Whakapapa also captures the stories of descendants, their connection to whenua (land) and events that have shaped history. Hence, whakapapa also represents the histories of people, places and events that provide the context for where we are now. Whakapapa illustrates how the “big picture” shapes youth development (YDSA Principle 1) by telling the story of how we arrived at the present situation, accounting for the values, beliefs and actions that have contributed to the current context. Whakapapa teaches us important historical lessons that have future-focused implications. It is the responsibility of current descendants to ensure the healthy and positive continuation of their whakapapa (Keelan, 2014). As Beals et al. (2018) articulate, whakapapa “requires us to look back at our social and spatial connections. It is whakapapa that gives us our story, it is whakapapa that ignites the hope that is in each of us” (p. 238).

Some of the whakapapa of youth development research in Aotearoa New Zealand has been told in the previous sections of this document. This section therefore focuses on research that paints a picture of the current situation for youth in New Zealand. It includes literature on current big picture wellbeing trends and issues for the general youth population as well as for specific groups, and how past and present policies and events have contributed to the current situation. This discussion signals issues that need to be addressed to ensure that all young people in Aotearoa New Zealand flourish in the future.

The Current Picture of Youth Wellbeing

Since 2000, the Adolescent Health Research Group (AHRG) has undertaken three significant, large-scale surveys as part of the Youth 2000 Survey Series predominantly involving secondary school students in New Zealand. A summary of findings from these surveys (Clark et al., 2013) show how young people are faring and how their context influences their personal health and wellbeing. Overall, most young people in Aotearoa are doing very well. They generally have positive family, peer and school relationships. Since the turn of the century, there have been improvements regarding individual risk behaviours: fewer youth are engaging in dangerous driving, binge drinking, cigarette and marijuana use, perpetrating violence, and initiating early sexual activity (Clark et al., 2013; Lewycka et al., 2018). This is something to celebrate and to keep in mind when confronted with the “storm and stress” myth that adolescence is an inherently tumultuous period characterised by uncivility (Beals, 2015; Beals et al., 2018; Deane & Shepherd, 2016; Farruggia & Bullen, 2010). Systemic risk seems to have increased, however. At home, more families worry about having money for food, youth have less access to GP’s and health care, and they have experienced a decrease in part-time work. Although there were fewer reported suicide attempts, emotional wellbeing generally showed negative or stable trends (Clark et al, 2013; Lewycka et al., 2018).

Two other major surveys asking thousands of New Zealand young people about wellbeing have been released in the past year. The first, Nga Kōrero Hauora o Ngā Taiohi) ActionStation 2018), engaged over 1000 young people, as well as youth development professionals, to examine what youth wellbeing looks like in New Zealand. Young people identified mental health and education, economic insecurity, body image, oppression, the environment, community, role models, and a desire to contribute to positive change as significant issues in their lives. Participants were acutely aware of marginalised identities and how some of the major issues – like mental health, economic insecurity, and role models – are especially relevant to them. When asked what they most wanted to see change, youth highlighted a fairer economy, no more oppression, and accessible, affordable, high quality education. The most popular responses to a question about what makes a good life were stable income, eradication of poverty, friendship and community, and spending time with whānau.

The second report, What Makes a Good Life? (2019), was conducted by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and Oranga Tamariki with a view to informing the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. The voices of over 6000 young people, from ages 7 to 18, were represented, with a focus on youth perceptions of wellbeing. Like the ActionStation (2018) and Youth ’12 reports (Clark et al., 2013), when asked about the good things in life, young people typically mentioned being happy, having supportive friends and family, and having their basic needs met. While most of the responses were collected via survey, some interviews were also held. In these interviews, young people talked about the challenges they experience and see in their everyday lives. Again, the messages were similar to the ActionStation report. Young people want to be accepted for who they are, free from bullying, discrimination, and violence which make life difficult. This acceptance must also be present in the services provided to them. Participants articulated how their wellness is dependent on the wellness of their whānau and communities and this means more than just meeting the bare minimum standard of living.

Other research consistently indicates that some groups of youth in New Zealand experience disparities in outcomes, compared to the wider youth population. Related to this, CSI’s (2018) evidence review of youth development in New Zealand includes projections for demographic trends of youth in New Zealand. The ethnic makeup of the youth population is changing. By 2038, it is expected the proportion of three ethnic minority groups – Māori, Asian, and Pasifika – will all increase, to 27%, 23%, and 15% respectively. The future make- up of New Zealand will indeed be diverse therefore we elaborate on key trends, including inequities experienced by specific groups of young people.

Taiohi Māori

There were 1700 taiohi Māori who participated in the Youth’12 survey (Crengle et al., 2013). Improvements since 2001 include more taiohi Māori eating breakfast, fewer engaging in substance use (cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana), safer driving habits (e.g., seatbelt use and drunk driving), and experiencing violence, both physical and sexual. However, almost half are living in high deprivation areas, which has remained consistent since 2001. With regards to indicators of household stress, a small percentage report living in overcrowded homes, while 10.3% said they had moved house at least twice in the previous year. Furthermore, there was an increase in the number of young Māori whose families were worried about having money for more food (from 10.5% in 2007 to 14.3% in 2012). The most significant deterioration was in employment: far fewer young Māori are able to get part-time work.

Pasifika Young People

The Pasifika population of New Zealand is characterised by its youthfulness: almost 40% are under 15, with a median age almost 15 years lower than the general population (Siataga, 2011). Youth 2000 provides some of our most comprehensive data about Pasifika young people with over 1400 included in the most recent iteration of the survey, Youth’12 (Fa’alili-Fidow et al., 2016). There have been some important improvements in their lives since the study started in 2001. More Pasifika young people are reporting having improved relationships with family and school, greater aspirations to achieve at school, feeling good about their health and lives, improved decision-making about risk behaviours, and fewer experiences of violence. While these represent good progress for Pasifika young people, they are still comparatively worse off than Pākehā young people with regards to mental health (e.g., self-harm and suicidality), engaging in some risk behaviours (notably smoking, contraceptive use, and seat belt use), and experiencing violence. Furthermore, economic deprivation is a real concern, as many Pasifika young people experience barriers to accessing health and dental care and report that their parents do not have enough food. Pasifika young people are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes or move home frequently compared to Pākehā young people.

Asian Young People

The population of Asian young people in New Zealand is growing fast. Like the term Pasifika, this group is comprised of numerous ethnicities, and there are inherent challenges associated with what may be misconstrued as a homogenous Asian grouping. In the Youth’07 report (Parackel, Ameratunga, Tin Tin, Wong, & Denny, 2011), the category ‘Asian’ was comprised of young people from Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian, and other ethnic backgrounds. Most Asian young people reported feeling positively about their family, school, and physical health. However, there are also concerning patterns regarding barriers to accessing health care, racist bullying at school, and nutrition and exercise.

The two largest groups of Asian youth are those of Chinese and Indian descent. The Youth’12 survey published factsheets on how these two subpopulations have fared between 2001 and 2012. Chinese young people experienced some significant improvements in that time: they felt safer at school, as well as reductions in risk behaviours (e.g., smoking, drinking alcohol, and being in a car with a dangerous driver) and violence. In fact, there was only a significant deterioration in one category, feeling safe in the neighbourhood. In the same timeframe, Indian students reported improvements at school (adults at school care a lot and feeling safe at school), using a seat belt and using contraception. Both groups had better access to health care and more stability at home (i.e., less likely to move home multiple times per year).

Refugee and Migrant Young People

The population of refugee and migrant young people has, and continues to, increase substantially (Sobrun-Maharaj et al., 2008). Refugee and migrant young people have some unique circumstances which require special consideration for their positive development and wellbeing. In some cases, there are issues associated with the mental and physical trauma stemming from conflict in their origin country (AYCA, 2015). Refugee and migrant young people may also be affected by lack of English language skills (their own or their parents’) which can make accessing services and systems – such as health care and education – challenging, as well as increasing social isolation (ACYA, 2015). Many refugee and migrant young people do not feel settled or accepted in Aotearoa New Zealand society (Sobrun-Maharaj et al., 2008), and experience significant racism and discrimination (Gluckman, 2011; Sobrun-Maharaj et al., 2008; Stuart, 2012), and these feelings will inevitably have been exacerbated by the 2019 terror attack in Christchurch, particularly for Muslim youth, many of whom are migrants and refugees.

Rainbow Young People

While research about Rainbow young people (with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics) in Aotearoa New Zealand is still relatively scarce, there have been several important additions to the literature recently. This has largely occurred as a result of the Youth 2000 surveys in 2000, 2007, and 2012. The proportion of young people who report being same/both-sex attracted stayed fairly consistent across the three surveys, at approximately 4% (Lucassen et al., 2014). Between 2001 and 2012, there was an increase in the proportion of these young people who had come out (from 31% to 53%), suggesting the social acceptability of being same or both-sex attracted had improved. However, these young people still face disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes when compared to opposite- sex attracted youth. This includes bullying, self-harm, depression, suicide attempts, and accessing help for managing their emotional wellbeing. Moreover, Youth’12 data has been used to investigate mental health outcomes for adolescents who are both sexual or gender and ethnic minorities (Chiang et al., 2017).

In 2013, results from a survey on the health and wellbeing of transgender students in New Zealand were published (Clark et al., 2014). With a large, nationally representative sample size (over 8000 young people), this study represented a significant addition to the literature regarding transgender young people in this country. In terms of prevalence, 1.2% of respondents reported being transgender, and another 2.5% were unsure. While most of these young people experienced supportive households, they were also more at risk for bullying and violence, as well as depressive symptoms, self-harm – including suicidality – and many were unable to access the healthcare they needed. This suggests that the social world transgender youth are located in is, at times, hostile and harmful.

A recent publication from Ara Taiohi (2016) shone a spotlight on how the youth sector supports rainbow young people. They noted that while rainbow support organisations excel at collaborating with one another, the sector itself is reliant on being staffed by young people and volunteers, which is not sustainable. More support and resourcing is needed to continue and expand their work. Suicide and homelessness are significant issues impacting the wellbeing of rainbow young people, and when sexuality intersects with other identities – such as Māori, Pasifika, migrant, refugee, and disability – appropriate frameworks and services are lacking. Notably, best practice guidelines and accountability at the governmental level (i.e., Ministries of Health and Education) are also deficient.

The impact of colonisation and historical trauma that affects the mental health of taiohi takatāpui (Māori with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics) is detailed in the research and suicide prevention resources of Kerekere (2015, 2017a, 2017b). In collaboration with firstly the Mental Health Foundation and then RainbowYOUTH, the two suicide prevention resources address the importance of identity and whānau and Māori cultural values in taiohi health and wellbeing.

In addition, participants in the ActionStation (2018) youth wellbeing report emphasised the importance of reducing systemic oppression, including homophobia and transphobia. They suggested this could be done through education initiatives (e.g., LGBTIQ sex education), and social, physical and legal changes towards inclusivity (e.g., broader use of they/them pronouns, gender neutral bathrooms, protection and discrimination laws). Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA’s) 2015 report regarding New Zealand’s obligations to the United Nations Charter on the Rights of Children (UNCROC) noted a problem with availability of services for transgender youth, and the lack of a national strategy for these services.

Young People with Disabilities

Young people with disabilities are at high risk of poor outcomes in New Zealand (CSI, 2018). Data collected for Youth’12 show 9% of young people had a chronic disability (Clark et al., 2013). For young people with disabilities and their families, there are considerable barriers to accessing education, health, and disability support services. The report by ACYA (2015) regarding New Zealand’s obligations under UNCROC highlight some of the disparities experienced by young people with disabilities. Many are living in low-income and benefit-dependent households. They are also disproportionately affected by family violence. ACYA argue government policies do little to improve the health and wellbeing of young people with disabilities, and that the Vulnerable Children’s Action Plan is unclear about how the complex needs of young people with disabilities will be met. Not only are services lacking, but the data required to ensure services are adequate and effective is lacking.

In the working paper on education, Te One (2007) notes that there are significant and ongoing issues when accessing education. Issues include lack of resourcing, uneven allocation of services, and being outside the government’s current focus. Many schools are reluctant to enrol young people with disabilities unless they have suitable resources (e.g., support person, teacher aid) and funding. There is widespread discrimination against young people with disabilities, and they are more vulnerable to bullying in school. Meanwhile the CSI report (2018) states young people with disabilities leave school without a qualification at almost twice of the rate of other young people.

In 2005, MYD noted transportation is a problem for young people with disabilities. This was echoed in the ActionStation report 13 years later, which also highlighted challenges associated with getting employment. Multiple reports remark on how the obstacles faced by young people with disabilities and their families increase when disability intersects with other marginalised statuses, such as being LGBTIQ, from an ethnic minority or refugee background, or living in a rural area (ACYA, 2015; Ara Taiohi, 2016; Te One, 2007, Robertson 2017).

Young People in Canterbury

The big picture for young people in Canterbury is marked by the aftermath of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Housing, education, and community and social services continue to be affected by these events. In 2014, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) published a report focused on youth wellbeing in the Canterbury region, using survey responses from over 3300 young people living in the area. Ongoing negative impacts from the earthquakes included loss of places they used to go (e.g., cafes, libraries, churches, sports and recreation facilities), distress caused by aftershocks, transportation issues, being in a damaged environment (e.g., school or home), and being surrounded by construction work. Almost all respondents experienced stress which negatively affected them, although the impact of the earthquakes appeared to be magnified for young people who were unemployed or living with health issues or disability. On one measure of mental health and wellbeing, more than one third of young people had scores which indicated poor emotional wellbeing. Respondents endorsed some positive impacts too, such as helping family, friends, and community, improved coping ability, and having access to new facilities. Moreover, a majority of respondents felt a sense of community and connectedness with their neighbourhood. In the wake of the recent terror attack in Christchurch, we can expect even more prolonged distress and disruption in this re-traumatised region.

Young People in Rural Settings

There are unique issues which affect young people who live in rural or geographically isolated areas. According to the Youth’12 survey (Clark et al., 2013), there are no differences between urban and rural youth on most indicators. However, rural young people are more likely to report having nothing to do in their neighbourhood, and they are more likely to be in paid employment. Innovative research conducted at the turn of the century used youth “tribunals” as a methodological tool to privilege the testimonies of young people throughout New Zealand (Smith et al., 2002). Analysis of rural youth testimonies demonstrated that whilst rural young people had much in common with other young people across the country in that they did not feel listened to or feel like fully valued citizens, they were anxious and uncertain about their futures, and they experienced different identity journeys. Young people in rural areas also had unique concerns. Some, particularly taiohi Māori, felt deep connections with and saw strength and potential in their communities whereas others felt a strong need to escape. Many were cynical about traditional models of youth participation and had developed their own strategies for dealing with complex issues in their families and communities, yet visions for their futures co-existed with the burden of others’ expectations. In rural communities youth voice was also hampered by concerns about breaches of confidentiality.

More recent work regarding rural young people indicates that the provision of support services in health and education can be compromised, particularly with regards to school closures (ACYA, 2015). There may also be less infrastructure: both ACYA (2015) and MYD (2005) have remarked on the limited public transportation for rural young people. In an increasingly digital world, rural young people also face access problems (CSI, 2018), including less mobile phone coverage and slower internet connections (ACYA, 2015). Infrastructure may not be the only thing lacking for rural youth. For Rainbow young people in rural communities, they may experience more isolation and less social acceptance, and services to support them may be more difficult to provide (Ara Taiohi, 2016).

Young People in a Digital Age

Since the inception of the YDSA in 2002, digital life has become an increasingly important part of the lives of young people. Gluckman (2013) argues that the pervasive influence of the internet and digital communications technology, including social media, has fundamentally changed the world of young people and the way in which they engage in relationships over the past few decades. This is a global trend that has contributed to the increasingly complex society our young people need to learn to navigate, and one that Gluckman (2011) argues is mismatched with their biology. Whether good or bad, the effects of this change remain largely unknown.

According to Netsafe (2018), one third of young people in New Zealand spend more than four hours per day online, and they overwhelmingly perceive the internet in positive terms. At Involve 2018, discussions about how to incorporate digital life into the YDSA and youth development more broadly was a hot topic (CSI, 2018). Working with young people necessitates an understanding of how they use technology on a daily basis. Topics of interest include: integration of tablets into classroom learning, information seeking on the internet, communicating through text messaging and social media, and the ubiquity of smartphones to name but a few.

Research about the digital lives of New Zealand youth is becoming more and more popular. Netsafe (2018) recently compiled a factsheet based on data from 1000 young people about how they do digital life. The Ministry for Women and Netsafe also published a report in 2017 regarding digital harm for young New Zealanders from a gendered perspective, including issues associated with their competence to navigate the online world, how youth ‘curate’ an identity online, the separation of online and offline lives, and harassment.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification asked over 2000 young people about their attitudes about pornography (Talbot, Hoyle, Wilkinson, & Mohamed, 2018). Although seeing pornography was widespread, only a minority view it regularly. Some participants reported seeing pornography as a way to learn about sex, but few talk to their parents about it. Many young people have concerns about the accessibility of internet pornography and how it affects the sexual behaviours of young people. While some of the findings are troubling, the report argues that a lot of young people also have awareness of the importance of consent, respectful relationships, gender inequality and the potentially negative effect of pornography.

Hartnett (2017) collected data from New Zealand students about their access to the internet and digital devices at home. While the vast majority of participants had a computer at home, internet access, and a cellphone, those who didn’t were significantly more likely to attend a low decile school. Those from low decile schools were also more likely to share digital devices with other family members, rather than having one of their own, and these devices tended to be older. This suggests another dimension to the digital divide: it is not simply about the haves and have-nots, but the quality of digital life and how quality influences the degree to which youth can benefit from online resources.

Another study explored electronic harassment and cyberbullying among young people (Fenaughty and Harré, 2013a). More than one third of their participants reported experiencing recent electronic harassment, mainly via mobile phones, and half of them found the harassment distressing. There were significant gender differences, as girls were harassed at twice the rate of boys. Notably, 40% of those young people who were harassed reported that the harasser was at their school. Thus, schools have an important role to play in decreasing the amount of electronic harassment that occurs, preferably by taking a ‘whole school’ approach, rather than focusing on individual harassers or targets. A related study by Fenaughty and Harré (2013b) explored the strategies young people used to manage distress arising from e-harassment. The main strategies they employed were dealing with the problem directly through retaliation or restricting access to their accounts, seeking social support from peers who they felt were less out of touch than adults, or ignoring the issue, which was a popular recommendation from friends. Unfortunately, these strategies were ineffective. Few felt they could access adults who would be empathetic and understanding enough not to restrict their access to technology. Nevertheless, those who had high self-efficacy with respect to asking adults for help experienced less distress from e-harassment, even when they did not actively seek this support.

While bullying has long been an issue at schools, it has come under increased scrutiny with the popularity of social media and other electronic means of communication between youth. A recent study on bullying in Aotearoa New Zealand schools investigated different forms of bullying (Kljakovic, Hunt, & Jose, 2015). They found school-based bullying was actually more frequent than cyberbullying. Victimisation was more prevalent for youth aged 12–14, the typical age of transition to high school. Schools with positive discipline practices tend to have fewer incidences of bullying and victimisation (Ministry of Education, 2017), emphasising the importance of school climate for reducing such harm for students. According to the Ministry of Education (2017), 26% of youth are bullied a few times a month or more, higher than the OECD average of 19%. Being bullied has serious effects on young people, including mental health and adjustment problems (Gibb, Horwood, & Fergusson, 2011), low self-esteem, depression, and suicidality (Coggan, Bennett, Hooper, & Dickinson, 2003), and a lower sense of belonging at school and lower expectation of staying at school (Ministry of Education, 2017). As evidenced above, some young people are more vulnerable to bullying and hostile victimisation than others.

Youth Education and Labour Market Trends

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey is an international survey administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) every three years to assess global trends in reading, maths and science literacy among 15 year olds. The survey rotates a deeper focus on one of the three literacy areas at each administration. The most recent published results were based on the 2015 survey which included more than half a million students from 72 different countries including every OECD member country and had a focus on science literacy. The 2015 PISA report for Aotearoa New Zealand includes results for more than 4500 students across 183 schools. Students here consistently perform at a higher level than the OECD average level in all three literacy areas, with 83% of students able to succeed with science and reading tasks expected for their age. Across OECD countries, Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the highest proportions of students achieving within the top performance band.

However, Aotearoa New Zealand was also amongst the top 10 most inequitable countries included in the study with respect to science achievement. The socio- economic backgrounds of Aotearoa New Zealand students is also more strongly associated with their academic achievement compared to many OECD countries. Relatedly, Māori and Pasifika students tend to perform below the OECD average whereas Pākehā and Asian students tend to perform above. These trends culminate in what has been commonly called “the long tail of underachievement” (McNaughton, 2011) that policymakers and educationalists have bemoaned for some time. Optimistically, socioeconomic background was a weaker predictor of student academic success in the 2015 round of PISA results compared to previous rounds. Student performance declined between the 2009 and 2012 administrations but stabilised between 2012 and 2015 (May, Flockton, & Kirkham, 2016).

In 2015, young New Zealanders who participated in PISA were also asked about their views towards education (Ministry of Education, 2017). Compared to the OECD average, New Zealand youth were more academically motivated, aiming for high grades and the best opportunities available upon completing secondary school. Fifty nine percent of students planned to complete post-secondary education, a figure which is lower than the OECD average (64%). Girls and socio-economically advantaged students were more likely to say they expected to complete a university degree. The PISA data also shows Aotearoa New Zealand young people experience significant schoolwork-related anxiety, particularly girls and Pasifika and Māori students. The Youth ’12 survey results focused on taiohi Māori similarly demonstrate that Māori were more likely to attend a low decile school than Pākehā. Nonetheless, many young Māori have a positive view of education and have aspirations of academic success. Almost all said being proud of their schoolwork was important to them. When looking to the future, 83% of Māori youth aimed to finish Year 13, while just over half planned to do post-secondary education. Planning further education was more likely for Māori girls and Māori living in low deprivation areas, while Māori boys were more likely to move straight into employment after completing secondary school (Crengle et al., 2013).

Although young people typically spend many years in education, employment becomes an increasingly important part of their life as they get older. In the Youth’12 survey, 48% of young people reported having paid part-time work, either regular or seasonal, and a further 19% worked unpaid in the family business but, as noted above, there has been a decline in participation in part-time work since 2001. A vast majority of participants (87%) expect to complete Year 13, after which, most plan to go on to further education (64%) and a further one quarter intend to start work. Young people in high deprivation areas were more likely to anticipate going to work, rather than post-secondary education (Clark et al., 2013). According to the Ministry of Education (2017), 88% of students who participated in PISA in 2015 worked in the home or took care of other family members, higher than the OECD average of 73%.

Yao, Deane, & Bullen (2015) explored the post- secondary school transition for a group of disadvantaged young boys who received specialized support from their mid-decile boarding school. They found this group of 178 students had a higher NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance achievement than students in comparable secondary schools. This was notable given the higher proportion of Māori and Pasifika students at this school, who are typically over-represented in the “long tail of under- achievement”. Qualitative data from a sub-sample of students found their post-secondary transition was a fairly smooth, positive experience. Students reported the transition was facilitated by three school factors: academic transition support (e.g., fostering independent study skills), social transition support (e.g., developing social skills like leadership and empathy), and support to transition to independent living (e.g., financial support). However, there were also challenges such as insufficient career guidance, adjusting to tertiary expectations, loneliness and making new friends, and lack of budgeting skills. Although these were high achieving young people who were able to make a successful transition, there was still scope for school action in preparing them for the transition.

An earlier study on youth transitions by Higgins and Nairn (2006) involved interviews with a group of young people about to transition from school to work. They found few of them had a clear idea of what they were going to do post-secondary school. Some found it difficult to choose just one option, and optimistically assumed everything would work itself out in the end. Most young people believed in the direct, linear pathway from secondary school, to tertiary qualifications, to the workforce. As Higgins and Nairn note in their analysis, few young people considered how other forces – like work experience, labour market conditions, and cultural capital – could affect this pathway. Universities were perceived as the best chance for the best jobs, although this was also a risky option due to the high “user pays” cost associated with university study. Higgins and Nairn conclude by arguing that these young people have brought into the linear pathway suggested to them in policy discourse, even though it does not often bear out.

The linear school to work, training or further education transition expectation is evidenced in policy discussions focused on young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). “NEETs” are frequently referred to as a source of concern because being “NEET” for a prolonged period is associated with a range of poor life outcomes (Yao et al., 2015). Average NEET rates for young people aged 15 to 24 years have declined since a peak of approximately 15% in late 2009. In early 2018, it sat at almost 12.5%, and the gender gap has also decreased (Stats NZ, 2018). The notion of a “prolonged period” is important with respect to risk because it is not uncommon for young people to move between periods of employment and study or training with gaps in between, or to engage in volunteering or travel following secondary school. The NEET indicator therefore captures young people who may be meaningfully engaged in service, caregiver or exploratory opportunities. However, the negative connotation associated with youth “NEETs” in mainstream policy discourse can serve to marginalise young people who deviate from the socially expected transitional trajectory. Furthermore, this dominant discourse generally overlooks the complex and systemic factors that create barriers to meaningful employment and accessible further education or training (Higgins & Nairn, 2006; Yao et al., 2015). Tasi’s (2009) thesis on the transition experiences of eight young Samoan men from South Auckland affirms this. Tasi demonstrated that the Samoan young men he interviewed were eager to secure employment as soon as possible to ensure the financial security of their families, but barriers associated with restricted employment opportunities and family pressures created stumbling blocks in their efforts to achieve their employment goals.

Ecological Systems Influences on Development & Wellbeing

Much of the above discussion hints at some of the ecological factors (e.g., policies, infrastructure and sociocultural changes) that are implicated as contributors to the current situation for young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Here we explore some of these influences at a deeper level. We exclude discussions of factors associated with the immediate contexts of youth development, like family and whānau, peers, and school because these are addressed in later sections. Principle 1 of the YDSA stresses “big picture” influences that do (or should) be considered as impacting youth development. Of these, government policies and legislation play a key role, including international agreements ratified by Aotearoa New Zealand.

Recent Policy Influences

Mirroring trends observed in other national and global surveys, there has been a decline in adolescent risk-taking behaviour between the 2001 and 2012 Youth 2000 surveys. In an effort to explain this, Lewycka and colleagues (2018) took an evidence- informed approach to examining potential causal contributors by reviewing the interpretations offered in related empirical research and consulting with experts. They suggest that although socioeconomic conditions and income inequity are associated with youth health and wellbeing, and wealth and income inequity in New Zealand is higher than the OECD average, inequity rates have stabilised since the mid- 1990s following a sharp rise in the 1980s. Therefore changes in socioeconomic conditions were unlikely to have contributed to declining risk behaviours. Similarly, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 led to increased unemployment, yet the decline in risk- taking was already evident prior to the crisis. There has, however, been increased resourcing for built environment improvements – like education and health facilities, roads and transport – over the period, and an improved physical environment is associated with reduced risk. In addition, changes in social norms have likely increased parental involvement and monitoring of their young people in ways that deter them from engaging in risk to the same degree as past generations. The authors also acknowledge that changes in internet use and social media may mean that young people are simply displacing their risk- taking behaviour from the physical to the digital world.

Nevertheless, Lewycka et al. (2018) contend that the stronger influences likely stem from improvements in school-based health services and new educational curricula that focus on values and competencies for healthy living. In particular, evidence-informed improvements to public health campaigns and policy changes that have increased the regulation of alcohol and cigarettes appear to have had an impact. Interestingly, the authors make no comment on the introduction of strengths-based youth development policies (e.g., the YDSA and related strategies) which coincided with the first Youth 2000 survey and the advent of Positive Youth Development in Aotearoa (Deane & Shepherd, 2016). As previously indicated, the YDSA has had a fundamental influence on shaping the practice of people who work with young people. Thus it may be that the YDSA did instil a shift from a deficit to a strengths-based approach to thinking about and working with youth, and that this helped to mitigate risk, as it proposed to do.

On the other hand, Beals and her colleagues contend that, despite its strengths-based framing, the YDSA is still rooted in the deficit-focused perspective of Western risk psychology. They argue that young people would be better served if youth policymakers and practitioners would acknowledge and critically reflect on the marginalising effects that dominant, risk-focused Western perspectives can have on some groups of youth, and by considering Western models only in conjunction with indigenous and other cultural models (Beals, 2015; Beals et al., 2018). Beals (2008a) also notes that the language of celebration and support of and collaboration with young people evident in the YDSA contrasts sharply to that of the Youth Offending Strategy where the focus is on control and supervision, despite both being launched at the same time. This illustrates how policy discourses segment certain populations of young people in ways that can continue to marginalise and devalue those who are already disadvantaged.

International Obligations Regarding Child and Youth Rights

Related to the influence of national government policy on youth wellbeing, UNCROC is one of several human rights instruments that Aotearoa New Zealand endorses as a member of the United Nations. As a child and youth-specific treaty, it is the one most commonly discussed in relation to policy actions required to ensure the interests and holistic wellbeing of 0 to 18 year olds are adequately protected and provided for (MYA, 2002). In 2015, ACYA released a comprehensive report which addressed a range of issues regarding Aotearoa New Zealand’s obligations under UNCROC. The report highlighted the complex lives of many young people and how they are directly and indirectly affected by a number of government policies. ACYA acknowledged some positive developments: increased rates of immunisation, free doctor visits and prescriptions for more young people, declining mortality rates for infants, children and young people, support for LGBT young people, and the introduction of Māori and Pasifika youth courts. However, ACYA also argued that successive governments had failed to meet some obligations, impacting the wellbeing of young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. The report discussed pressing issues such as inadequate housing, educational support for young people with disabilities, abuse and neglect, mental health services, support for minority young people, and criminal responsibility.

Between 2007 and 2010, a series of working papers and reports relating UNCROC obligations were released. The reports examined local evidence against various articles of the convention to assess whether Aotearoa New Zealand was meeting its obligations as a signatory to the convention which stipulates a set of rights for children in international law. The working papers addressed issues including a Māori view of children’s rights (Waldon, 2010), education (Te One, 2007), child poverty and health (Dale, St John, Asher, & Adam, 2010), child employment (Shuttleworth, 2010), the sexual exploitation of children (Bell, 2010), and the use of corporal punishment on children (Wood, 2010).

Waldon’s (2010) Tamariki Māori report presented a Māori view of children’s rights. The paper gave special consideration to Article 30 of UNCROC, which stipulates indigenous children will not be denied the right to enjoy their culture, practice their religion, learn their own language, and be in community with other members of their group. Several specific issues for tamariki Māori were emphasised: inequality, the contribution of Māori society and culture to youth wellbeing, and removing the association of ‘Māori’ with disadvantage. The report shows that while a number of these issues pertaining to Article 30 are recognised by the government, there is considerable action required to address the deficits.

A review of education in Aotearoa New Zealand with a view to our UNCROC obligations was published in 2007 (Te One, 2007). It assessed progress made towards recommendations from the previous report in 2003, which included issues like ethnic disparities in school exclusions, hidden costs of education which prohibit participation, teacher supply, exam fee exemptions for low income students, culturally responsive schools, and strengthening bilingual education. While some strides had been made – the provision of teen parent units and restorative justice or peer mediation responses to school-based violence, for instance – many issues still required government action. There were also new areas of concern. To address bullying, the report reiterated findings from an ERO report which stated the most effective measures against bullying occurred when school culture emphasised the safety and wellbeing of students. It also noted the increasing prevalence of bullying via new technology, such as cell phones. Groups of youth who often require specialist support – refugee and asylum-seeking youth, and young people with disabilities – were also discussed. Homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying of Rainbow young people, or those perceived to be, was raised as a significant issue in the Youth ’12 reports (Clark et al., 2014; Lucassen et al., 2014).

The working paper on child poverty and health (Dale et al., 2010) highlighted a myriad of issues, underpinned by increased income inequality which is associated with poverty, poor housing, and limited access to health care. The report notes that these outcomes disproportionately affect young people from high deprivation households, as well as taiohi Māori and Pasifika young people. Consequently, various rights of the child – including right to life, high standard of health, adequate standard of living, and non-discrimination – have been breached, partly due to political choices and inaction. The working paper concludes by stating “visionary leadership” (p.12) is needed to implement its recommendations: free breakfasts in low decile schools, free healthcare for under 18’s, healthy housing programmes, improved access to education for disadvantaged youth, and additional income support for families to ensure an adequate standard of living. In addition to the obvious health benefits for young people associated with these changes, the report’s authors argue there are long-term, less obvious benefits, such as less child abuse, more productive work force, reducing intergenerational poverty, and stronger communities.

Shuttleworth (2010) identified issues relating to child exploitation in employment. This included the lack of a minimum age for work, no minimum wage for under 16’s, and health and safety concerns. Among the recommendations from the working paper are implementing a minimum age of 15 years for work (18 years for dangerous work), and legislative changes regarding the maximum hours of work allowed per day. Connected to this working paper was another which focused on sexual exploitation of young people (Bell, 2010). The report addressed child prostitution, pornography, and trafficking for sexual purposes. It concludes by stating Aotearoa New Zealand is not free from these types of abuses, and prevention requires increased public awareness as well as government and NGO action.

The working paper on corporal punishment (Wood, 2010) outlines the development and response to the “anti-smacking bill” which became law in 2007. Although the bill was divisive, it was necessary to uphold Aotearoa New Zealand’s obligation to UNCROC. Early evidence indicated the law was working well and societal perceptions of corporal punishment were changing, with more people believing it was ineffective.

Annual Child Poverty Monitor reports have also been produced since 2013 to contribute to our understanding of how Aotearoa New Zealand is faring with respect to our obligations under UNCROC and as a signatory to the United Nations Agenda 2030 which includes sustainable development goals pertaining to children (Duncan et al., 2018). These reports accentuate the dire situation that too many children and young people in Aotearoa New Zealand find themselves in. In 2018, this included statistics demonstrating increased hospitalisations, greater food insecurity and experiences of abuse and neglect for those up to 15 years old who live in high deprivation compared to low deprivation areas. Households in the highest deprivation areas also spend a far greater proportion on their income on housing (more than 30%) compared to those in the least deprived areas (14% on average). Further, incomes for households in low deprivation areas have increased more quickly than those in high deprivation areas since 1994, creating a bigger gap between high and low earning households (Duncan et al. 2018). The 2017 report confirms that the sharp increase in income poverty occurred between the late 80s and early 90s and that the proportion of households in income poverty remains high. Further, the proportion of children and young people up to 17 years who live in the most severe income poverty has not improved since 2012 (Duncan et al., 2017).

Problems with the 2018 sample sizes for data collected on material hardship led the Ministry for Social Development not to report these data (Duncan et al., 2018); however, the 2017 report indicates that, using a severe threshold measure of poverty, 19% of 0–17 year olds depend on households with incomes that are less than 50% of the contemporary median income after adjusting for housing costs. Twenty percent of 6–17 year olds who live with the highest levels of material hardship cannot access suitable clothing, healthy food, internet and extra-curricular opportunities (Duncan et al., 2017). Notably, the group leading the Child Poverty Monitor reports are optimistic that the Child Poverty Monitor Bill introduced in early 2018, which will require the government to regularly report on measures of child poverty is a “breakthrough” that will substantially improve the quality of data we currently have on child poverty (Child Poverty Monitor, n.d.).

Historical Influences

Like others (Lewycska et al., 2018; Duncan et al., 2017; Smith et al., 2002), Beals (2015) locates the rise in inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1980s. The drastic shift from a welfare to a neoliberal society focused on a free market and user-pays economy and the decentralisation and privatisation of public services resulted in “dysfunctional and inequitable policies” (p. 126), the brunt of which was felt by Māori, Pasifika and low income families. Interestingly, this also coincided with increased usage of the term “youth at-risk”, referring to young people who did not conform to the social expectations of the new neoliberal society (Beals, 2015; Smith et al., 2002). Oppressive policies targeting Māori and Pasifika have much deeper roots, however.

The decades leading up to the 1980s neoliberal shift were characterised by a migration swell from neighboring Pacific Islands arising from a demand for unskilled labour, though migration from the Pacific Islands has long been a part of Aotearoa New Zealand history. An economic downturn in the 1970s led to higher unemployment and concomitant changes to immigration policy that resulted in increased racism towards Pasifika communities, particularly in Auckland. The Polynesian Panthers created a youth- led movement of advocacy for their community which converged with the government crack-down on “overstayers”. This culminated in the “dawn raids” during which Pasifika communities were subjected to intrusive home and workplace searches and police brutality, some claiming with little regard for their actual immigration status (Anae, 2010). The Dawn Raids are acknowledged to be a significant event that in part led to a Ministry focused on Pacific Island Affairs and programmes specific to Pacific communities and this is an important part of the whakapapa of Pasifika young people (McDonald et al., 2016).

With regards to Māori, understanding of Māori youth development is incomplete without a grasp of how colonisation, the ongoing breaches to Te Tiriti and the resultant urbanisation of Māori dislocated whānau, hapū and iwi from each other and their whenua. This fundamentally disrupted the traditional Māori way of life in ways that set the stage for the disparities between Pākehā and Māori that continue today. Equally, Māori youth development knowledge is partial without an appreciation for the ongoing resilience demonstrated by Māori since colonisation and its impact on cultural revitalisation (Baxter et al., 2016; Ware, 2009).

The importance of respect and adherence to the Te Tiriti o Waitangi tripartite principles of partnership with and participation of Māori, and protection of taonga Māori (Māori treasures, including language and culture) has increasingly come to the fore in the youth development sector. This sits in contrast to the origins of youth work in Aotearoa which began with the introduction of programmes imported from the United Kingdom and ignorance of traditional models of practice (Baxter et al., 2016). Today, Te Tiriti o Waitangi is identified as a “big picture” influence on youth development (MYA, 2002), treaty-based principles guide Ara Taiohi’s work, and the Code of Ethics provides bilingual principles of effective practice that were designed to ensure consistency with the responsibilities agreed to in Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Ara Taiohi, 2019). This includes recognising the importance of taiohi Māori ties to whānau, hapū and iwi; seeking guidance from tangata whenua when working with taiohi Māori; and promoting the rights of Māori to practice their own indigenous models of youth development.

Beals and colleagues (2018) indicate that all youth development training in this country includes content on the 1840 Treaty. However, they argue that training needs to include deeper exploration of colonisation and how colonising beliefs and practices are perpetuated through the implicit Western agendas that underlie the knowledge that has guided the sector. Baxter et al (2016) and Kerekere (2017b) agree that raising awareness of how this history has shaped young people’s world today is essential to effective practice.