There is an ever-increasing social divide that exists in New Zealand. The very real financial and human toll that this situation creates is still largely invisible and avoidable for most of us and yet, if you scratch beneath the surface, the true size of the problem reveals itself. Take a look at the country’s violent crime and drug statistics, already some of the worst in the western world. Tune in to the news and you will find yet another drama unfolding on a daily basis. Sadly many of us continue to turn a blind eye because we believe the problem is too big to tackle on an individual basis, or we fear the consequences of getting involved and/or believe it is someone else’s problem to solve. While this response is understandable, it’s also what prevents us from making any real inroads in addressing this huge inter-generational societal problem.
Progress will come if we can apply some fresh thinking to the problem. The much-awaited report from the 2015 New Zealand Productivity Commission titled ‘More Effective Social Services’ recognises that the current system is simply not working for New Zealand’s most disadvantaged citizens. Initial findings in 2015 from an independent expert panel, led by Paula Rebstock, which is developing a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family similarly concur that the system is failing the 60,000 children that are in violent and unsafe homes and it needs to undergo transformational change.
A life based in crime is lucrative. The pay-out is good, the working hours are reasonable, and if you get caught, prison isn’t such a bad place to go to. At least there’s surety around food, shelter and companionship. They know no other way of life, many have been born into a legacy of drugs, crime and violence, and have missed the schooling system, despite the best efforts of the system to encapsulate them. Educational desire is driven through expectation and encouragement on the home front and this does not happen for so many of these children. So what are they faced with? A life sentence of low/unskilled employment, or the benefit, on which to eke out an existence. Crime seems a much more enticing option and it is socially acceptable among their community.
Mainstream New Zealand society has a limited understanding and/or tolerance of the full extent and the seriousness of the problem. Crime, drugs and violence are a normal part of everyday life for this demographic. To have any hope of changing that norm for the next generation, we must focus on the one person that can change the outcomes ….The MOTHER!
The societal change we seek, along with the funds the country has invested to date, has largely overlooked MUM. Instead, we are focusing resources on addressing the most basic human needs of food and shelter for the children of this socially submerged demographic. Unfortunately these same kids are returning to a dysfunctional MUM each night and that does not make for long term sustainable change regardless of the public and privately focused funding being directed towards them.
Young Maori mothers hold the key to the change we require, so it is time to reconsider how we reach them and it’s not by doing what we have done before. As at 31 December 14, 64.4% of female prisoners are Maori despite making up only 15.4% of the population.
We have so many organisations working in crisis mode – now we need to supplement their good work by focusing resources on creating different choices that are self-sustaining. Getting socially disadvantaged mums into a stronger place to make better choices regarding their – and ultimately their children’s – future is where the RAW model is focused.
Within almost every one of the so called criminal families there is the matriarch and it is she that has the potential to ensure the generations of children yet to be born within the family are offered a destiny that is different to those that have gone before. The women who come to prison are those matriarchs, and in many cases are raising the criminals of the next generation. If we can accept that fact, and find the courage and conviction to work alongside them in that reality, rather than condemning them for it, I believe we will make a significant difference.
Celia Lashlie – The Journey to Prison”
Gallagher Charitable Trust as RAW’s first Cornerstone Partner.