Action plan to help region's youth

Last updated 05:00 14/12/2013
Melanie Loft stand
Tui Ora manager Melanie Loft

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An innovative plan to assist South Taranaki youth was unveiled in Hawera yesterday.

The district has traditionally had access to the one-size-fits-all government approach to help deal with truancy, alcohol abuse and offending.

Not any more.

When the community was selected to develop a blueprint to deal with these issues, it seized the opportunity with both hands.

As part of the government led Social Sector Trials, the district is part of a fresh wave of communities to develop a town-specific social service programme.

Unveiled last night, the South Taranaki action plan outlines 25 initiatives to combat youth offending, truancy and alcohol and drug use.

Targeting 12 to 18 year olds, it will unite five government agencies including police, justice, and social development together with the district's four iwi, district council and other organisations to ensure those most in need are getting the services they need.

The woman tasked with overseeing the trial, spearheaded by Tui Ora, is Melanie Loft.

Ms Loft said with only $170,000 in extra funding provided to Tui Ora, the pressure was on the agencies to re-shuffle their budgets and resources to ensure it hits the mark.

"They are being forced to look at how they can deliver services more effectively," Ms Loft said.

This will involve an element of trial and error as different interventions are tested, she said.

As a result best practice template of service delivery would be created. The template would be used as a reference document for professionals working with South Taranaki's youth.

Ms Loft was heartened by the success of similar projects across the North Island where the trial had been in operation since 2011.

Towns already involved are Taumarunui, Tokoroa, Te Kuiti, Kawerau, Levin and Gore.

An extension to their trials was recently approved to the end of June 2014.

Their gains have given Ms Loft some ammunition against the sceptics.

One town which has benefited from the high level collective vision approach is Tokoroa. South Waikato Youth Services manager Jade Hohaia said the scheme was a breath of fresh air for a community.

"I think we have had like seven types of trials in Tokoroa, so people were sick of being the guinea pig. "But this is not just about crisis community intervention, it's about focusing on strength-based values so it has an affect on all youth not just those who are high risk."

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There were now 34 "grassroots" interventions operating in that community which reached about 5000 young people.

She said while pulling together cross-agency resources was difficult to start with, the groups were driven by a need to help their community.

"For the first time ever we had a battle plan and all the key players around the table at the same time."

The trial's philosophy supports decision-making at the grass roots level involving key people who have in depth knowledge about their community.

The philosophy is to support these key people using their know-how to come out with ideas which work for a young person and their family.

This is something which appeals to South Taranaki District mayor Ross Dunlop.

As chair of the advisory board, Mr Dunlop has been involved from the beginning and will play a key role in monitoring its successes.

"Local people know the issues and also have the solutions," he said.

He said although being chosen to be part of the trial was an acknowledgement the district had not been doing the best it could for its youth, he was excited about the possibilities it offered.

"It's a really positive thing for young people," he said.

He said the programme also meant more decisions about South Taranaki would be made in the district, rather than in New Plymouth, where most government officials or management were often based.

"You have a lot more passion for the place when you are living in the community," he said.

The district's youth aid officer Senior Constable Mark Crawshaw said it was "about time" the district got some high-level support.

"We have been neglected.

"Money never seems to filter down here, we never get programmes here and funds never come near South Taranaki. We need something like this in our town."

Mr Crawshaw said although he had been sceptical at first, seeing the drive of those involved had given him faith.

"All of a sudden the mountain is turning up to see Mohammed."

- Taranaki Daily News


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