Hopes high $50,000 initiative can help deter youth from gangs

By Victoria White -
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Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe says a Government programme to steer youth from gangs needs to be long-term and delve into the "heart" of gang-affiliated issues. PHOTO/FILE
Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe says a Government programme to steer youth from gangs needs to be long-term and delve into the "heart" of gang-affiliated issues. PHOTO/FILE

With gangs deeply ingrained in Hawke's Bay, a new government initiative to steer youth away from them could provide lasting benefit to the region, community figures hope.

Yesterday Acting Youth Minister Anne Tolley announced a $50,000 youth leadership and mentoring programme, which would give young people with known gang connections opportunities to develop skills that open up alternative options to gang membership.

It would also support the goal of breaking the cycle of intergenerational gang life and welfare dependence, and complement other Ministry of Social Development community pilot programmes, and the Government's Gang Intelligence Centre.

Mrs Tolley, a former Hawke's Bay politician, said gangs were a big issue in the region and work being done through these avenues was going to directly benefit Hawke's Bay.

"We are going to learn valuable lessons from the pilot programmes about what works and what doesn't for young people as we try to give them a route out of gang life," she said.

The programme announced yesterday was designed by, and would be delivered through a collaboration of known provider organisations with community experience.

The participants in the programme - around 20 - would be identified through community services such as Police Youth Aid and colleges.

"The provider organisations will consider all referrals to ensure individuals meet the criteria, including vulnerability and gang connection," Mrs Tolley said.

In the programme, they would develop skills such as leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, decision-making and self-management - and then be given the chance to make a positive contribution to their communities.

Flaxmere councillor for Hastings District Henare O'Keefe said there would be benefits from the programme, but it would need to be sustained, long-term, and delve into the "heart" of gang-affiliated issues.

As the Mongrel Mob were "deeply ingrained" in Hawke's Bay, Mr O'Keefe said there needed to be more creative, proactive and innovative solutions.

Although well-intentioned, he said the $50,000 was skimming over the surface of the issue. Instead, the community needed to work with whanau and improve parenting.

"Good parenting, or the lack of it, will impact on our community," he said. "If we have to reward good parenting so be it. If we got this right we wouldn't be talking about $50,000 to deter young people from gangs."

Mrs Tolley said it was anticipated participants' parents would be actively engaged and encouraged to support their rangatahi to achieve positive outcomes.

Black Power life member and community "resultant" Denis O'Reilly said working with whanau should be the principal element of the programme.

However the programme's "strength-based approach", meant the right areas were being targeted.

"We're dealing with whanau so it's really a question of changing behaviour, rather than changing allegiance, or changing who you mix with," he said.

"Behaviour is the key thing, affiliation is a bit irrelevant."

Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar said the programme could have "phenomenal benefits" for Hawke's Bay.

Gang activity was sometimes linked to horrific crimes, which cost Hawke's Bay's community in numerous ways, as well as meaning a "loss of potential for these young lives".

Although it was "fantastic to see anything that stops kids from joining a life of crime", he said sometimes programmes like these seemed to have no follow-up, and the Government would need to monitor its progress to ensure long-term success.

Area Commander Inspector Tania Kura said Hawke's Bay Police were supportive of any initiative that would compliment the programmes already on offer in the region to support at-risk youth.

"Youth are one of New Zealand Police's five operational priorities and Police are committed to reducing the presence of youth in the criminal justice system," she said.

Earlier this year an MSD report estimated the long-term cost to the taxpayer of gang members and their children through contact with MSD and CYF was $714 million.

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