Andrew Becroft once had such a bad stutter that a teacher told him the three fields he could never work in were the law, the church and education.
Forty years on, he has worked in all three, and on July 1 he will become the country's seventh Children's Commissioner.
Mr Becroft, now 58, has been Principal Youth Court Judge for 15 years. He is an active member of the Karori Baptist Church and chairs the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship.
But he has never forgotten the stutter that helped him to understand many young offenders with disabilities, and is patron of the Speech-language Therapists Association and the Speak Easy Association which supports people with speech impediments.
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"Most of the serious young offenders are really struggling with neurodisability disorders including fetal alcohol syndrome, traumatic brain injury, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia and communication disorders," he said.
"They have always caused serious victimisation, but they are themselves victims - 76 per cent have a history of some CYF [Child Youth and Family] involvement."
His appointment as Children's Commissioner was welcomed yesterday across the political spectrum. Labour MP Jacinda Ardern, who was consulted on potential candidates, said Mr Becroft would be "fantastic". Green co-leader Metiria Turei said the decision was "exciting".
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said Judge Becroft would be seconded to the role for two years in what Ms Ardern described as a "change-manager" role to monitor CYF's transformation into a new agency with a huge $1.3 billion annual budget to buy extra education, health, employment and social services for the families of about one in every five New Zealand children. Judge Becroft said the proposed changes were a "visionary" approach to tackle the nation's "utterly unacceptable child abuse and neglect record".
"I hope there is an opportunity for even more of that vigorous debate to say this cannot continue and how is it that it is happening," he said.
He said overall rates of youth crime had halved under his watch since 2009, but rates had not come down as much for violent crime, female or Maori offending. Maori had increased from 42 per cent of Youth Court clients in 2008 to 63 per cent today.