Circuit breaker trials for youth affected by COVID-19, result in positive, new directions.

COVID-19 has adversely affected many youth across Waikato due to the challenges of extended lockdowns and economic downturn.

In response to this growing need, a working parting involving Bevan Smith, Joe Wilson, Dujon Cullingford and Michelle Howie ways was developed to better understand the challenges some rangatahi are facing.

"Our ultimate aim was to create new ways for these young people to find positive, new direction in life," says Michelle.

Groups most affected by economic downturn are youth, Maaori, Pasifika, disabled, low-skilled and refugee/migrant communities and the circuit breaker trials were created to reach youth in these groups throughout the Waikato region.

The key aims of the trial included:

  • Introducing positive and inspiring elements into the lives of these youth to disrupt the likely path they were on, and connect them back to training, employment or education.

  • Creating a change in perception in rangatahi and enabling them to make different choices (with support) about what happens next in their life.

  • Giving employers insight into how to support vulnerable young people into work and how life-changing this can be.

The Process

Different trials have taken place across key areas and demographics. They have all involved working with very small groups and actively supporting each young person.

The criteria for rangatahi/youth included:

  • Being aged 15-18 (negotiable).

  • Having experienced negative impact from lockdown (i.e. did not return to school, was struggling to, or was feeling the effect of lockdown on family life, increased social insecurities etc).

  • Having a relationship/connection to someone at school or within the organisation where trust is well established.

  • Being open to talking about what they dream of doing, however ‘big’ the dream sounds.

  • Being able to commit to engaging with the experience of employment.

The criteria for employers included being:

  • Open-minded and having a supportive mindset about youth

  • Able to commit to supporting a young person within their workplace.

  • Willing to attend meetings about this project, outside of the actual contact time with a young person.

  • Flexible and reflective – able to adapt as needed

  • Willing to make memories, create keepsakes and share their own learnings as an equal.

Trials across the region

At Raglan Area School a trial involved working closely with a school teacher and dean to focus on students who had been unable to connect back into school following the lockdown period. A broad range of potential interests and motivators were explored with these students, from outdoor education to barista courses. A female student from this school was also supported to enroll in a beauty course at Wintec and she has gone on to attend the course.

The Hamilton Cook Island Association (HAMCIA) trial involves three young Cook Islanders who have been impacted by COVID-19. These youth are being supported by the HAMCIA youth worker, Robbie Atatoa, who is working closely with these three youth to discover their passions and how a positive disruption could take place.

A circuit breaker trial was introduced by SWPICS, the South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services. This involved a youth worker at SWPICS, Sulita Povaru-Bourne, working to support three youth who had disengaged from either study or work because of COVID-19 and lockdowns. These youth were slightly older than those in other trials, between the ages of 19-21. One of these youth involved in this circuit breaker was a young female who had chosen not to return to university after completing her first year and, with support, took on a volunteering role with the Tokoroa testing and vaccine rollout, as well as a casual role in health administration. She found purpose in this and found new direction in this positive pathway.

The Paeroa College Alternative Education Unit was involved in a circuit breaker trial, where three students were supported by a teacher from this unit. Greater connections and levels of support were established between both the Alternative Education Unit and staff at Paeroa College. Employer relations were also strengthened and new positive ones created. The results for these rangatahi were positive with one student finding part time work and all involved commenting that they could now see themselves as part of a bigger picture through employment.

Shama Ethnic Women’s Trust’s youth worker, Madiha Ali, supported three young Muslim women to find experiences and opportunities in employment. To enable positive employer matches, in female-led companies, their interests were explored, as well as insights about family expectations of careers versus each young female’s own passions. The young women had interests in health (pharmacy), law and communication design, and when suitable placements are found, mentoring will take place to continue to support of these females.

Ngaa Taiatea Wharekura’s deputy principal, Mel Veituna, supported three students in 2020. All three of the rangatahi involved were year 13 students, who had started to develop an independent lifestyle. Two of the students involved visited the Visy cardboard factory and discovered an interest in forklift driving roles. From this visit, they were supported financially by Visy in terms of being able to get their forklift license and, from there, permanent employment. The third student involved was led to a role working in a holiday programme due to their passion of working with children.

Te Hīnatore is a six-week programme run by Anglican Action, designed for young wahine who are currently navigating the youth justice system or are facing general challenges within their lives. The women in this programme are being supported by Kristina Muller, team leader of the youth team at Anglican Action. This programme is delivered through a Maori medium, and is based on core concepts of identity, self-knowledge and life skills to help these wahine gain the availability to rebuild a life after offending, resulting in a brighter future for themselves and those around them, such as their whanau. The skills and knowledge that these women will ideally develop can help to shape and prepare them for any pathway they may want to head down in the future, such as further education or the workforce.

The Outcomes

The project experiences provided eye-opening and achievable opportunities for the rangatahi involved and created the ability for them to make different choices about what could happen next in their lives.

The employers also gained insight about how they could support these vulnerable young people as they transition into the workforce.

Overall, these trials have positively impacted the lives of many youth throughout the Waikato region," says Michelle.
"They reflect the importance of feeling connected and supported in order to change perceptions, explore positive pathways, and engage in new career opportunities".
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