Oh look – 28 potential good-news stories about young people overcoming challenges (but Stuff has mostly missed them)

The Dom-Post gave front-page treatment today to the government’s declaration of a climate emergency.   This emergency – says Climate Change Minister James Shaw – will be backed with ambitious plans to reduce emissions.

Another of yesterday’s press releases from the Beehive, about an awards ceremony, did not pass muster with the Dom-Post editorial gate-keepers.  This was a statement about 28 young people who have overcome formidable disadvantages – Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis described them as young achievers who have been in the care of Oranga Tamariki or involved with the youth justice system.

Each of them received Oranga Tamariki Prime Minister Awards in recognition of their success and potential.

At the awards ceremony in Parliament, Kelvin Davis congratulated these young people for showing the strength and perseverance to succeed despite facing significant challenges.

“As a teacher and school principal in Northland I worked with many children who were doing it tough. I’ve seen first-hand how strong young people can overcome struggles through hard work, determination and the support of their whānau and communities,” Kelvin Davis said.

“Today’s Award winners should be proud and hold their heads high.

“These awards show everyone their achievements, effort and success have been recognised at the highest level.” 

The award winners are aged between 15 and 19 and represent regions from throughout New Zealand.

Each scholarship, worth $3,000, can be used to fund academic study, trade training, community initiatives, sport, leadership training or personal development courses.

The scholarships are made available through donations from corporate sponsors, philanthropic organisations and fundraising.

“Today is a celebration not only of our Award winners’ success but also an acknowledgement of all the people that have supported them to get where they are today,” Kelvin Davis said.

The Dom-Post celebrated the success of just one of them in an article it published yesterday, ahead of the presentation.  This was the story of Joe Fraser, who lives in Christchurch and was described as

” … living proof that state-arranged foster care is not a one-track road to a dead-end life.”

The Timaru Herald similarly reported on the success of a local lass, Angel Ellerbroek, whose academic and sporting achievements were recognised by the PM.

The Timaru 17-year-old was one of 28 youth to receive a scholarship at the PM’s Oranga Tamariki Awards, a ceremony celebrating the outstanding achievements of children who grew up in care or had been through the youth justice system, at Parliament in Wellington on Wednesday.

“It shows, in a way, that good things come out of a difficult life,” Angel told Stuff.

“It made me stronger. My advice is to just keep trying because when you fail, you can only go up from there.”

Angel was seven years old when she and her younger brother were taken into the care of Child, Youth, and Family (now Oranga Tamariki).

She credits Oranga Tamariki social worker Stevie James with doing a lot to support her interests.

“They’re great. They got me a brand-new laptop for school, and they pay for my sporting tournaments and music lessons.”

Uh, oh, Perhaps that was the snag when Stuff journalists elsewhere weighed the merits of this story. Oranga Tamaraki is a state agency that is being condemned by Maori leaders and by many media commentators as racist and/or colonialist.

Stuff this week declared it has embraced the so-called treaty principles that underpin the spread of an insidious ideology and vilification of the state child-care agency.

Social commentator and blogger Lindsay Mitchell seems as bemused as many other people by Stuff’s public confession to racist reporting in the past and its pledge, in its “brave new era”, to tell the truth!!

Mitchell writes: 

“So they kick off today with a confession that THEY made Maori the face of child abuse.

“To an extent this is true. The media in general focuses on Maori child abuse deaths more than non-Maori, sometimes because the behaviour of whanau keeps the case alive and dragging out over months and years. Cases where the offender pleads guilty and is processed through the system garner less attention.

“Anyway they start by slapping themselves over reported likelihood risks. They looked at stories from 2000 about Lillybing and James Whakaruru …  “

Mitchell at this point quotes from the Stuff confession:

“Both stories claimed Māori children were ‘five times more likely’ to be abused than Pākehā children.

“The statistic was not correct. At the time, around 25 per cent of children were Māori, and 75 per cent Pākehā: Three times higher, not five.

“The figure lowered even further when comparing Māori to non-Māori as a whole. An analysis by the Ministry for Social Development later showed Māori children were around 2.5 times more likely to be abused than non-Māori. A review of literature predominantly published in the early 2000s showed the rate of maltreatment among Māori was consistently double that of non-Māori. 

“A rate two or three times higher than other groups is still significant, and the essence of the claim – Māori are overrepresented in child abuse figures – was accurate.

“But the inaccurate ‘five times more’ figure was not corrected, and served as a springboard for fevered coverage in the months afterwards, seemingly used as permission to cover Lillybing’s death in a racialised way.”

Mitchell helpfully brings matters forward by citing the most recent, and more relevant, Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths (CAN)  official data from 2009 to 2015:

“Māori children were three times more likely to die from CAN than non-Māori children. Similarly, offenders of Māori ethnicity were six times more likely to be responsible for CAN deaths than those of non-Māori ethnicity. When stratified by age, the rate of CAN deceased was highest among children aged 0–4 years and, for Māori, the rate of the children killed by CAN aged 0–4 years was four times higher than the non-Māori rate.”

Mitchell then addresses Stuff’s attempt at revisionist impartiality by bringing up the names of non-Maori children who were killed in filicide/parental suicide events and under-reported.

“There isn’t a lot to be said about open and shut cases of this nature. They are mental crisis events which often come out of the blue. The children are seemingly well-cared for, even over-loved. The media can’t hammer CYF failure, or police inaction or follow a court hearing.

“The reason the two aforementioned Maori child cases garnered so much attention was the revelations of the ongoing abuse and gross neglect leading up to the deaths. To compare them to cases where the parent took their own life is a mistake. In the former we had adults trying to absolve themselves or cover up for someone, ongoing police investigations and a court case; in the latter, parents who no longer wanted to live and decided to take their children with them.

“The inclusion of these types of child deaths (9) in the CAN stats probably lowers the Maori likelihoods cited above but the report does not separate the types of CAN deaths by race.”

Mitchell found clues relating to quintile deprivation which suggest the filacide/parental suicide cases are non-Maori (although she acknowledged the unusual and very sad recent case up on the East Coast would change the next lot of stats):

“… among the offenders whose socioeconomic status was known, deprivation differed for the different types of CAN death events.

“A deprivation gradient was noticeable for fatal physical abuse/grossly negligent treatment death events – two-thirds (67 percent) of the offenders who killed children by fatal physical abuse/grossly negligent treatment were from the most deprived neighbourhoods (deprivation quintile 5) and no offenders were from the least deprived neighbourhoods(deprivation quintile 1).

“By contrast, the neonaticide and filicide with parental suicide CAN death events involved offenders from neighbourhoods that spanned the range of deprivation quintiles…

 “The distributions of Māori deceased and offenders were skewed towards the most deprived quintile, whereas for non-Māori the deceased and offenders were more evenly distributed across the range of deprivation quintiles. No Māori offenders responsible for CAN deaths lived in the least deprived neighbourhood. “

In conclusion, Mitchell concedes that yes, Stuff probably did disproportionately report on Maori child deaths.

BUT – she insists – there are reasons for this that go beyond race. They relate to the circumstances surrounding the death.

For our part, here at Point of Order, we are left wondering about Stuff’s assigning sparse editorial resource to cherry-picking through the archives.

Was there nobody spare to winkle out more than just two of the good-news stories that can be told by 28 award winners?

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