Advocate accuses Government of failing children, slams military-style boot camps but Minister says youth crime is 'out of control'

The Minister for Children Karen Chhour has defended the Government's military-style boot camps, saying youth crime is "out of control" amid backlash from the Opposition and advocates.

The Government only announced it was progressing with military-style boot camps on Tuesday but it has quickly come under fire, with a youth development worker saying there are decades of evidence showing they don't work and the current Government is failing our children.  

Chhour announced on Tuesday the Government is moving ahead with plans to create military-style boot camps for "the most persistent young offenders" from the middle of this year.  

Led by Oranga Tamariki, the crackdown is part of the coalition Government's plan to target youth offenders who commit violent crimes. 

Chhour told AM on Wednesday the pilot programme will involve 10 youth offenders.  

For the programme to succeed, Chhour believes families of the youth offenders need to be involved while also offering the correct care and wraparound services once they leave.  

"This is not just about the young person, these young people are committing crimes out in the community, they're creating victims, they're hurting other people," she told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.  

"We have an obligation to keep that young person safe, but we also have an obligation to keep the community safe and what we're focusing on right now as a Government is serious youth crime because youth crime is out of control in communities." 

The programme has been quick to receive criticism but the Government has insisted it's different from the one implemented by the previous National Government under Sir John Key. 

The analysis found 85-87 percent of those in that programme went on to re-offend within two years. 

When asked what level of reoffending she would be comfortable with, Chhour wouldn't say.  

"Right now, all I'm concentrating on is making sure we get this program right and we get enough people involved with the skills that we need and to make sure the program works," she said. 

"Why these programs didn't work in the past and why this is different, is we are going to make sure that we're working with the family and working with the community that the young person is going to return to because we can't just send them back to the same environment they came from and expect a different result." 

'Need to look in the mirror as a country' - Youth advocate

But Youth Development Worker Aaron Hendry says crime is on the rise because the current Government is failing our children.  

Hendry joined AM following Chhour's interview and spoke emotionally on the show saying these children need extra care rather than being sent away.  

"I think we need to take a step back and start having a conversation around what our collective responsibility is for these children because we have failed them," he told AM.  

"They have grown up in situations where they have not been cared for, where at a society level we have not ensured there is the right environment for children to grow up in safe homes, have stable housing, have food on the table, even get the support they need to cope with things that they have no control over, a mental illness, a disability they were born with or that's occurred because of some abuse and harm in their life." 

Youth Development Worker Aaron Hendry.
Youth Development Worker Aaron Hendry. Photo credit: AM

Hendry said these children have been left to themselves and then gone on to make choices that have caused harm in our communities after being victims themselves first.  

"We haven't cared for them," he told AM. "We need to look in the mirror as a country and say, what are we doing that these kids are in this situation? No child gets in a car and drives into a building for no reason. That is not a sane, rational thing for a child to do."  

He believes if New Zealand really cares about these young kids and our communities we should start doing something different.  

"The crazy different thing we could do is actually deal what's going on in our communities, address poverty, address homelessness, ensure that our whānau and our communities have what they need just to live a basic, healthy life," he told AM. 

'They're just going to be a bit fitter' - Hipkins

Labour leader Chris Hipkins joined AM following Chhour and Hendry's interviews and told the show evidence shows military-style boot camps don't work. 

"The most important question is it going to actually work and sustain better outcomes for these kids and the previous National Government tried it and the evaluations found over time it didn't actually improve the outcomes for these kids," Hipkins told AM on Wednesday.  

Labour leader Chris Hipkins.
Labour leader Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: AM

Hipkins said with these "intensive programmes" you get short-term improvement but if they just go back to their previous environments that led them to this path all that's going to happen is "you're going to get the same outcomes, they're just going to be a bit fitter".  

"I think we need to look at dealing with the dysfunction in these kids' lives if we really want to get better long-term outcomes for them," Hipkins said.

Watch the interviews above.