This week the Minister for State Services announced a newly established South Auckland Social Investment Board to improve the livelihoods of our most vulnerable children. South Auckland is a young, diverse and growing community, however within that community, are families finding it hard to make ends meet and at risk children, facing abuse and neglect. In response the South Auckland Social Investment Board (SIB), which includes social, health, justice and community agencies will work together to improve outcomes – firstly focusing on 1500 at-risk children and their families living in Mangere.
I am very pleased to be a member of this Board on behalf of Counties Manukau Health. We are also playing an important role in hosting the Programme Office for the Board led by Margie Apa, and the cross-agency team that has been pulled together. By working collectively our most vulnerable children can grow up to be healthy, happy and productive adults.
I’m joined by Sandra Alofivae, lawyer, community leader and SIB Independent Chair to tell us more.
I was raised on the ideal that family is the cornerstone of our society and that family should look after and care for one another. Growing up my maternal grandparents were the undisputed centre of my family, which comprised of seven grown-up children and 23 grandchildren. Needless to say home was vibrant, busy and, by sheer necessity, regulated.
Reflecting back my grandparents were non-negotiable on three issues: church, family harmony and education. Everyone had a role to play and a purpose to serve. No one was rendered useless, young or old; you knew your place and you acted with responsibility and love.
It was only after graduating in 1989 when I took my first job in a general law practice, and then representing children and young people in the Family and Youth Courts that I began to see the extent to which some families were struggling.
It was a real eye opener into dealing with humanity and the myriad of problems facing some families. It ignited a real fire in me to work with vulnerable children and their families.
For many children and young people living in South Auckland, their life course is at times deeply challenged by circumstances, often beyond their control. As a lawyer, I saw numerous cases of childhood neglect, abuse and crime born of desperation come through the court system. Many of these young people had multiple and complex needs that couldn’t be met by one agency alone. For these families, life is organised around frequent visits to social, education and health services. However, despite our best efforts, these children continue to be hurt, neglected and deprived of the best things in life. They continue to fall through the gaps and live sub-optimal lives.
I’m a firm believer that if families, for whatever reason can’t provide for their children, it’s up to society to step in and help. That’s why I’m honoured to be the independent Chair of the newly launched South Auckland Social Investment Board, one of three placed based initiatives approved by Cabinet in July this year. The Board is made up of 10 public sector agencies committed to working in a transparent and open manner to deliver better linkages to achieve more effective outcomes for targeted populations.
The social investment approach places at risk children and their families at the heart of service provision. This approach empowers local decision makers to make better investment decisions across agencies using national and local data analytics to take collective responsibility for outcomes for vulnerable children and young people in South Auckland. It’s a collective stand to say ‘enough is enough to siloed mentality’ – understanding each other’s business better can lead to a transformational change for our families and communities.
We will begin our work in Mangere, where close to 1500 at-risk 0-to-5-year-old children and their families live. The focus will be on three main areas: reducing the number of children experiencing physical abuse, reducing the number of preventable child hospitalisations for illnesses and increasing the number of children participating in ECE before they start school.
By getting a clearer picture of what the local needs are, we can make a collective decision about how to invest resources and target interventions to deliver better outcomes for young people. Agencies include the Ministry of Social Development, CM Health, Ministry of Health, Housing NZ, Ministry of Justice, NZ Police, Department of Corrections, Te Puni Kokiri and Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
I’ve been representing the needs and interests of children and young people for many years and am deeply encouraged and heartened by the commitment shown by the Government, sector agencies and community leaders to work collaboratively to improve outcomes for our children and young people.
My hope is to see these children thrive and go on to lead happy, productive and healthy lives.
As you carry on in your appointed roles and busy lives, it’s sometimes easy to become desensitised or discouraged by what we see around us with our vulnerable communities. I am reminded of the adage “I am my brother or my sister’s keeper,” which means we all have a duty to protect and care for one another.
Sandra and Geraint