'Courageous young' taught to survive
A teenager steals the family boat and sails from their home in the Marlborough Sounds to Picton while another travels from one side of the country to the other to get away from a bad home life.
Their mentor, Presbyterian Support Marlborough Youth Service co-ordinator Trudy Langford, describes them as courageous young people.
Mrs Langford works with struggling Marlborough teenagers as part of new requirements for those receiving the youth or young parent benefit introduced last month.
Parents aged 16-19 who are living independently, or people aged 16-18 who are unable to live at home or are not in education, employment or training are eligible for the benefits.
But in return for receiving the payment the teens are required to meet regularly with a mentor, to take up education or training and to complete a budgeting course. Young parents also have to complete a parenting course.
The mentoring programme has been running for a month in Marlborough and about 20 people are enrolled or being signed up. About one person a week is being referred, Mrs Langford said.
Private contractors, such as Presbyterian Support, have the contracts to deliver the service. They could offer a carrot and stick approach with training incentives and the warning that young people who do not comply could lose their benefit, she said.
"We're like a social worker with a bit of oomph."
Her role includes helping the young people set a plan for education to achieve their goals. And while she did feel a little like a "mother at a distance" it was a privilege helping people, such as the teenage mother who wants to be a midwife, or the young person who stole a boat in the Sounds and sailed to Waikawa because they felt they could not live at home.
It had not been an easy start with all her clients. It took 22 text messages before one arrived for their first meeting, but most were coping.
Meeting in an informal setting such as Presbyterian Support helped put the young people at ease.
The building is used for a range of services, including the Totara Club, a daily social group for elderly people.
"They're not used to walking into a place where there are old people singing or whatever. You get people that walk in and they're really nervous and defensive and 15 minutes later they're relaxed.
"We had someone who was late for an appointment because they were helping out with the old people at the Totara Club."
As part of the benefit conditions rent, power and bills are deducted from a teen's payment; $50 is paid into their bank account and the remainder is transferred to a payment card that can be used at supermarkets, but cannot be used to buy cigarettes or alcohol.
On average the benefits pay a maximum of $170.80 after tax a week but vary depending on rent.
The young people can also earn a little more than $200 a week before their benefit is affected.
While some have criticised the payment cards as too controlling, Mrs Langford said it was important that someone set boundaries for the young people. "We're teaching them survival skills so they will always have a roof over their head and food in their cupboards."
- The Marlborough Express