Central region MSD hero: Janice Hemi-Williams
Meet Janice Hemi-Williams, Youth Justice co-ordinator at the Wairarapa site, and local Māori warden.
So, how did the former computer programmer/programme applications trainer end up as a passionate advocate for our young people?
After nine years in IT, what prompted you to change career paths?
Child, Youth and Family had an ad in the newspaper seeking a family home caregiver. I came from a large family with lots of whānau, so it wasn't strange for me. My husband Walter and I replied, and became the primary caregivers for 63 kids over five years. That was the catalyst for me.
I started studying for my social work qualifications while care giving. I started part-time as a community-based Youth Justice social worker contracted to the Masterton District Council, funded by the Crime Prevention Unit, and loved it!
What motivates you to bounce out of bed in the morning?
It's an awesome job! I love working with the local young people in, and with, a community where I was born and bred. I'm an absolute advocate of the Youth Justice system, and in the Wairarapa we have excellent responses to youth offending. It is a quiet, unassuming community – people just get the job done. Our social services are fantastic. You can pick up the phone and know that the help is there no matter what.
Have you seen the significant changes in your community during your time as Youth Justice co-ordinator?
You bet I have! In particular, there's a noticeable reduction in intention to charge referrals. We’ve got a great relationship with Police Youth Aid, and Police are now dealing with offenders at the alternative action level. It is a true collaboration to youth offending and educating the community about youth offending and the process, which was helped by the restructure of Youth Justice Processes.
And, you're the Wairarapa Māori Warden...
One of 25, which also includes Karen Bast, our Youth Justice social worker. Most of our social service agencies and community whānau are represented in the group, and we’re lucky enough to be one of the best resourced in the country. We’ve got our own office base and the Police gifted our van and the radios. Again, that’s about the really good relationship we have with our Police. Having those resources means that we can go out and help those kids who, if we didn’t take them home, are likely to end up in the cells. It’s about preventing or diffusing situations.
Do you and the other wardens feel like you are making a difference?
Definitely. A lot of the time we’re out from 7pm patrolling the CBD, taking home drunk kids who shouldn't be on the streets, and intervening in situations that have the potential to escalate. For example, one night there was a big punch-up in the park. The wardens were there to diffuse the situation. There were no arrests, and the kids were taken home and sent off to bed. By the time the Police attended, it was all over.
Any idea where you'll be 5 years from now?
No, just living in the moment.