Rise issue 11 cover

Addressing Youth Violence: a recipe for success

Take one small town, add the seed of an idea and mix well with a group of passionate people with the energy and drive to make a difference, and what do you get? The beginnings of an action plan to wipe out youth violence in New Zealand – for good.

On 1st and 2nd March 2010, an enthusiastic group of like-minded Kiwis converged to take part in Youth Violence and its Associated Difficulties, a two-day youth violence symposium.

With more than 20 years’ experience in dealing with young people and their families, Bay of Plenty/Gisborne Relationship Services clinical leader Les Simmonds jumped at the opportunity to be involved with others who shared his commitment to helping young New Zealanders. He knew that the recent rise in violent offending by young people, particularly in serious assaults, meant that other issues were on the increase as well. "Violence doesn’t exist on its own," he says. "It's usually mixed with other factors like drugs and alcohol. It's an ongoing issue for our communities but we can do something about this if we work together."

With this in mind, it was Les who spearheaded the idea of hosting a symposium to look at youth violence and its associated issues. The suggestion was followed up with a working plan to the local Strengthening Families management group and, in Les’s words, 'away it went!'.

"There was a huge buy-in from so many people that it grew fast and gained spirit. I don’t think there’s been a symposium like this in this country for a long time – it was big! I was picking about 200 people would come, but it reached 400 and we had to turn people away."

Hosted by Strengthening Families, in partnership with Relationship Services Whakawhanaungatanga, Youth Violence and its Associated Difficulties began the journey in helping to develop a broader understanding of youth violence and how to address it. For many, it was a unique opportunity to meet others who were committed to addressing youth violence.

Collaboration for a common goal

Les says putting the event together was a great exercise in collaboration. "Everything from conception to steering and hosting it bought community groups, NGOs and government together. It was based around relationships and goodwill to support the kaupapa. It worked because we were all working towards a common goal – that was the interesting and exciting part."

Over the course of the two days, the group discussed issues such as treatment, research, and the steps that could be taken locally in order to reduce youth violence. Presentations were given by some leading New Zealand figures, including Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft, Auckland University Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology Dr Ian Lambie, Government MPs Todd McClay and Te Ururoa Flavell, and senior representatives from local iwi and government agencies.

"There was an amazing energy in the hall as each speaker educated, enthralled and entertained the delegates," says Les. "Information was soaked up, questions were asked and ideas were shared."

During the symposium, a group of youth from varying backgrounds also work-shopped youth violence issues. Feedback from their sessions was presented to the delegates and included in the resulting Outcomes Report.

Les is delighted at how successful the symposium was. "The buzz that was created… I've never come across anything like it in my life. I've been to lots of symposiums, but at this one people were genuinely excited and got a lot out of it. I guess what's outstanding for me is the fact all our speakers could be on the world stage, but here they were, in Te Puke, presenting at our Symposium."

Pledging to get violence out of our communities

Ministry of Youth Development General Manager Carl Crafar was impressed with the way delegates from right around the country left the Symposium pledging to get stuck in and get the issues solved. "There are no winners with violence. It impacts on everyone, including the perpetrator. Because it's no-win, there's a lot of energy and commitment among people working in the field to get violence out of their communities," he said. "Even our young people are saying it's not OK. They don't want violence in their lives."

As with any symposium, actions have to come from it and changes have to happen. A Symposium Report has recently been released and the symposium committee are continuing to develop an Action Plan to reduce youth violence in the Bay of Plenty. A Tauranga Moana Youth Development Strategy is also being developed in conjunction with iwi and youth involvement.

While youth violence is a serious issue, Carl is keen to keep youth issues in perspective. "Most young people are not violent. We still have to work on the dilemmas, but we have to acknowledge that this country has some amazing young people who make a valuable contribution to their communities."