By Lani Evans, Vodafone Foundation and Sustainability Manager
COVID-19 and the rahui o te motu (national lockdown) is hard on us all. The current situation is also exacerbating some of the existing inequalities in Aotearoa. So if, like me, you’re in a position of relative security and privilege, you might be thinking about ways you can help community organisations.
Here are five easy ways you can support.
1. Donate Money: Donate money to an organisation that has a connection to you and your hapori (community). Cash donations allow organisations to set their own priorities – paying staff, keeping their doors open, moving their services online or purchasing the goods and services they need. At the Vodafone Foundation we’ve chosen to prioritise giving to community organisations that we already have a relationship with, and those who are providing essential and critical services to our rangatahi.
2. Spread your Social Capital: Now is a great time to use your social channels for social good. Amplify the voices of community organisations – help to celebrate their wins, help them connect to people and resources they need, and share stories of their work. It’s particularly important to get behind community organisations when they’re advocating for policy changes that will positively impact the most vulnerable members of our communities.
3. Volunteer: Some folks are busier than usual right now, and others have unexpected time on their hands. If you’re in the latter category, think about what unique skills you can contribute to community organisations. This might look like tech support, grant writing, mentoring, risk analysis, or helping organisations pivot to navigate our current reality. Contact intermediary organisations, like your local Volunteer Centre, HelpTank or the Student Volunteer Army. They’ll help connect you to organisations who can make use of your skills, without burdening frontline workers with your very well-intentioned queries.
4. Give blood: Giving blood is an essential service and the blood bank is in need, so if you are willing and able, this is a practical, tangible and (relatively) easy way to contribute.
5. Donate goods: If you’ve got goods to giveaway that’s great! But make sure those items can be of use to organisations right now. With no face-to-face contact and strictly limited distribution channels, community organisations may struggle to pass goods on to the people they work with, so approach with caution.
Finally, connect with the people in your immediate neighbourhood. There is an opportunity to the lockdown to flex your hapori development muscles: put a teddy bear in your window; set up a WhatsApp group for your street; wave enthusiastically as you pass people from a distance, or simply practice being generous with yourself.
Stay safe and kia kaha whanau!
By Lani Evans, Vodafone Foundation and Sustainability Manager
The Vodafone Foundation’s overarching goal is to create an Aotearoa, New Zealand where all young people have access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. In times of uncertainty like this, we want to do everything we can to support community organisations on the front line, to provide them with what they need to get on with the mahi.
We’re heard that emergency funding is the most pressing need, so we’re releasing $120,000 in funds immediately to provide untagged, non-contestable donations to 12 of our current community partners.
These partners* provide young people with a wide range of essential services, including access to safe shelter, social connection, medical and mental health support and digital inclusion– and they are all doing remarkable work to help our communities throughout this incredibly challenging time.
We’re pleased to hear responses from these partners that the support is welcomed.
Brook Turner from Vision West explained “COVID-19 has had huge impacts on our most vulnerable. While many of us have stocked our shelves for the lockdown, those trapped by poverty, illness, disability, addictions and mental health have become isolated. Our homeless whanau remain homeless. To support whanau, Vision West in partnership with Vodafone Foundation are doing emergency food deliveries to the most vulnerable. We are also continuing to provide housing support to the homeless. Vodafone remains a steadfast friend for us at this time.”
Tracie Shipton said “VOYCE Whakarongo mai will be working hard to connect young people in foster care and keeping them connected with each other wherever we can, and thank Vodafone for the assistance in making this happen.”
We’re also looking at whether we can offer additional funds to support medium and long-term needs, and working with the Vodafone business to provide essential internet and mobile connectivity services and device donations when and where we can.
In addition, we’re working with Vodafone to look at safe and effective opportunities for staff to volunteer and donate to non-profit organisations, as well as examining avenues to support broader digital inclusion in our vulnerable and disconnected communities.
Our focus is firmly on wrapping around our current community partners and making sure they’re able to continue to serve the needs of young people, support their staff and keep their physical and/or digital doors open during this difficult time.
We’ll get through this together with kindness, generosity and community.
Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.
*Vodafone Foundation community partners include:
· Vision West
· Anamata Cafe
· VIBE Hutt Valley
· VOYCE Whakarongo Mai
· Te Ora Hou Otautahi
· Tamaki Community Development
By Linn Araboglos, Manager, Vodafone NZ Foundation
As New Zealand grapples with the impacts of COVID-19 we are aware of the increased pressure this may be having on our community partners on the wellbeing of the rangatahi we serve.
We’re hearing that demand for services has increased as our community partners continue to support our most disadvantaged young people, those who are sleeping rough or don’t have a safe place to go to.
We understand that things are changing quickly, for example, people may need to work remotely, may have reduced staff capacity, fundraising events may be cancelled and community partners may be experiencing other unexpected costs or disruptions. We’ve been thinking about what we can do to support our community partners during these rapidly changing times.
In response, here is what the Vodafone NZ Foundation has been doing as COVID-19 continues to evolve:
- We are checking in with and listening to our community partners to understand their needs right now and exploring additional avenues where we can provide support.
- We are mobilising additional resources for the community partners we work with to support them to continue serving and responding to rangatahi in their community – this includes providing additional and emergency funding for our currently funded community partners to support them with costs and resilience so that they can continue to deliver key services for young people.
- We are making practical changes to the way we support our partners – such as exploring flexible arrangements with current funding, reporting requirements and re-prioritising funds to meet community need.
More broadly, Vodafone New Zealand is offering a COVID-19 Care plan to customers. The plan includes:
- Broadband data certainty. The removal of data caps from data-capped Broadband plans for consumers and small to medium sized businesses until at least the end of June 2020
- Mobile data certainty. Eligible Consumer Pay Monthly mobile customers with data-caps to be actively encouraged towards Endless Data plans (which also include endless texts and minutes to AU and NZ numbers)
- No Covid-19 related disconnections or late fees. Temporary measures to protect customers in financial hardship from Covid-19 over at least the next six months.
- Worry-free remote learning for all. Helping families by zero rating Government guided education and health sites to support responses to Covid-19.
- Ensuring capacity. Vodafone NZ has added extra capacity to fixed, broadband and mobile networks to cope with the extra demand as more people work from home and we will actively monitor network performance
With most – if not all – organisations implementing working from home at mass-scale, here’s some guidance from Vodafone NZ HR Director, Katie Williams, on how to set your organisation up for remote working.
For further support and information on Vodafone’s response to COVID-19, please head to https://www.vodafone.co.nz/covid19
Kia kaha everyone.
The Vodafone Foundation Innovation Fund has been set up to support innovative work that aims to create better outcomes for our most excluded and disadvantaged youth.
We are looking for proven or promising ideas, projects and programmes that align with our strategy, generate outcomes in one or more of our five keys areas, and that utilise technology in their implementation or dissemination.
We thought we’d share a few examples of the projects we’re funding, so potential applicants have a better idea of what we’re looking for.
In our most recent round, in early 2018, we funded the following projects. These are just short descriptions of the projects, for more detail we’d recommend contacting our amazing community partners directly.
At our seed funding level (up to $10,000 to scope out a project, or test it’s feasibility) we’re funding:
- MYRIVR Trust. Building from the success of their MYRIVR app (a free nationwide app that provides a location-based database of community health and social services), we’re funding this awesome team to engage with young people to co-design a potential ‘Youth Voices Portal’ or ‘Virtual Youth Council’.
- Vibe (Hutt based Youth One Stop Shop), in collaboration with Spyre. We’re funding Vibe to conduct a feasibility study of a business model and app that provides a means of support for a young person to achieve their goals by way of reminders, communication with key support people, and an incentives system. The funding will also be used to support the next steps in the development of the Spyre mobile application and website.
- Christchurch Early Intervention Trust. This amazing group are developing an early intervention smart-phone based app to deliver training in managing challenging behaviour in children to parents, teachers, social workers and others. Our funding will be used to develop the first batch of materials; scope the feasibility of delivery by smart phone to parents, teachers and others; and begin to test the market for this service with parents.
At our pilot funding level (up to $50,000 to pilot an innovative idea) we’re funding:
- Maoriland Charitable Trust. We’re providing funding support for the establishment of M.A.T.C.H – The Maoriland Tech Creative Hub at the Maoriland Hub in Otaki. Through M.A.T.C.H, Otaki based rangatahi will have access to mentors, workshops, hackathons, creative challenges and creative free-play in a youth centred space. With a focus on rangatahi Maori, this project will help prepare young people for the future of work.
- Youthline Central South Island. We renewed pilot funding for this group to continue to test and develop a digital mentoring programme. In their programme young skilled mentors connect with disadvantaged and excluded young people through the use of mobile phones and existing smart phone applications. Mentors receive mentoring training to support them in their new digital role, and greater geographic reach is enabled through the programme.
- Tokona te Raki Maori Futures Collective. Tokona te Raki have developed an online data tool using predictive analytics to show where Maori are in the workforce, where jobs will be in the future, and to map the vocational pathways to take rangatahi to the meaningful jobs for the future. This project is to enable a rangatahi co-design process and the digital development of a careers tool based on this data.
- Tāmaki Community Development Trust. The Tamaki Youth Wellbeing Project will see eight ideas, put forward by the community, move into their second testing phase. These eight ideas aim to grow youth wellbeing, and reduce the high numbers of youth suicides in the Tamaki community.
- Rotorua Community Youth Centre. This project will enable customisation of an innovative IT digital platform for connecting and exchanging information between a young person and the agencies and community organisations that are supporting them to achieve their positive goals. The platform will include the development of a common framework to allow youth services and organisations to support rangatahi collectively and consistently.
We have also got a few projects underway at our scale funding level, but this round we are not opening the scale funding for public applications.
We’re really excited to have begun our funding relationship with each of these groups, and look forward to receiving more applications in our upcoming round.
Grants Lead, Vodafone New Zealand Foundation
The Vodafone NZ Foundation today announced their largest ever charitable grant of $700,000. The grant, along with significant wrap-around support, will enable Zeal to scale their programme supporting young people disclosing mental health crises online.
The grant will be used to scale up Zeal’s Online Crisis Intervention programme which will allow them to save more lives.
This is part of the Vodafone Foundation’s commitment to halving the number of excluded and disadvantaged youth by 2027.
Head of the Vodafone NZ Foundation, Lani Evans, says this partnership is even more important at a time when the latest mental health research reveals shocking statistics for Kiwi youth.
“New Zealand’s suicide rate is the worst in the developed world, with the highest number of suicides in the 20-24 year old group . It’s absolutely tragic, and we want to do everything we can to help our rangatahi.
“The latest research shows one in four young people are online almost constantly and often see others post about mental health crises online. In 2016, we began a partnership with Zeal to test an innovative idea that provides support to young people in crisis in a format that is relevant to them. Since the inception of this idea, we’ve provided Zeal with financial support, as well as technical expertise and volunteer time,” said Lani.
Zeal’s solution, which is called Online Crisis Intervention, reaches out to young people in crisis online and provides meaningful, interpersonal support, helping them get to a better place and in some occasions has even saved lives. The partnership also plays an important role in the Vodafone Foundation’s 10 year strategy to use technology to create better outcomes for rangatahi and save lives through innovative, scalable solutions.
General Manager of Zeal and Director of Online Crisis Intervention, Elliot Taylor, explains how the grant will help save more lives.
“The Online Crisis Intervention programme is a global first. Our vision is to get help to every young person in crisis online. Thanks to the Vodafone Foundation’s support, we have the opportunity to turn this dream into a reality and to ensure all young people receive support when and where they need it.
“Our team of volunteers is trained to respond to young people and offer care and support. They are currently live 21 hours a week and have 8 conversations a day. Our aspiration is to provide a 24 hour service and respond to all young people within 5 minutes,” Elliot said.
The team at Zeal and the Vodafone Foundation share the vision to see more young people in New Zealand living lives they value.
The Vodafone Foundation goes beyond funding. It leverages Vodafone’s technology, power, and business support and will also use its global reach to help spread awareness of this programme to positively impact the lives of more young people around the world.
 Statistics from Ministry of Justice
Sarah Longbottom, Executive Director, Ngä Rangatahi Toa
I believe that truly, madly, deeply caring for yourself is a mark of human evolution; it is how we shed our skin to become refined and better versions of ourselves, and effectively contribute to the lives of others. For inclusive and transformative leaders, self-care is not something you do so you can keep on working. Self-care is the work. The love, kindness and compassion manifested in caring for yourself will permeate the chinks in the armour of the status quo, resulting in the true and sustainable change we seek.
Photo: Dan Eriksen
The disciplined work of self-care is more than just ‘knowing what fills your tank’, although this is the place we may start. Truly caring for yourself requires you to relentlessly lift the veil on the matrix of social reality, and back yourself to go against the grain of conditioning. While we all stand on the shoulders of giants – those who have taken up arms against the oppressor and who have made great sacrifices – to sustain societal change at the core level of humanity we must let go of the strategies and reactions we have relied on to get us this far, for they won’t take us any further. As leaders, we must learn to unlearn, and understand that to create a conscious and awake world, we must first be conscious and awake ourselves. We must lean in to the ebb and flow of existence, not resist what is. At a transformational level, the work of self-care must become more than something we ‘do’ to armour up and go back out into the battlefield to fight for what we believe in. It must be something we intentionally become so that the battlefield itself transforms. We can elevate the micro practices of self to a macro evolution of society by embodying self-care at an intrinsic level, being vigilant in following the breadcrumbs back to where the stories we tell ourselves are first written, and holding space for all others to do the same.
Self-care is a practice and you do get better at it but it does not mean re-making yourself into an image of perfection, it simply means you accept what is and stop being at war with yourself. Self-care means being able to let go of self-loathing and love yourself, especially when you have hurt someone. Self-care means being able to sit with shame and be kind to yourself, especially when you’re jealous, angry and mean. Self-care means being able to quiet the busy mind and have compassion for yourself on those days you are so far down the rabbit hole you can’t think of one good thing you’ve ever done in your life. Self-care is about not battling against your chaos, but instead working to lessen its impact by accepting and loving all parts of yourself, even those parts you may vehemently wish were different. Self-care is the condition that will evolve us out of the mire of the human soup to where we can be of most service to others, for as we accept ourselves, we accept others. As we show ourselves love, kindness and compassion we are able to extend this wholeheartedly to all others, arriving at the place of joy and interconnectedness where suffering finds no ammunition. This viral antidote to the malaise of modern life is mos def a crackin new normal I can get with.
Herald Theatre Group
Photo: Dan Eriksen
From a perspective of social change, I am particularly into this ‘new normal’ that practising self-care can gateways us into. Like many excellent humans I know and love, I am attuned to the dangerous narcosis of that which is ‘normal’. While traditionally ‘normal’ may bore and confound those who are committed to innovation and change we now need to wake up to the fact that normal is not the humdrum anymore; hidden behind the white picket fence, normal has devolved into the outrageous and the inhuman. Normal is a growing underclass in New Zealand. Normal is a family of seven living in a car. Normal is the amazing young people we work with being statistically more likely to go to prison than to University. I recognise normality as a collective insanity that robs us of our ability to connect, empathise and be human. I also recognise that standing on the same old battlefield, passionately fighting the same old fight, does not lesson this insanity, it feeds it. Cultivating an internal equilibrium that enables you to not react from your place of chaos but instead stand witness from your place of peace breaks the cycle of perpetual resistance, making the first crucial step in evolving out of this state of madness.
The new normal we need has its genesis in self-care, which requires us to practice radical acceptance of all parts of ourselves and be our own best friend rather than our own worst enemy. It requires us to embrace the against-the-grain process of showing up and being seen, disarming our shame, fear and self-loathing with love, kindness and compassion. The pith of the power of self-care as social change lies in the fact that each of us is a microcosm of the world – everyday battles waged in an internal chaos manifest the battles of insanity that are waged in the world. As we learn to lay down the weapons we have been conditioned to wield against ourselves and others our new normal becomes one of acceptance and profound love for the world. As peculiar as it may sound, as we accept ourselves we accept that many live in poverty in New Zealand. We accept that a car may also be a coveted form of shelter, and that there are slippery pipelines to prison in the communities we serve. This acceptance is not resignation or passivity, it is a process of change and evolution and it is from here that we can take considered action.
Herald Theatre Opening Night Todd and Yvonne
Photo: Dan Eriksen
When we choose to work on and evolve ourselves we are choosing to embody the fierce grace that will evolve the world. For leaders who imagine other ways of seeing and being self-care is an incubator for change and the best example we can set. Taking a deep dive into the marrow of our own existence strips away the armour of conditioning and story. Our new normal is born from this place of self-care. It is an armistice for all of our battles that when embraced and shared will change our world on a cellular level.
The Vodafone Foundation has been operating for more than 25 years globally and 15 years locally. Over that time, we’ve invested more than $25 million in NZ communities.
For the last 12 years we’ve been focused exclusively on youth development and the World of Difference has been our flagship programme, supporting more than 100 World of Difference recipients and Fellows and all of them have been incredible.
We’re incredibly proud of what we do and we’re incredibly proud of the impact our community partners have had. Their work has had a consistent and powerful impact on the well- being of young people all around the country. But after 12 years, we thought it was time to re-examine our approach. We had three key questions – is our funding moving the dial for our most excluded and disadvantaged? Are we generating the best outcomes for the sector and our recipients? And are we bringing what is uniquely ours to the table – are we leveraging the power of Vodafone?
Over the last 6 months, we’ve run 5 stakeholder hui around the country, commissioned a literature review of successful interventions, a social psychology project looking at alumni, an economic analysis and an evaluation of our historic work. We wanted to involve our community, our partners and independent researchers in the strategy review process.
We discovered a lot – and a lot of it was good. People love our focus on sector leadership and on building strong relationships, the alumni network we’ve built is considered an invaluable resource and our flexible, responsive funding is generating positive outcomes. People expressed a desire to see us do more to leverage the power of Vodafone, tackle the harder issues and support more collaborative work.
We also found some unintended consequences hidden within our work. Our social psychology study found that our recipients have incredibly high levels of care and compassion for their communities, but lower levels of resilience. Combining these two characterstics with the individually focused, time-bound World of Difference funding, has contributed to burn-out and poor self-care among some of our recipients. And that’s not what we want.
Jo Christie – Human Resources Business Partner, Vodafone New Zealand
Our new strategy will see changes to our funding models and changes to our focus that are designed to improve our practices, support our partners and generate real, sustainable change for our most excluded and disadvantaged young people. Our new strategy will also see us bring what is uniquely ours to the table – including the skills, expertise and global influence of Vodafone.
Our big hairy audacious goal remains the same – we want to see all young people in New Zealand living lives they value. But we’re stepping up our game. We want our focus to be narrower and our commitment to be bigger. Our aspiration is to have an Aotearoa New Zealand where all young people are able to thrive. According to Treasury data there are 210,000 children and young people who don’t have access to the resources and opportunities they need to grow into the great adults they want to be.
We embarking on a 10 year, $20 million journey to transform the lives of these 210,000 young people. Our aim is to halve the number of young people at risk by 2027.
It’s an ambitious goal. We know we’ll have to change our behaviour in order to do it.
We’ll need to take a longer-term view: the problems these young people face are complex and complicated – there are no easy or fast solutions and making short-term grants isn’t going to cut it. That’s why we’re committing $20 million and 10 years to thinking and acting in this space.
We also can’t do it alone. We want to work together, focusing on collaborative action and on constant learning. We will be guided by research, by community feedback, by our incredible World of Difference alumni and by our expert advisory network and we will continue to develop and iterate as we go.
And we intend to bring what is uniquely ours to the table. As the Vodafone Foundation we can leverage a global telecommunications company, with its huge human resources, specialised business, network and technology expertise.
Murray Osborne – Head of Public Sector, Vodafone New Zealand
The new strategy also means changing our funding models and our funding focus – to take into account what we’ve learnt and point us in the direction we intend to go.
Our new funding streams will aim to generate impacts in five key areas. We want to create better outcomes for:
– Youth who have interacted with the justice system, themselves, or via their caregivers;
– Young people who have had interactions with Child Youth and Family or Oranga Tamariki;
– Young people who are not engaged in meaningful learning;
– Rangatahi Maori;
– and young people who are long term beneficiaries.
That doesn’t necessarily mean focusing on programmes working directly with those young people, but on the systems, environments, contexts and ecosystems that wrap around and contain their lives.
We’ll be doing this with through funding programmes focused on innovation, collaboration and disruption, and we’ll be using a lens of constant learning and iteration.
INNOVATIVE: Our innovation fund will focus on an innovation pipeline approach, with seed, pilot and scale funding that will move and shift according to the needs of the recipients. We’ll have varied funding amounts and multiple grant rounds each year, allowing organisations to move through the pipeline based on their timelines, not ours. And we’ll be focused on using our technology to create positive change.
Our first call for applications will begin on the 1st of June and we hope to see our World of Difference Alumni and new community partners in the mix.
Our Innovation approach will also see us work alongside Vodafone Xone to pilot a community accelerator that will rapidly develop, test and disseminate technology based solutions for community problems.
Lani Evans – Manager, Vodafone New Zealand Foundation
COLLABORATIVE & DISRUPTIVE: Our collaboration and disruption funds will see us continue to fund Voyce Whakarongo Mai in partnership with Oranga Tamariki, Tindall, Todd and Foundation North and continue to work with Wayne Francis Charitable Trust, Te Ora Hou and Alternative Education Consortium on building better outcomes for young people in alternative education.
We’ll be working with our advisory network, alumni whanau, government and wider community to set additional priority areas for the year ahead.
ITERATIVE: We also aim to be a learning organisation. We want to tackle wicked problems – the complex, complicated, intergenerational issues that affect our most excluded and disadvantaged youth. There are no easy or obvious solutions and, as we move forward, we’ll undoubtedly come up against the boundaries of our own knowledge. We want to keep pushing our learning edges, thinking, exploring and bringing the voices of sector experts and lived experience into the room.
We’re going to get it wrong. And hopefully we’re also going to get it right.
As we move forward, we’re going to be leveraging the power of the business via our technology, our people, our ability to influence and our ability to motivate and galvanise a movement for change
This is an ambitious goal. But if philanthropy, community, government and business come together and we all bring our unique resources to the table, whether those be financial or expertise, we believe we can do it. And in fact, we believe that it’s our obligation to try.
A recent media story regarding the online behaviour of some Wellington students had me thinking: how do we, both as individuals and as communities, learn about and improve our understanding of consent?
To me, consent is a process of gaining clarity of wants and desires through negotiation, agreement and mutual understanding. Consent is something that can only be given, it can’t be taken from someone. However, if consent is given it can still be retracted at any point in time. Also, just because someone has given consent before, it doesn’t mean you can expect it is okay forever. Consent may have been given once, but it doesn’t mean it will be given again. It is negotiated time and time again and is not ever-lasting, nor is it the same for different people.
I think one of the first things that people think about when they hear the word consent is sex. However people don’t often talk about sex, let alone sexual consent and when we do talk about it, it’s often focused on situations where consent wasn’t given, rather than positive examples of consensual relationships.
I used to be a facilitator for the Sex & Ethics program as well as other sexual violence prevention initiatives. I delivered sessions to young people and adults to support them to understand consent, the law and their own personal ethics and values. This normalised consent and made it integral to their day to day lives. When delivering these workshops, it was important for me that the participants knew what the workshop was about, and that they felt comfortable to participate as much or as little as they wanted. It is not ethical to have someone attend a workshop about consent if they haven’t consented to be there.
Consent is an integral part of all relationships. Often there can be a power imbalance in a relationship, such as between a teacher and a student, or a parent and a child, but this does not mean gaining consent should be overlooked. Instead I think it means that consent needs to be intentionally sought in order to build a mutually trusting relationship. One way that I practice consent with my child is asking them if they want a hug or a kiss from me. It is important to remember that even if I want to give them a cuddle, it doesn’t mean they want one and I respect that. I think it is important to acknowledge the power imbalance in relationships and to take steps to close that gap where possible. Having a consensual relationship is a positive way to do so.
The Briggs whanau
It is important to remember that just because someone wants to gain consent from you, there is no obligation to give it and there shouldn’t be any pressure put on you. For example, you may agree to have lunch with someone one day. Just because it is has happened once, it doesn’t mean you will have lunch with them again, nor will you necessarily start spending time with them in other ways. A great example of this is given by Flight of the Conchords in their song “A kiss is not a contract”.
The public response from young people and adults to the behaviour of the Wellington incident demonstrates the desire and need for community conversations around consent. Which brings into question:
At what age do we start having conversations around consent?
How do we keep people safe when discussing consent?
Where should these conversations take place?
I feel it is important that consent is inclusive – people of all ages should be practising consent in all of their relationships. Children should learn about consent through the role modelling of their families and communities. As we get older, we need ongoing opportunities to reflect, discuss and learn how to have consensual relationships. Whether these conversations happen with friends, families or professionals, the most important thing is the conversations are happening, and in a way that allows the people involved to feel safe and supported.
Josh Briggs, Grants Lead, Vodafone NZ Foundation
“When you’re 17, you need a bit of a scare!”
In March 2016, Jess McVicar, spokeswoman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust was interviewed on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme. She gave her feedback on the proposal to change the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include young people aged 17 years of age.
Adamant that she knew exactly what she was doing at 17, Ms McVicar suggested that young people of this age would be more likely to change their offending behaviour if they were dealt with in the adult court – that the offending behaviour of 17 year olds would be curbed through “a bit of a scare”.
Youth… and Justice
The youth justice system in New Zealand is world class. It is based on a model of restorative and therapeutic justice, holding young people to account for their behaviour whilst striving to help them address the underlying issues that manifest in offending.
For the last 10 years, I have worked within this system. In the last 12 months, the Vodafone Fellowship has released me to focus on my passion: young people within the legal system and the issues that they face understanding the language associated with that journey.
I’ve had a bit of a scare! The processes within our youth justice system that are designed to be restorative often fall at the language hurdle. Well intentioned agencies and dedicated youth justice professionals fail to account for the fact that the majority of young people we work with have a significant and identifiable problem with oral language.
He sat across the table from me in the classroom. I asked him how his court appearance went. “All guds… [pause] – but what does ‘guilty’ mean?” [16 year old]
A “significant and identifiable issue with oral language” describes young people who struggle to understand what people are saying to them and to express themselves.
Research indicates at least 60% of young people within the youth justice system have oral language problems. Youth justice professionals that I have encountered around New Zealand put the figure much higher – “ALL the young people I work with have problems with language.”
Youth were once children – who were once babies
Issues with oral language don’t start when a young person is arrested. The developmental work vital for oral language competence should have started 17 years previously in the context of whanau relationship. Bonding, attachment, developing language, turn-taking, learning to relate to others, understanding the world of words and using words to express yourself effectively.
When these foundations aren’t established for whatever reason, problems with oral language result and children carry these issues into their ‘young person’ years. There is a strong association between behavioural difficulties and oral language difficulties.
Many young people involved in offending are disengaged from education, training or employment and yet engagement in education, training or employment is a protective factor against offending.
Why the disengagement?
Oral language is at the core of everything.
It is essential for relating, connecting, attaching, negotiating, belonging. Oral language is the foundation for reading text. Reading is assigning symbols to words that we first encounter through talking. If you struggle with oral language, chances are you will struggle with reading.
“They said I was being charged with ‘possession of instruments for conversion’. The only instruments I knew were musical ones – so I thought they were trying to charge me with a ram raid on a music shop… [15 year old]
Young people can struggle to remain engaged in a learning environment where they can’t understand what’s going on and where they keep getting into trouble for not doing what they’re told because they don’t understand. Young people get angry and frustrated, disengage and end up ‘expressing’ themselves physically, acting out and acting up? Stand down. Suspension. Exclusion. The cracks open up and they slip through.
Those who then encounter the legal system enter into a space with it’s own language. They meet a new vocabulary. Custody. Supervision orders. Curfew. Bail. In addition, the restorative nature of youth justice involves oral language – police interviews, family group conferences, drug and alcohol counselling, anger management counselling, family therapy, it’s all a talkfest!
Youth Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand: not perfect… but responding
It’s within this system that I am seeking to affect change. Training youth justice professionals to recognise these issues. Developing an oral language assessment tool for use in the justice system. Assisting agencies to help young people understand and express themselves effectively in the legal system.
“I was in my family group conference. They asked me if I felt remorse for what I did? I didn’t know if I did or not – I didn’t know what ‘remorse’ meant…” [15 year old]
Our youth justice system isn’t perfect, but it is starting to respond to the significant oral language needs of young people, recognising the connection between a young person’s understanding, engagement, sense of justice and readiness to change. It is a system uniquely positioned to respond to the developmental needs of young people.
A young person of 17 can’t legally drink alcohol, buy a packet of smokes, get married without parental consent, vote in elections, buy an Instant Kiwi ticket or get a credit card. We understand that a 17 year old is still developing the necessary insight to be able make certain decisions? We seek to protect them until that maturity is more likely to have emerged.
Why then would we demand that a 17 year old be treated the same as a mature adult when it comes to the law? And as a majority of 17 year olds in the legal system have a significant issue with oral language, consigning them to an adult process doesn’t deliver justice – for them, or the victims of their offending.
He sat across the table from me. Eighteen months on remand. I asked him: “When is your next hearing?” He asked me “What’s a hearing?” [25 year old]
It is appropriate that 17 year olds be included within the youth justice system, a responsive and developmentally appropriate system that is the most effective context for young people who offend.
When a 17 year old offends, “a bit of a scare” won’t do them, their victim or the community any good. The scare suggested by Ms McVicar can actually end up reinforcing the actual thinking and behaviours it is trying to curb.
A 17 year old who offends needs a place where needs are acknowledged and addressed so that they understand and engage, take responsibility for their actions, address offending behaviour and head toward a different future. That place is Youth Justice!
Mark Stephenson, 2016 Vodafone Foundation Fellowship Recipient
I am now six months into a year-long fellowship which has allowed me to work on a resource about marginalised intersecting identities within the sex, gender and sexuality diverse communities.
I have met and connected with a lot of people with many different experiences of identity and am constantly reminded just how connected and overlapping our oppressions and frustrations are.
I think so far, aside from reading a lot about representation and social movements, this has been the biggest reoccurring theme I keep coming back to after talking with people.
How different it is to have conversations about social change that do not exclude identities! How we all have an obligation to try harder, to always be thinking who is missing. To make sure I listen to someone’s perspective even though it might erase mine, or make me uncomfortable.
- Who is not represented and how do I include them?
- How do I not erase perspectives?
- Am I taking up too much space?
- How to uplift people who are marginalised in a way that is not tokenistic and feels safe?
- How do I make sure my work is accessible to people with different abilities and ways of communicating?
I am a pakeha queer trans masculine person with a physical disability. My impairment is not always obvious to other people but it impacts a lot on my ability to do stuff. I’m disabled but not disabled enough, able but not able enough… In-between.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about in-between kinds of people and how we fit into spaces or don’t, whether it be physically inaccessible or that you never see yourself represented. To almost always hear gender or sexuality described from a western colonising framework, not an indigenous cultural perspective. To learn about education but not ever see accessibility given consideration.
What it means to not quite fit into conversations or theories, to always be listening and thinking “yes good point but what about…” or “have you considered…?” To be the exception to the rule. To always preface your point with an apology. To feel too frustrated to bother pointing something out, then feel bad for not taking the time to try and educate… To understand that everyone is at different stages of the conversation, and be kind.
In early November I held my first advisors hui for the project. My advisors are people with a range of marginalised experiences that are different from mine. (Including culture, age, ability, gender identity, sexuality and neuro-diversity) We came together to create a vision for the project and share ideas around how to interview people in ways that are culturally sensitive, preserve anonymity if that is required and is inclusive of the different ways people experience the world. We talked about ethics; support and how I can collate the stories people share in a way that does not filter their own experiences through my own viewpoint and understanding of the world.
Recently I had the privilege of going to Bangkok for the ILGA world conference, this was my first real overseas trip and I was lucky to go with twelve other queer and gender diverse folks from Aotearoa. I felt incredibly supported but also isolated at the same time, particularly in relation to this project, it highlighted the necessity of this work however. Over the course of the five-day conference I heard the words disability or accessibility twice. Once each. Except for the times where I had conversations with people about disability and inclusiveness.
I saw how in many places they are just beginning to talk about decolonisation and indigenous frameworks and I realised how lucky I am to be doing my project with the support of organisations that hold those values at their core.
I thought a lot about the conversations happening in the panels and how they were different to the ones happening in the lift, the lunch breaks and outside in the smoking area, in the in-between spaces.
Who has access to a microphone and who doesn’t?
I thought about all the queer and trans people with disabilities I know, and how I couldn’t recall seeing anyone with a visible disability. I realised how much energy and ability it takes to be able to sit for hours and listen, for five days. I felt frustrated that my body wouldn’t let me, I worried that I was wasting an opportunity. I wondered how many other people were also struggling (with language barriers, dietary requirements, anxiety, different ability) to get through the day and still have the energy to have all the important conversations that made this experience so incredible and worthwhile.
As I move on to the next stage of this project I am excited to continue to learn and share stories with all of the people who have agreed to be involved in this project. I will keep reflecting and wonder what shifting the narrative might look like. I hope to help give space to people who are often left out of the conversation.
“Nothing about us without us.”