Spotlight goes on giving youngsters better chance

By Amy Shanks

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Children's Commissioner Russell Wills during a Youth Solutions Symposium at the Miracle Centre in Hastings. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Children's Commissioner Russell Wills during a Youth Solutions Symposium at the Miracle Centre in Hastings. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Sharing inspiring stories and discussing how community organisations can work together to benefit young people was the aim of a Youth Solutions Symposium in Hastings yesterday.

Mayor Lawrence Yule hosted the event, which featured guest speakers including Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, Flaxmere College principal Louise Anaru and talented basketballer Paora Winitana.

"We can do better by working together as much as possible," Mr Yule told a crowd of almost 200 people at Hastings Miracle Centre. "We need to focus on where we can turn around some of the negative statistics and be leaders for the rest of the country."

Many Hawke's Bay organisations had positive initiatives in place to help youth, but it was important to address new challenges and discover where improvements could still be made.

"They have a long future in front of them and so much potential. Some young people will easily find that potential, others need a positive influence, from parents, whanau, schools, employers, churches, service providers and other people in the community that they interact with."

The inaugural symposium planted a seed of change, by sharing inspiring success stories and breaking down statistics to discover where the key concerns lay.

Dr Wills focused on young children, to show how early intervention in healthcare, education and support networks could drastically alter a young person's ability to be successful in adulthood.

"I think it's helpful to talk about why our community is struggling in some areas," he said. "It's not right that being born into a family that's disadvantaged determines your outcome."

Defining "wicked problems" such as teenage parents, alcohol and obesity, was a huge step toward solving some of those social issues.

"[If you are] a mother who is a teen and smoking, your children are more likely to go to school with no raincoat and no shoes. If you are born into those circumstances, you are more likely to leave school, to not have the thinking or social skills.

"You are more likely to be involved in crime and have mental illness, we can predict this with a fair amount of certainty."

It was a problem specific to Hawke's Bay, where proportions of teen mothers and single parents was very high.

"What makes a difference is family or whanau support. Younger parents keep up with their kids, younger parents can do well, but not all young parents have that support."

He said many New Zealand kids were still living in poverty and going without due to a lack of funds.

"Twelve per cent of the population of children missed out on six or more things. For example, a third didn't have the income to invite a child to their birthday party; 39 per cent didn't have a waterproof coat."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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