Summer camp for 30,000 poor kids

Last updated 05:00 27/08/2009

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Thirty thousand children from struggling families will get free access to holiday programmes under plans to help them stay out of trouble when school is out.

A further 500 children looked after by foster parents or extended family will also get the chance to go to summer camp. The initiatives are cornerstones of a sweeping $84.55 million youth package unveiled by Prime Minister John Key and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

The bulk of the funding $59.1m will go on youth justice initiatives, including military-style training for up to 90 of the worst offenders, increased supervision and residence orders and drug and alcohol counselling.

However, a significant slice will go on programmes to keep youngsters out of trouble in the first place, including helping those in the poorest neighbourhoods or from families under stress to take part in out-of-school activities.

It includes $10.5 million to send 30,000 children a year to one-week holiday activities such as drama, organised sport or outdoor recreation. The first 15,000 places will be made available this summer, with a focus on deprived areas of Auckland.

The initiatives were given the thumbs up by Chief Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft and Children's Commissioner John Angus.

"In holiday times, for youngsters in poorer neighbourhoods, there are challenges about being bored and drifting around and not having things to do and their parents not necessarily being able to afford the sorts of activities that more-advantaged children have," Dr Angus said.

Judge Becroft said giving children from deprived areas access to holiday programmes would help them build connections with their communities, an important factor in steering them away from crime.

Mr Key said he was personally offended that many children could not go to holiday programmes because their parents could not afford them.

The 30,000 places for 11-year-olds to 17-year-olds would be funded from social development allocations in the Budget and cash diverted from the healthy eating and physical activity programmes whittled down by National.

The Government is passing legislation to allow the military training component of new youth justice orders dubbed "boot camps" for up to 40 of the worst offenders each year. A further 50 would have some element of military training under new supervision orders.

Mr Key and Ms Bennett said those orders would run alongside new 10-day "adventure camps" for young offenders going through a family group conference.

Labour youth affairs spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the Government had broken its promise to listen to the public over plans for boot camps by announcing funding before the select committee had reported.

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Adair Davis, who sends her grandson Himiona, 9, to a camp at Riversdale beach, said it gave her a much-needed break and allowed him some time out.

"I need time to normalise and get my breath and sleep and Himiona needs that time with peers and mentoring.

"I will keep sending him for both our sakes."

- The Dominion Post

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