An independent advocacy group for young people in state care has launched a petition calling for all incoming MPs to make six promises aimed at providing stability and a sense of belonging for the more than 6000 in the state’s care.
VOYCE Whakarongo Mai is asking politicians to promise that New Zealand would honour its duty of parental care and provide for those in the state care system, and that young people in the system would be given stability and support to achieve their education goals.
It also asks that children in state care are given timely access to health services, that they would be involved in decision-making about them while in care, and support them to develop their identity and know their whakapapa.
Twenty-four-year-old Tupua Urlich, a youth advocate at VOYCE who entered the care system aged five, said while the promises may appear to be basic asks, it didn’t always happen for everyone.
“If you look at the statistics, the majority of us aren’t getting that level of care… It’s about politicians taking ownership of the obligation to our young people,” he told 1 NEWS.
“There are 6000 stories out there that aren’t being reported on. This is their voice, their stories and in the six promises, there are a lot of experiences and a lot of pain.”
Urlich himself had attended nine schools in 12 years during his time in care, which was why he said it was important to ask governments to promise stability and support for the education of those in state care. He said VOYCE worked alongside people with experiences with state care to decide on six promises that they felt would make the most difference.
“Any child that would move multiple times within one year will find it incredibly hard to be comfortable enough to settle in and just have a normal life,” he said.
“My experience, to cut a long story short, was terrible. There was absolutely no stability, there was a strong lack of safety. As a result, my education suffered and so did my mental health, and those are some things that to this day I’m working on.
“It’s not like when you leave care at 18 or 17, whatever it is, you leave care and your problems are solved. No, now you’ve got to deal with these issues alone.
“If you look at these six promises, it speaks to all this.”
Urlich, a long-time advocate for youth who had been in state care, was part of the Youth Advisory Panel advising the Government’s transition from Child Youth and Family to Oranga Tamariki in 2017.
He said while the state care system had improved since he was under CYFs’ care, there was more work to be done.
“The Expert Advisory Panel [appointed to lead a complete overhaul of CYFs in 2015] provided a report on what they believed was needed in order to turn things around,” he said.
“I feel it's not enough being done. It's taking far too long. … We're not seeing a lot of those changes that were advised implemented and if they are, they’re not implemented very well.
“So, that gives strength and more importance to these six promises.”
VOYCE CEO Tracie Shipton said the petition aimed to raise awareness both among politicians and the public.
“The thing that I'm quite surprised about is that people are surprised that we’re asking for so little, and they’re wondering why we need to ask for so little,” she said.
“I think people have a belief that all these things are in place for all children in New Zealand.”
It was difficult at times for people outside of the care system to really understand how children come into care, and that they had the same needs and wants as any other young person, Shipton said.
“Being in care has a stigma attached to it. That means that young people can’t openly talk about it in a way where they would be accepted. So, a lot of the issues they face are hidden.
“[The petition] is about bringing them out and saying ‘Actually, all we want is the same as everybody else.’”
Shipton said there were numerous complex and long-standing issues around why only some in state care would receive what the petition was asking for.
The petition was one way to get people asking questions about the quality of the state’s care, she said.
Shipton said the petition aimed to get cross-party support because no matter who was in Government, they would be responsible for the experiences of children in care across a range of government departments, rather than in one entity like Oranga Tamariki.
“It's significant that we now have the opportunity for care-experienced young people to reach into the system and to ask something of their politicians.”
But, she said some of the responsibility also lay with all New Zealanders.
“The hidden things about being in care, the shame and the stigma, they belong to our community. They do not belong to Government departments. They do not belong to people who have to make decisions about uplifting children.
“They belong to the whole of society, and we all need to be very aware.”