Government U-turns on closing school successful in reducing youth crime after being contacted by Newshub

There's been a major U-turn by the Government at the eleventh hour after Newshub learned a Hamilton school, that's been successfully keeping young people away from crime, was to be shut down.

Staff and the Oranga Tamariki youths who attend the Kauri Centre for at-risk youth learned of the impending closure on Friday morning after the Ministry of Education unveiled its plans to Newshub.

Hours later the Associate Minister of Education overruled her officials' decision.

The Kauri Centre currently teaches 12 boys aged 11-17 years and is jointly funded by the Ministry of Education and Oranga Tamariki.

"These are young people who've come to us from very traumatic backgrounds - physical and sexual abuse or they may have lost a parent, and then that's led to a life of crime," said Kauri Centre staff member Kim Gerrand.

She said some boys are on Ministry of Justice remand for crimes like ram raids, others have stolen cars or in one case burnt down a house.

"Being here six hours a day is helping them stay off the streets. If this place was to close, half a dozen of them at least will end up back on the street," said Gerrand.

Initially Ministry of Education spokesperson Jocelyn Mikaere told Newshub the Kauri Centre will close at the end of the year.

"After reviewing Alternative Education (AE) provision across the Waikato region, we will be reducing funding of AE places from 20 to 10 from 2023."

The Ministry of Education spends $247,000 per year on the Kauri Centre, with an additional $30,000 contribution to teacher aide support.

Hillcrest High School, which employs the Centre's staff, said it is "very disappointed that the operating budget has been reduced. We have seen first-hand the outstanding work that the Kauri Centre staff do in assisting their students to transition into mainstream education".

Hillcrest High School Board Chairperson Kevin Endres said "due to the significant gap in funding, we have elected not to renew the Kauri Centre contract".

Staff announced to the "distraught" youths on Friday that the Kauri Centre will close at the end of the year.

One foster carer whose son has been at the Kauri Centre for three years said he could not understand the Ministry's logic.

"The Kauri Centre is at the top of the cliff catching these kids before they dive down to the bottom."

He said he's seen "a massive change in behaviour… prolonged meltdowns are a thing of the past now and I've seen it in other kids too. One boy is going off to university because of the wraparound support the Kauri Centre teachers have given him."

But within two hours of querying the closure with Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti, she did a U-turn on the Ministry's decision.

"No I didn't know about it in the first instance, and it's now it's not closing."

Tinetti said it's a complex funding model between the Ministry of Education and Oranga Tamaki, but the money will be made available.

"I would have liked to have known about it earlier, but now that I do know I can do something about it."

National's education spokesperson Erica Stanford described the back-flip as "unbelievable".

Oranga Tamariki will continue a review of the Kauri Centre but late Friday staff were advised their contracts would be renewed to stay on for another year.