Aotearoa's Youth Week (happening this week May 7-16) is about amplifying the valuable contributions young people make to our society. In Taranaki and around the country taiohi have been supported to design and deliver a raft of activities and events. You can check out some of the great things planned locally here(external link).
But what about the more than 3,000 young people who don't even have the basic support most New Zealanders take for granted growing up? These taiohi may not have a safe place to live, positive role models who can help them imagine and plan for a bright future or trusted adults to help them navigate all the challenges and opportunities of youth.
In Taranaki, taiohi aged 16-18 can turn to Tui Ora's Youth Services. Our team of 10 dedicated kaimahi (based in Hawēra and Maratahu Street) work with the most vulnerable young people in our community: young people not in education, employment or training (they're referred to by the acronym NEET sometimes), those who can't live with their parents or guardians and young parents.
"For a whole kete of reasons – most of them way outside the young person's control – some taiohi find themselves on a pretty grim path. At any given time, our team is working with 150-200 of these taiohi. As well as making sure they have all the basics, we focus on encouraging them to imagine what kind of bright future they want. We help them plan how they can get where they want to go and then support them on that journey," says Youth Services Team Leader Evan Chadwick.
Youth Services helps their young whānau navigate the various systems and challenges they have to deal with. From getting their drivers licence, finding a way back into education or a job or moving onto Work and Income. There's support with budgeting, parenting, cooking and many other "life" skills they need to develop to thrive.
"Every young person who comes to us is different so there is no magic formula – and actually that's a great thing. Instead, we meet taiohi where they are and take the time to find out what's happening in their world and how we can help them to succeed on their terms."
"One thing we're really focusing on is how we connect with our youth. We've noticed that when we prioritise building a relationship with them, we can make big, positive changes to how they see themselves and their futures."
"Sitting down in an office for a chat isn't something many young people are familiar or comfortable with. We've found that when we take the conversation out of these more formal spaces — whether that's going for a surf or a walk or doing something in nature – the korero flows a lot more easily and is a lot more authentic."
As well as developing strong relationships via direct engagement, another key focus of Youth Services is encouraging youth to connect with each other and create community.
Te Ropu Titoki is an example of a new Youth Services initiative which emphasises positive engagement. Young wāhine catch up together to take part in teen-friendly activities like horse riding or surfing lessons. The activities are opportunities for the kind of self-discovery and growth all young people need and by taking part taiohi also learn valuable collaborative and social skills. Meanwhile the Youth Services kaimahi get the opportunity to build trust and see behind the image the young people present, giving them valuable insights which would otherwise stay hidden.
"We have the opportunity to make a real difference in these young people's lives. It's not easy. What works for one, won't necessarily work for the next. But what we do can make a profound, life changing difference to these young people – and that's why we turn up for mahi every day."