Knowing your rights
Introducing Chief's story
Chief’s story highlights the importance of rangatahi / young people knowing what their rights are, as well as the need for good support when things get tough for families. When Chief was very young, his mum got sick and had to be hospitalised for long periods. Without enough support in place for her, or people looking out for Chief, he was left to care for himself from a young age.
HOST: Kia ora, welcome to Hear Me See Me, a chance to hear young New Zealanders share their experiences, speak their minds and maybe even change yours. I’d like to introduce you to Chief, a young man who shares the challenges of his childhood and how starting his own family has given him a fresh focus for his future.
CHIEF: My earliest memory is from the age when I was five years old with my mum. Of like making stuff with her, doing painting and baking and cooking. My dad came from the Cook Islands. I don’t know much about my culture because my dad hasn’t been there for me to tell me about it. I still need to learn about it and I still want to go over to Rarotonga and see if I can bump into my dad’s mum because I know she lives there, so I could tell my son about our culture.
My mum’s always told my mates, you know, who I am. No one has pronounced me as pakeha because they always see me as that Cook Island person without that skin colour. Not much I can say about my dad. I’ve always had my mum there but from when I was five she started having health issues. She was in hospital long periods of time. Sometimes that could be one month, sometimes that could be three months or to five months.
I had to take care of myself when I was younger so therefore it made me kind of be more independent. I’d say that’s when everything went a bit different for me. From when I was five years old, I didn’t have any parents or anything, getting told what to do or what time to come home to and stuff. So therefore, it made me lead my own way and my own choices and made me lead to other places. I wouldn’t say I made good choices when I was a kid.
Four years old, I was walking around the streets. Even when it became nighttime, I'd still be around, walking around the grove or walking down to the park and hanging out with the kids at nighttime. It was common for all of us to be out at this time. The older kids would just show us bad influences I'd say, so therefore when we're watching them we would learn it.
The community place was for us kids to go to after school hours so we can have something to do and not go out and be mischief or anything. First thing that will happen when we turn up every day is that they would put a feed on for us or even a little snack. It would be like fruit, like sandwiches, fried bread, sometimes it might be a cooked meal if we were lucky. I'd say a good 30 of us every day. The people that ran it, they weren’t qualified people or anything whatsoever, just people that cared for us, for our community. It would be open from 3 o'clock say to 6 o'clock at night, 6:30 at the latest. It helped me in a way to stay away from trouble within those few hours of time.
When the community place would finish, say around 6:30, 6 o'clock, soon as the streetlights hit on we’d have to start making our way out and no parents or anything came and got us, we’d just make our way home ourselves. I made some good friends and some good memories and everything there I’d say. I don’t regret anything. Some of the people are my mates from this day dot. That community place isn’t there no more. The hall and everything is still there, just no people there to help us.
My dream would be to open that community place back up if money wasn't a problem. I'd like to change my community back to how it was when I was younger. I had support so therefore I want to provide the most I can for them. I want to at least help my neighborhood sharpen up a bit.
I was out on the streets at the age of four or five, you know, walking at night. I started wagging primary school. Not many kids wag primary school. So I got kicked out of primary and then I guess I was hanging out with teenage people you know and I got to intermediate, I started doing a lot worse stuff, so I was going downhill. I used to bring drugs to school and then started selling at age of 11. And then I was allowed to sign up for college and I was a kid that didn't care or would say stuff in front of teachers and then one of the teachers would hear that I was selling and then... that’s where everything went downhill, I think. School was reporting to CYFS. and then what made it worse was I stopped going to school. So then CYFS came to my doorstep and the police were there so I pretty much got arrested and took to a CYFS home for naughty kids and it's just like youth justice. You got to be good to get out and I could be there for months cos I always ran away. The police would find me on the street or maybe at a friends and then I'll go back to another boys’ home or in the cells.
The longest I've been in the cells for is three days cos sometimes the boys home is too full as well, you know. And sometimes cos all of us teenage boys are out at the weekend and that's the time everything happens. Say a group of teenage boys that got snapped and there's ten of them they could all go in that boys home just for the weekend and then I have to wait in the cells till that’s cleared out. There’s only a certain amount of people allowed in that boys’ homes as well. There’s only two boys’ homes in this whole Wellington district and I've been to both of those, yeah.
Parents do get a chance to have a FGC with their kid before they go into CYFS - family group conference. I’ve started in FGCs since I was the age of like 12 I’d say, 12, 13. I remember the first one was to do with the drugs and I was of course still the same kid and told them I don't want to listen to you I don't want to take any advice or anything.
My lawyer started helping when I turned 16. Made me feel like I had some power, I’d say that. We were in the FGC, just me and my lawyer you know, he’ll be my family member type thing with CYFS and then they all turn one, two, three like number talk you know and that's what got me like annoyed you know. They say that in front of me they know I don't understand that bit so I went to my lawyer what does that mean you know and he goes it means something something, you know, I’ll explain it to you all after cos I kept asking like I do not understand this bro it's getting me frustrated. He’s like I’ll explain it to you after, I’m like nah I need to know now cos if you tell me after, then there might be something I haven't agreed on. Then they’ve said that Section 123 talk. In a way they’ve shut me down in there talk with this section blah blah and they make me shut up cos I don't know what they are on about.
I think my lawyer thought I understood. I asked him after what they say and he says weren’t you listening or far- so now we’ve agreed with something we totally didn’t know. And he’s like so you don't know your rules and stuff and I’m just like no I don’t know nothing.
I signed this piece of paper though when I was 16 with them that if I was in trouble or anything like that it’d be reported to them right, but I can do my own thing like live elsewhere, like you know, live somewhere else but there's still rules in there. They agreed with me at least allowed me to stay wherever I wanted to when I'm 16 but I still was not allowed out of the CYFS system. There was a lot of arguing back and forth really so I had to figure out how to come back to this situation and work it better. I figured out it was one of my attitude and all that stuff too.
So I kept trying, I kept trying. I guess I started behaving better with CYFS and started communication with them. Started talking to my social worker a bit better instead of just giving them my attitude. I started listening and stuff. When we’re in a FGC, I was more civil and stuff so I came in and I was mature enough to at least say hi to them without being mad. So yeah, we got step one in and it was about where I should stay cos they knew I will never stay in the same spot with CYFS cos they know I run away. So then they finally came to a FGC where I could at least have some of my say, they said in a way tell me what you want cos you’re never gonna listen so tell me what you want. I was like far- you finally want to listen to me you know after like eight years of being in the CYFS system, seven years you know, they finally at least wanna listen to what I have to say. They finally had a FGC with me to sign these papers saying that I was allowed out and I was only like 17.
My girlfriend is how I ended up having a proper house to stay at as well [laughs]. How do I explain that - short story - I started dating her and started liking each other and ended up living at her mum’s cos they asked me where I lived and I say I pretty much have nowhere to stay, so then yeah straight away pretty much her mum just told me to jump in the house, you know, felt sorry for me and I was grateful for that and that’s what made sure I stayed out of trouble and made sure I stayed at hers. Yeah it started from there and then I was like she’s putting effort in for me and then that made me realise that I should start putting effort towards her. Even though I've never put any effort towards anyone else and I think that's where it made me realize [grunts in frustration] it’s hard to explain but I'd say it made me change living with her in a way because she showed me what love was and she showed me that she cared for me and even her mum did. I’ve never met someone like that you know they will just chuck me straight in and they didn’t even know me, and I told her I'm not the nicest person you know and stuff like you know I'm just trying to tell you who I was before I jumped in their house and the reason why I don’t have a house. They still chuck me in and let me stay in. So, made me be grateful for that and yeah.
I just had no education for ages I’d say year 11 so two years of just doing whatever I want still, two years of no school going up to college. Got to year 11 and then I heard of this Lyriks course and it’s a sports course and I was like oh I like sports and that’s the only thing I'll probably attend to be honest is a sports course. So I signed up for that. Lyriks is a sports academy course for naughty kids or kids that can't fit into a school educational system and that course is to help guide you through schoolwork educational wise. They make you start from the beginning though so say if you were year 11 and then you got there they’d give you year nine work from the start just to see where you are. If you smashed out a year nine book, they probably put you up or still leave you down type thing.
There was at least 20 of us turning up every day. We start around 9:30 in the morning soon as you walk into those doors. We would play rugby, mostly - tackle, touch – or else we’d go out for running and stuff like that, physical sports you know therefore we can hit each other without having a physical fist fight. We all come from different backgrounds, different hoods type thing you know. It was positive that's for sure no one left that field wanting to fight each other you know.
Yeah, my dyslexia doesn’t help with my educational wise. I'd say that was a bit of a struggle but I got through it somehow. So I reckon Lyriks understood the schoolwork too and the support as well. The schoolwork was a lot easier and if you struggle or anything all it takes is a hand up and they'll be right there you know. Whereas in another class, and school wise, if you put your hand up that teacher probably won’t even come to you cos there's so many other students they’re focusing about and they usually focus about the smart kids cos the smart ones are the ones that are taking it further education wise.
So I did the Lyriks course for a year solid and I actually passed and was allowed back to college. So that made me happy you know so that made me go ye-ah I can go back to school. So that’s what made me start thinking of changing too. So then I went oh yep I need to start focusing on school because I’m allowed back. And I was year 11, so then yeah I was accepted. I had an interview at college and they were like oh wow you’ve changed heaps apparently. Apparently that’s what Lyriks said so they accept me straight away and I was like sweet. And I think that’s what made me change my attitude and everything to is that people are saying I was doing good so you know so when I heard I was doing good that made me smile and be like yeah you know so that made me stay in class and stuff you know.
Ever since I had a baby that’s what made me change my life because I knew I had a kid and I knew I couldn’t keep on doing what I wanted to do. I just had to change, you know. It was a have to because your kid’s there, you know, I just had to. It was slowly I wouldn’t say I just changed like that you know like I got told that she was pregnant so I was like I'm having a baby, a bit excited but you know you don't see that baby there, you know what I mean, that stomach’s still flat and stuff so I was still doing me type thing but still trying to slowly change in a way.
I was 16 when she was pregnant and she was a bit younger than me so it was harder for her to get an income or anything so it was I had to get off my arse and get a job straight away so I knew I couldn't just go and sign up for a job or make me a CV so I was told to go through recruitment. I actually got a job straight away.
I want to be a painter because it's an ongoing job and because it will help me and my family to survive. I used to do a lot of art in school, I used to do graffiti as well that helps with how to use your paint and stuff. So there’s different ways of knowing how to paint. There’s people that say they know how to paint and then they’d paint a picture or something or like paint a wall and then that wall would be drippy. Whereas me, I'd say I have more experience with using spray cans or paint wise cos there's some learned technique with my painting skills because of the stuff I've done in my books and on the streets. I get a bit OCD if I’ve seen a wall that is painted so uneven that you can see different brushes in different places you know whereas I’m OCD I’d rather fix that up. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, I’d just say I think I can do better.
Things are good in my life right now. There are some struggles I have still from this day but I am still moving forward from it and fighting through it. I just want to have a good future so that's why I get up every day on my feet and keep going no matter what happens. I have a little family of mine too to support now, to worry about, not just myself. It changes my life in a way, well it’s changed it in a good way, 100 per cent in a good way. I wouldn’t know where I’d be to be honest.
HOST: Listening to Chief's story, I was really impressed actually by his attitude towards life especially from what he's experienced from such a young age. I think it's really amazing that he's had his own realization of really wanting to turn his life around. He's found good motivation for himself to do that with his family. I really like his attitude towards his family and for how young he is, it’s really cool to see how onto it he is but I can imagine how hard it would have been. His attitude towards it is quite amazing for what he's been through.
He’s been very independent and had to do everything for himself and create his own routine in life. He’s had no real guidelines and so his whole life has been based off exploration and experiments and that's how he's found his way through life. Being a 19-year-old with a family and a child I feel like it can be quite challenging with the way that the world looks in on you but I think that the way that Chief’s prepared for it is very different with his circumstances. He hasn't had that really strong connection to a family and so creating himself one has, I think, been a really good and amazing thing for him and you can tell that he's really passionate towards his family.
I think a lot of people would see a 19-year-old and be like that 19-year-old doesn't know what they're doing but I think he has a lot of ways in his life and a lot of examples that he doesn't want to follow and so he knows that he's definitely not going to do that and I think that's something really special for him to have in creating his own family. Yeah, so I think definitely he's got a really strong passionate motivation there for him.
If Chief’s story has brought anything up for you, please talk to someone you trust. You can also free call or text 1737 to connect with a trained counselor day or night. Hear Me See Me is a safe place for young New Zealanders to share their stories. Please encourage others to listen to them. If you have a story you'd like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or search Hear Me See Me NZ on Facebook or Instagram and send us a direct message. To find ways you can support young people and to see what others are doing go to hearmeseeme.nz. Kia kaha, ka kite anō.
How to help someone going through a similar experience
If someone you know is going through what Chief experienced you can help.
Reflecting on Chief's story
During his interactions with Child, Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki), he didn't feel listened to or understood. Social workers and lawyers used “tricky words” that confused him and blocked his access to be part of the decision making about his own life and circumstances. Having an advocate on his side to explain things clearly and to assert his rights may have led to different outcomes for him.
Chief says becoming a father helped him find purpose and made him grateful for the support he received from his girlfriend and her whānau. He was given the educational support he needed at Lyriks Sports Academy, and later got the chance to train as a painter. Chief is making the most of this opportunity to provide for his young whānau.
What have you learned from listening to Chief's story?