a whole month since walking down to Civic Square to ride on stationary bicycles to represent every child and young person living in state care. From the first ray of sunlight bouncing over Mount Vic on Monday morning to the last drop of rain five days later, it was an experience difficult to forget.
The idea first came around in June. My previous work boss and I were just chatting over a cup of tea thinking about cool ideas we could develop to help raise awareness for kids in care. Soon enough we thought it would be a crazy idea to do this thing where a couple of stationary bikes could be ridden and it would power some kind of light device.
After a bit of reworking, we decided it would reflect every child in care through minutes. People could ride accumulative minutes to make up the 6300 living in care. The aim was to capture the attention of people just passing by or on their lunch breaks at work. An idea that seemed simple and effective.
After poking and prodding a few different people to help make this thing happen, it was left to me to design the detail. It was going to be called “Cycling For Tamariki” a cycling event with the form factor specific to raising awareness for kids in care. The word tamariki was chosen because the majority (60%) of all children and young people living in state care were Maori. All of the funds would be used to raise money for VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai.
VOYCE is an advocacy service for children and young people in care. An organisation I’ve had the privilege of helping to set up. They’re responsible for making sure the views of young people and children with lived experience in care are heard and actioned. Something or someone they can trust and believe in because trust is a really hard thing to come by when it’s been messed around with a lot. Something most people can relate to, especially people in care.
Historically the voices of children and young people haven’t been heard properly. Especially ones who have been put into state care. They have been the unintended victim of a multi-dimensional form of abuse and stigma. It’s no secret now that the foster care system has changed 14 times in the last 20 years either legislatively or through a complete overhaul.
But what isn’t spoken about is all the broken relationships between social workers and children in care. What isn’t spelled out for everyone is the on-going horrors that care experienced people still have to face well after they leave care. Reconnecting with family members without context as to why they split apart in the first place all those years ago. Really harrowing journeys that are necessary for every person to walk down but tough going without support.
The purpose behind VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai is to build young people up. Starting from who they see themselves to be and who they want to be associated with. It gives them a platform of consistency that they can rely on when there’s all this change going on. When they’re being moved across Auckland to stay with an aunty, or to be kept in contact if they find a job in a different city as a young adult.
The community is responsible for looking after kids too. A survey undertaken by Oranga Tamariki showed that 90% of people in New Zealand care about kids they know whilst only 51% of people in New Zealand care about children they don’t know. It’s sad to accept these figures when all children are entitled to their rights. Especially when there were nearly 90,000 reports of concerns sent through to the Ministry for Children just in 2017 about children and young people. A number we should not accept either because no child should be subject to any type of abuse whether they’re known to you or not.
Another major function of VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai is also to build a community of care experienced young people. A network of people walking through a similar journey with the same intention of finding who they are and excelling at life. VOYCE has since its inception in April 2017 hosted over 15 connection events all around New Zealand. Helping to support young people who may have otherwise not have been able to go along to events due to practical issues like transport, disability needs, and social anxiety support.
Cycling For Tamariki raised just below $5,000 for VOYCE to host more of these connection events. Because it guarantees equity of opportunity for young people in care. It doesn’t discriminate towards people who are richer or poorer. It gives children and young people the time and place to have fun, and maybe make new friends in their community. Nobody misses out when everybody comes together.
Most importantly, it gives kids the connections to do it more often. To do things outside of VOYCE’s domain. Because VOYCE isn’t perfect. Nobody and nothing is. But to allow kids the chance to be able to connect in their own time and in their own way is definitely worth cycling five days for.