A spate of ram raids by teenagers is fuelling concern about youth offending rates, but a youth worker in South Auckland says it's a very small group causing a lot of havoc.
A crime prevention package was announced last week, including support for businesses to have bollards, security alarms or fog cannons installed, but Stephen Boxer says that doesn't address the real issue.
He runs two youth programmes and says targeting children displaying early warning signs of troubling behaviour will help avert them from a path towards youth offending.
Stephen Boxer runs two youth programmes through the Graeme Dingle Foundation; MYND works as an intervention for teenagers aged 14 to 18 who are already offending, and Kiwi Tahi, for 8 to 12 year olds, workers with younger kids who haven't offended, but are considered at risk due to risk factors at home or in their community.
Boxer tells Kathryn Ryan the offending teenagers are largely motivated by the thrill, reputation and the notoriety they’re building in the media.
“We’ve talked to those that have been involved in some of these ram raids and these burglaries that have been going on, just to get a sense of the intent or where it’s all coming from.
“And they’re telling us that they’re doing it because they can. It’s a scary thought, and when we start unpacking that, they’re telling us that due to the certain policies that police have and so forth around chases, they know they can get away with it.
“I asked a young 15-year-old girl, you had an 11-year-old in your vehicle so what’s all that about? And they said well we know if the police see a juvenile in the vehicle, they have to stop chasing us, so we know we’ll get away with it, it’s easy money and we love the thrill. That’s pretty scary stuff.”
While attention in the media has been helpful to bring voices to the table, it has also been a big driving force for the offenders, he says.
“It’s also drawing a lot of attention to it for our younger people who want to be a part of that notoriety and want to show they want to have that street rep, and they do tell us they want that street rep, it’s important to them at that time.”
Older siblings or family members involved in similar offending or mixing with the wrong crowd can also hugely influence children as young as eight years old, he says.
“There’s so much going on at home … mum, whoever the main caregiver is, is just living in survival mode and they sometimes forget the ones right in the middle there and they become the forgotten lost ones.
“They’re looking for a place as a sense of belonging and want to attach themselves to something and the older ones gravitate and hold on to that so it’s almost like a recruitment ground so they start associating with each other and they start learning stuff they probably shouldn’t be at such an early age.”
Boxer recalls a moment back in 2002 that was an eye opener about how younger people were increasingly at the forefront of these issues.
“I was with a youth aid officer in the community and we were driving in the community and a car went past us.
“And we both looked at each other, and we looked at each other because something wasn’t right about that vehicle, so he spun around, and we caught up to the vehicle and pulled it over and it was a 10-year-old.
“Since then, we’ve seen an escalation of younger people committing more crime in terms of frequency and severity. So we need to be doing better much earlier as opposed to waiting for it to happen much later on and then all of a sudden we’re going into intervention with all these complex issues going on and all these risk factors at home being heightened.”
Many of the youth come from impoverished backgrounds, he says, and Kiwi Tahi has been helping whānau during the pandemic.
“They’re just struggling from day to day just to make ends meet and it’s really, really difficult, and also our young people like I said they become forgotten, mum’s not around, dad’s not around, they’re just trying to put food on the table from day to day.”
As well as supporting whānau, his programme has shown that keeping children can stay out of trouble when they're attached to school and taught life skills, he says.
“These life skills have been proven to change attitude and behaviour, so we contextualise it to staying in school, responding to negative peer pressure, gang associations, talking about their health from a holistic perspective, so there’s number of experiential activities we do with them to help them realise that there could a lot more to them as an individual than what they consider.
“A lot of the first questions we ask them is around their dreams and aspirations and a lot of them tell us we don’t even know what that is, no-one has ever asked us that question before.
“So it is taking it back to some of the basics that a lot of I guess families and young people do get from home and at school that unfortunately a lot of vulnerable kids don’t get.”
In order to scale up his localised initiative, he says they would require financial commitment from authorities.