Elders reach out to Maoris, Islanders across west

Maori elders from across the western suburbs will walk the streets in a bid to help young people at risk.

The group, known as the Victorian Maori Wardens, was launched in Hoppers Crossing earlier this month.

It aims to prevent Maori and Pacific Islander young people ending up in prison.

Chairman James Hohepa Smith, a warden at Deer Park’s Metropolitan Remand Centre, became involved after noticing an increasing number of Islander youth coming to the centre in the past seven years.

“It is concerning,” he said. “We want to engage with youths on the street before they end up in custody.”

Mr Smith said the group had 84 members throughout Victoria, although most were based in the western suburbs.

Wardens will patrol areas where Islander young people are known to hang out and provide them with someone to talk to about their problems.

“A lot of Islander youth find it easier to open up with their own than the police. They see us as a big brother,’’ Mr Smith said.

“We hope to identify the issues and problems facing our youths and redirect them to positive activities.”

The group is seeking support from Victoria Police. It is hoped that police will agree to refer young people to the wardens for help and support.

The group is modelled on the Queensland Maori Wardens, which has been running since 2010.

Mr Smith said the role of wardens was steeped in New Zealand’s history, with elders regularly helping young people at risk of getting into trouble with police.