In the final part of our series looking into the issue of youth violence in Northland, Karina Cooper finds out what's being done to make a difference.
What police think
Homes laden with emotional and physical support for children from positive role models are crucial to alleviating youth violence, Northland police say.
Mid and Far North relieving area commander Chris McLellan said the simple fact was, we needed to take better care of our youth.
"If we can provide a safe home for tamariki and support them with all their needs within that environment, within the capabilities we all have, then they are going to get the best start in life they can get."
Understanding the ingredients of Northland – demographics, strengths, challenges – allowed police and their partnerships to understand how to best equip families to see a child through.
"It comes back to one real basic principle, 'do with' as opposed to 'do to'. For us that's really important, we do with the community as opposed to doing to a community," McLellan said.
"Exceptional" work by the Bald Angels charitable trust in the Bay of Islands had seen numerous families helped with accessing kai, clothing, housing, and "their whole needs".
"These amazing people are having a strong and positive influence on families to begin to create a safe space for children."
A change to the everyday way police interacted with youth had also brought about a positive impact on young people's behaviour.
"Several years back it may have been a youth justice type matter but now it's about alternative and supportive resolutions. How do we bring that young person back into line in a supported way."
The police response to calls about young people gathering out of hours and away from home in Kaikohe provided an example of this change.
McLellan said officers opted to pick up the youngsters, have a chat about what's going on, and re-direct them to a safe environment.
"It's about our understanding what our youth want, some of the challenges they're going through, some of the stages they'll go through and incorporating their voices."
Essential to the shift by police was to embrace alternative resolutions ahead of criminalising a young person's behaviour.
It is a change that would benefit smaller Northland towns where a lack of parental control saw kids more easily drawn to negative influences.
Alternative resolutions called on partnerships police had with iwi, government agencies and wraparound services and enabled a collective discussion around responses to criminal acts committed by children.
But McLellan acknowledged there were still acts of violence and/or criminality that "need to be dealt with and we will always deal with that".
Police were committed to being a part of positive change in the youth space evident by the large number of resources poured into it.
There's a district youth community ethnic manager who oversees the district structure of youth for police. Then each area has a prevention manager who designs the tactics and support related to youth.
In addition there are youth aid sergeants, youth aid constables, and non-sworn attachments to youth aid that provide mentoring – such as Blue Light, LSV, and many local level programmes.
McLellan believed the solution to youth violence was "bigger than what we think".
"The fix to this involves iwi, community patrols, starting youth programmes, attendance at schools, influencing a positive change around truancy, applying some positive tactics, helping whānau create a safe environment. There's a huge amount to it."
Whangārei police have taken multiple steps in the district to curb youth violence.
The number of school community officers (SCO) has been increased from one to four staff in Whangārei and Kaipara.
Their role is within schools to help prevent crime, victimisation, and harm in the school community.
SCO collaborate with schools to develop and implement safety education and shared interventions.
CCTV is being installed near the Rust Ave entrance of the Kamo Shared Path by Whangārei's community patrol, CitySafe.
The Kamo Shared Path is currently patrolled by CitySafe community officers from Rust Ave to the Vinery Lane carpark.
Whangarei-Kaipara police area commander Inspector Marty Ruth urged people to report any violent incidents in the community by immediately phoning 111 or if more than 24-hours old, phone 105.
Ruth said without that evidence, police struggled to put forward a case to provide extra officers and funding to thwart violence in the community.
What our public and mental health experts are saying
Young Northlanders should be bolstered to join positive community-based groups as a way towards violence prevention.
Dr Terryann Clark (Ngāpuhi) - a registered comprehensive nurse with extensive experience in youth health, youth mental health, and a University of Auckland associate professor – said linking youngsters to community groups expanded their world.
"Making sure they are linked in a way that exposes them to other young people doing positive things is really, really key. It means they're engaging with a really diverse group of young people who come from different perspectives from them."
Clark listed sports clubs, church groups, and kapa haka as powerful tools for violence prevention.
"These groups can give kids the joys and thrills and buzzes they may have previously associated with getting stoned and stealing stuff. It's a way for them to find those kicks without the not-so-good stuff."
Secondarily, they also provided a safe and age appropriate starting point for children to find their "people".
It comes with the added bonus of making young people feel and realise they are valued, Clark said.
"As well as making them realise they have something to contribute – whatever that may be."
It's a feeling Patsy Henderson-Watt, director of the Miriam Centre counselling centre, wanted reverberated through everyone.
"We need to give the power to people so they understand their worth rather than the attitude everyone is a cog."
And that came in the form of better support for families rather than punishing without probing, Henderson-Watt said.
"It is not enough to uplift or rescue a child and prosecute a family if you don't sort the problem. Children need nurturing families – we have to take on all of the problem, all of the solution approach."
Clark agreed that whānau and community were at the forefront of reducing youth violence.
"I think sometimes if we were to think about putting more money into supporting families rather than child protection or violence prevention we would have much happier whānau."
Resolving violence was about how people in our communities connect, Clark said.
"We need to look at how, as communities, we get to know each other. It's really important we get to know each other and protect each other in a really mana enhancing way."
Part one : Mum's plea 'Protect our babies'
Part two: Social factors
Part three: How our education systems are coping
Part four: Solutions