The Sons of No One

Pacific violent youth offenders are typically older when they first offend and more likely to commit a violent offence as a first crime. While they are not over-represented in crime statistics, they are over-represented in terms of serious and violent behaviour. SPASIFIK talks to DR JULIA IOANE regarding what we need to understand about Pacific youth offenders and ourselves



What are the key risk factors for Pacific youth offenders? And, what is it about them that we most need to understand?


Research shows that poverty, family violence and being male are key risk factors for offending among Pacific youth. And those who reoffend are more likely to be born in New Zealand.


From a clinical perspective, Pacific youth offenders tend to come from families where there is an absence of a ‘quality relationship’ between parents and their children. There is also a disconnect of culture and identity, which leads to the desire to seek a connection with other people and other things.


If we think that, for Pasifika, our whole being is based on our identity in relation to others, the land and environment – lack of understanding around identity can increase the risk towards others and the ‘self ’. Youth offenders often report that family plays a significant part in their lives. However, the nature and quality of the relationship is frequently disconnected and fragmented.


Exposure to domestic violence and lack of parental supervision are common themes among Pacific youth offenders. Do the biggest risks for our children reside inside the home or outside the home?


I think it’s both. Environment plays an important role in a person’s upbringing. Pacific youth offenders are typically raised in low socio-economic environments, which increase their exposure to poverty, crime, gangs and the stereotypes projected on them as growing up in such areas.


Early intervention is the key to reducing risk factors in the home – providing parents with the economic, psychological, social and spiritual support to be able to parent their children effectively.


Pacific Island children and youth do most of their learning from modelling. If we focus on providing support and resources for parents in the home, there is more of a chance that young people will do well. They are more likely to be provided with the appropriate skills and strategies from an early age to learn and build relationships with others. They are also more likely to manage stress and challenges as they transition from childhood to adolescence if their parents are equipped with the necessary skills.


On the other hand, parents should accept that they too need to ask for help and support with their children. Domestic violence is not just about being physical, it also involves yelling and screaming, and emotional abuse. We all need help at some point and if parents are able to seek and accept help, their children are more likely to ask for help too.


If we turn the lens on ourselves, what does Pacific Island youth offending say about us and the way that we care for our children?


For Pacific youth engaged in offending behaviour, family violence is a consistent presence in their lives.


As Pacific peoples, we may be proud of the indigenous principles that we live by – alofa (love), loto maulalo (humility) and fa’aaloalo (respect) – but we have somehow lost the genuine meaning of this living in a diverse community in Aoteroa. Parents need to ask for help with their own anger and frustration, which can be triggered by stress, poverty and other commitments.


Parenting practices that have been used to teach our children, such as yelling, hitting and abusing them, do not work and are illegal. There are many more appropriate parenting practices to ensure a positive outcome for the health and the wellbeing of our Pasifika children and youth. It is time for parents to seek help. While our children and youth engaged in offending behaviour need help, so too do parents.


For me, the priority is to work with the young person within the context of the family. The family is integrated within the life of a young person and if the family doesn’t change, that young person cannot change.