Special Edition Tupua Urlich

Experiences of involvement in a youth advisory panel for a Government Care Review in Aotearoa New Zealand

In this piece, I provide some insight about my invovlement in the New Zealand Care Review as a Care Experienced person. I was asked if I would write about aspects of this experience in order to provide context to the involvement of care experienced people in the English Social Care Review which is taking place.

How did you get involved and were selected for involvement in the Review?

I was 2 years into my journey as advocate for the children and young people in care. I had exposure on mainstream and Maori media. I had given keynote addresses within NZ and Australia. I was approached by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) (independent crown entity) who formed and took care of the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) during our term and offered a position on the Panel. For other members of the panel OCC approached existing organisations – both NGOs and Government – within the care community.

What did you do as part of the Youth Advisory Panel?

As a member of YAP we had regular meetings with the Minister for Social Development throughout the duration of the review of the system . We had regular meetings and consulted with the secretariat, Dragons Den type stuff – pitch their ideas and we would voice our thoughts around its effectiveness and where applicable recommended adjustments.

What were the blocks?

Personally, the first barrier was trusting that the system actually cared about what we had to say. I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a relationship with care experienced young people before engaging with them.

Another barrier was old dogs not wanting to learn new tricks, the whole attitude of “I’ve been in this space for years, I know what social work is” though it was never said, trust me, we see it.

The long meetings! Often meetings went on far too long, I put this down to the length of our term. I lose the ability to focus after a couple of hours and the ability to contribute at time were affected by this.

Were there any disagreements in the group as to your advice – how were they managed if so?

Group dynamics at times, as you could imagine as a group of eight we didn’t agree on everything however having the support of OCC throughout our journey was fundamental to the success of our term, when things got heated, or we felt uncomfortable, the door was never locked and nobody went unheard.

We had support people available to us whenever we needed them, if we felt uncomfortable with the advice given by a fellow member and/or we didn’t know how to oppose the comments in a respectful manner our support person would advocate for us if we wished.

Did the eight  of you see yourselves as representing all care experienced people in NZ?

No, we saw ourselves as representatives of our own lived experiences in state care. The care community is a collective, we as members of that collective can speak to it.

What did you think of the final Government recommendations?

The recommendations sat well with the group overall, there were areas we wished to see more recommendations specifically in the early intervention and prevention space. We did feel like recommendations would provide a much-needed upgrade to the system.

Did you feel your involvement meaningfully influenced the Government review – if so in what ways? By what means? If not, why not?

In some ways I do.

  • Shortly after our term, the government understood the importance of having the voice of experience at the table with decision makers, the government supported the establishment of national advocacy organisation for both children and young people in care and with care experience.
  • One of the areas of concern we as YAP raised was around the lack of supports available to us at the end of our time in care. Educational, occupational opportunities were being lost due to the huge gaps in legislation. At this time the state relinquished or responsibilities for young people in its care at 17 years of age. The legally required age to sign tenancy agreements and receive adult financial supports was 18. The response was to raise the age the state relinquished its responsibilities to 18 with ongoing supports provided up until 25 years. The care system formed a transition supports team, which is tasked with supporting us through this incredibly important stage of our lives.

In some ways I don’t.

  • One of the point’s raised by YAP was the importance of whanau (family) relationships and the fact that the state had being so focused on avoiding risks that it failed to undertake any meaningful intervention with parents or family in order to address any issues preventing us from receiving adequate care. We were being deprived of relationships that really matter to us. Sibling separation within the care system was a big problem too, not only do you have the state removing young people from their families, you often would have siblings separated who went into care together. Looking at the stats from then (around 3,500 children and young people) to today (nearly 6,000 children and young people in care) it is clear that we have not been heard, effective intervention and prevention is not taking place between the state and the families in need. This has caused a fear of people asking for help, it’s believed if you put your hand up and ask for help, you’ll lose your children.

Tupua Urlich

Youth Advisor, Aotearoa New Zealand