Keep your head up, stay in school, and if you're struggling or feel unsafe - reach out to someone.

That's Tiaysha Rua's message for other young people.

"It helped me, and it can help you too," she said.

The 18-year-old from Kaipara has recently received a Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki Award, worth $2000, which recognises exceptional young people in state care.

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Tiaysha grew up in Whangārei but was placed into the care of Oranga Tamariki in 2016 when she was 15 years old.

She'd been struggling with depression since she was 12, was not going to school very often and needed a safe home.

Tiaysha Rua, third, receiving her award with Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Grainne Moss, Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Social worker Olivia Ashby-Cartwright, Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki Award recipient Tiaysha Rua, and Tiaysha's caregiver Raewyn who she calls mum. Photo / John Stone
Tiaysha Rua, third, receiving her award with Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Grainne Moss, Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Social worker Olivia Ashby-Cartwright, Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki Award recipient Tiaysha Rua, and Tiaysha's caregiver Raewyn who she calls mum. Photo / John Stone

"It was scary. We left Whangārei at 7pm and got to Rae's House (her caregiver) at 10pm so I was a little worried where we were going," she said.

"It took me about four months to adjust and then I got used to it and liked it."

Raewyn - who Tiaysha calls mum - has been a caregiver for nearly 30 years. Tiaysha has been in the care of her and husband Steve - who Tiaysha calls pop - since 2016.

Raewyn, who did not want her last name used, said she has noticed "night and day changes" in Tiaysha.

"I have seen this scared introverted teenager flourish into a young woman," Raewyn said.

"The breaking point for the turn was she would never say good morning and never say good night. We persistently said it. I said to her 'honey, we say good morning and we say good night' it was like something switched on a light, it just changed."

Tiaysha Rua (third left), receiving her award with Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Grainne Moss, Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Supplied
Tiaysha Rua (third left), receiving her award with Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Grainne Moss, Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Supplied

Tiaysha went from not enjoying school to achieving NCEA level 1, 2 and 3 at Ruawai College.

At her recent school prizegiving she was awarded excellence in physical education and leadership principles, best all-round senior girl volleyball player, the fair play award, and first in class for NCEA level 3 hospitality.

She said her caregivers, and being in one stable home, changed her life.

"They made me go to school, they pushed me to go to school. They were always there when I needed someone to talk to and it's great to be in an environment where you can laugh about anything and take jokes," she said.

Tiaysha received the Oranga Tamariki award, previously known as the William Wallace Awards, at a ceremony on Tuesday and met Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Next year she is headed to the International Tourism College in Auckland as she wants to become an air hostess and travel the world.

Her social worker Olivia Ashby-Cartwright said Tiaysha was an inspiration.

"She has taken on the challenges presented to her and has risen above and beyond them."