After the launch of the Child Rich Bright Spots Report back in 2016, a number of the community-led initiatives featured in the report came together to share learning and ideas. Some were based around an early childhood hub, others around developing their local park, some focused on engaging and empowering leadership of local parents, others on youth voice, supporting gang whānau, and building safe streets for kids. What the group first saw was how different they all were. After the morning’s korero though, what they all shared in common was much clearer – enabling wellbeing for their tamariki.

This is a timely reminder of the need to focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. Focusing our efforts on our children and youth brings joy, hope, possibility and resilience. Especially when we let their voices and energy lead out on what matters most to them. They can help us as adults transcend barriers and divisions, if we’re willing to share power and put their needs and ideas at the centre. 

The care environment our children live in is crucial. We know so know much about those first three years of life, and the importance of a stable and supportive homelife and community. Time and again we see that children and youth thrive when they are connected to whenua/place and feel a sense of belonging and identity. 

Mātauranga Māori inherently knows that connection to whenua, to place, relationships and whakapapa is nurturing and mauri-ora building. The NZ Child Youth Wellbeing Strategy lists connection as a key determinant of wellbeing. The Strategy and its 2022 Review noted the importance of harnessing collective ownership and involvement of children and young people, enabling whānau centred, community-led approaches, and embedding te ao Māori concepts of wellbeing. And yet, committed investment and focus in these areas remains slim.  

As a Child Protection Consultant for many years, I remained constantly surprised how quickly we adults assume a default ‘adult view’ position in our methods of engagement. Without a deep and holistic commitment to go beyond the tick boxes- to really lead out with youth, child and whānau-led and centred responsive practice, with inbuilt reality checks and reviews –the same old things happen. 

So, are we doing enough in our work lives, our personal lives and our community lives, to ensure this pathway of resilience and health, of connection to place, is available directly to our children? Many places across the motu are and we need to hear more about these. This why the Child Rich Communities project was created – to elevate and celebrate those locally working in mana enhancing ways with and for our tamariki. 

In Aotearoa, there are some amazing youth-led projects and spaces, whānau led community hubs, and child focused initiatives which are being driven and led by local places. Where these initiatives have a focus on leadership by rangatahi, whānau and tamariki, whānau become involved from all generations, neighbours are brought along too. Many different services begin to connect and provide support where it’s needed. Soon wellbeing outcomes increase for a pocket of that community, sparking potential for wider impact in the rest of the community too.  

Te Tiriti o Waitangi provides us with a foundation and pathway to shape our engagement with all tamariki, rangatahi and whānau in community. Communities around the motu have reported the Child Rich Community Practices are a useful starting point to nudge into this child and youth-rich way of engaging, of enabling self-determination and collective leadership around what matters locally.  

For 2024, let’s deepen our commitment to work together for the health of our children and young people, in the place where they live, the place where they can belong – their community.  

Mā whero, mā pango ka oti ai te mahi 
With red and black the work will be complete 

Louise Petzold
Child Rich Community Project Lead

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