WHEN THE Social Development Minister announced last week a proposal to 'intensify' support for those who care for youngsters, it was Chantelle Walker who cheered the loudest.

For her it's been a long, long time in the coming.

It's more than two years since this newspaper revealed her plans to set up a young offenders' home-away-from-home. Her enthusiasm fair fizzed off the page, but since then she's travelled a road riddled with bureaucratic judder bars, forcing her into a compulsory stop. This is despite the official thumbs up to establish a trust, Te Toa Matataki, to oversee her project.

Helped by a benefactor, who insists on remaining in the shadows, this adrenalin-charged go-getter's acquired 2.4 hectares in the depths of Waikite Valley, complete with a six-bedroom home, a transition suite and caregivers' accommodation.


It's blessed and ready to open, but lies idle; what Chantelle lacks is official support. Locally the Energy Trust, Geyser Foundation, Rotary and a slew of other organisations have promised financial backing, but that's conditional on Child Youth and Family (CYFS) stepping up too.

She's already an approved caregiver, judges have started sending youngsters to her but she's had to say 'taihoa' (not yet).

Who could be better placed than Chantelle to stop kids running off the rails?

To plagiarise words from our earlier Chantelle Walker story, 'her life could have been very different'.

Pregnant at 14, she hung out with the 'tough guys'. "They were big fighters, did an aggravated robbery, there was a stabbing."

The fourth generation of her whanau to become a teenage mum, she fretted she's shamed her grandparents. Yet it was them who rallied to support her.

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4 Jul, 2017 7:14am
4 minutes to read

"I was living in a house full of teenagers. They'd bring us money, food, they're very beautiful people."

Their moko living off the state appalled them - and Chantelle; by her daughter's first birthday she was waitressing at the Novotel.

"When she was 3 we [she and her partner] shifted to Hamilton, to escape all that s**t."

Despite her terminated schooling, Chantelle enrolled at Waikato University, her ambition a psychology major.

"I realised my life didn't have to be this hard, that I could improve it by making something of myself."

With so much to catch up on she spent a year doing 'foundational studies', while working three jobs ... "a really, really crazy time." Her books were shelved when she met the manager of Hamilton's soon-to-open Harvey Norman store. "I applied for any job going, at the interview I was totally truthful, until then I'd always lied about my life. The boss was crying, shaking her head, she made me her PA. She saw something in me I hadn't seen in myself. It was the confidence boost I'd never had. She helped me look at life in a different way."

TWO years on Chantelle transferred to the Rotorua branch. "One day I saw six or seven jobs for social workers advertised, that probation officers started on $50,000. I thought this is what I need to be making."

Within weeks she was at Waiariki working towards a Bachelor of Applied Social Science. Her studies were going swimmingly then whamo, she was again pregnant - not once but twice in her final two years. Don't dare consider she'd been sleeping around.

"My partner's the father of all our kids, we're separated now but he's a huge presence in our lives."

Undaunted, she studied on.

"I just kept going and going, I don't know how, I was exhausted, got styes in my eyes, but remained determined to graduate."

Her youngest was 6 weeks old when she was given her first taste of social work. It was at the School for Young Parents "seeing everything I missed".

Her second placement was with CYFS; "shadowing a practising social worker, went to court, wrote reports, I got this passion for youth justice, saw how unique youth offenders are."

Her final year's work experience was at Maketu Health and Social Services; once graduated she became its drug and alcohol co-ordinator.

"Instead of having two boys I had 25. I loved the mahi [work], a lot of the young people had Mongrel Mob links, were hard to crack, we managed it."

Missing her grandparents, she came home to a job in CYFS' youth justice sector. "Most of the rangatahi [young people] had complex backgrounds, that's when I knew I had to help them along their way in life."

Her CYFS time led her to Te Kooti Rangatahi (marae-based youth court). Judge Louis Bidois handpicked her as the court's sole lay advocate. "He said that way he could keep an eye on me. I feel privileged, it's the first time whanau really have had a voice in the youth justice process."

Based at Maatua Whangai, she's acquired an add-on role, working with police on the recently-launched Alternative Action programme for first-time, low-level offenders.

It's intensified her passion to open her 'transition to independence' home, it's named Te Whare Piringa Rangatahi (place of youthful peace), others call it 'Chantelle's house'.

"It's in a secluded area where kids will go to find themselves, learn skills they can take with them into their lives, grow kai [food], look after animals, chickens, go hunting, fishing.

"What it won't be is a 'bad boys' home', it's a family home for those who need a solid, stable base and just be equal. It's just the start, I want more, one for girls too.

"No one else in this area provides such specific care, everyone wants the house open now so I'm excited by the recommendations of the CYFS review as my trust and service align with nearly all of their priority area, it's been a hell of a 2 years getting there. In case you haven't noticed I'm very competitive."