Children's Commissioner pushes community-group homes for high-risk youths

  • 01/10/2018

The Children's Commissioner is pushing for a change in the way New Zealand cares for high-risk youth offenders.

A report from Andrew Becroft's office argues for a shift away from the current large-scale institutional residences towards community group homes.

The homes would be run in partnership with iwi and Māori organisations, and he says the kaupapa Māori-driven approach would help redirect lives.

"We can do much better for them," Mr Becroft says.

"Chances of containing their behaviour and turning them away from a life of crime are much greater in those smaller, low-key residences."

There are currently nine secure residences run by newly-formed agency Oranga Tamariki - previously Child, Youth and Family.

The 2017 State of Care: A focus on Oranga Tamariki's secure residences report from the Office of the Children's Commissioner uncovered "bullying and [an] all-too-common undercurrent of violence".

"Make no mistake: the youth justice residences look like prisons - youth prisons," Mr Becroft wrote in his introduction.

"The care and protection residences are also secure and children and young people are detained there without choice."

Now he wants to see these institutions consigned to the past, with a move towards smaller centres with proper therapeutic supervision and programmes.

"They'll be consigned to history, a relic of the past," he says. "I genuinely think the tide has gone out on their use and we can do better with these local community-group family homes."

Mr Becroft hopes the public backs the plan for helping at-risk youth.

"People will be able to trust the kids there are well looked after," he says.

"But it's a new approach and we'll need the community's support - and I hope we get it."