David Taylor is a 47-year-old youth forensic clinician with Te Roopu Kimiora, a child and adolescent mental health and addiction service operating in Whangarei. In 2015 he completed a two-year post graduate certificate in health science (Infant, Child and Youth) with the University of Auckland as part of the Skills Matter programme.

David’s role is to support youth going through the youth court for alleged offending. Typically, he works with whānau and other agencies to assess the psychiatric and psychological needs of a young person, as well as other factors that may have a bearing such as their education, home life, cultural connectedness, past offending, addictions and disability. A report is then presented to the court suggesting a direction for the young person and how they can best be supported through the court process and beyond.

Growing up

David is himself no stranger to the poor choices many of these young people may have made. In the late 1970s, he says, he was a “young person well known to the police” mainly for offences around petty crime. He was the youngest of four children living with their solo mother in South Auckland.

“We had no money and there were very few opportunities or things to do in the community, and I think that was behind a lot of the bad choices I made and the groups I chose to associate with,” he says.

David Taylor wins world champion title in Tokyo, 1997

In fact it was a police officer who first helped David begin to set his life straight.

“I remember him saying to me, ‘It’s either court or sport’. He meant that if I kept going the way I was then I would end up in the judicial system, so maybe I should turn my interest to sport. Everyone admired Bruce Lee at that time, so I decided to take up karate,” David says.

It’s certainly worked for him. He started in 1980 and by the late 1990s was competing at an international level in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Australia. In 1997 he took a world champion title in Tokyo.

First tastes of tertiary education

As his sporting career began to wind down David decided to pursue further education through a Bachelor of Social Work degree. But upon submitting his first assignment he was referred to the disability service and diagnosed with dyslexia.

“That came as a real shock,” says David. “There I was a world champion and I thought I was doing really well, and then I get diagnosed as having a special need! I didn’t expect that.”

However much it hurt his pride David decided to move ahead and accept the many forms of support that were offered to him – and that’s a lesson he teaches to whomever he can in his work.

It was his passion for youth and whānau, and the struggles he’d faced himself when young, that had led David towards social work.

“When I’m working with a young person I think about my own journey and use my experiences to plant some seeds of hope for young people; to see them not go down the paths I went down; to see them make better choices where I made poor ones.”

Career path

David started with Waipara Trust in 2004. After two years he began working for Child Youth and Family and it was there that his interest in mental health began to grow.

“I noticed the mental health component was missing in a lot of the work we were doing to support young people at that time, and the focus seemed mainly to be on criminal proceedings,” he says.

After five years he began work for current employer Te Roopu Kimiora where, he says, the focus is much more on health, wellbeing, education and reducing offending.

“Mental health is really exciting to me and a whole new journey,” he says.

“I’ve dealt with the justice system for eight years and I now realise that mental health is a huge player behind the scenes in youth offending. If a young person is acting in a certain way, you can bet there are a whole lot of contributing factors as to why. But that was something we hadn’t really been trained in.”

A new opportunity

David jumped at the chance when his manager Agnes Daniels suggested he upskill by doing the postgraduate certificate and says it was a real eye-opener almost immediately.

“I started to see the whole spectrum around the work I wanted to do. I started to learn about the triggers for anxiety, anger and at risk behaviour, and what contributes to those. I learned about the significance of historical trauma and the positives or negatives around peer association.

“These were the things being faced by the young people I was working with, affecting their minds and mental growth. Properly understanding this has enabled me to take a much more holistic approach; to explore and really widen my scope.”

Get by with a bit of help…

Under the Skills Matter programme David received funding from Te Pou that covered his course fees and some assistance through the travel and accommodation grants. He says he could not have done the course without it.

“I am so grateful for Te Pou’s support, I mean like far out grateful!”

He was also well-supported by Te Roopu Kimiora. His manager gave him time off to study and made sure her door was always open when David wanted advice or help with what he didn’t understand. He also reported to a supervisor at work who was also always there for him.

Likewise the lecturers at the University of Auckland offered an open door policy. David felt he could contact them at any time to pose questions, discuss options or ask about how he was meeting his milestones.

“Even though it was just me doing the study, I really felt I had this big supportive team all around me and it was great to be part of that,” he says.

David is really happy in his current role and finds forensics fascinating. He says it’s an emerging field that is heading in the right direction and one of many services vital to supporting the young person and their whānau.

“I love what I’m doing but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Te Pou and the many wonderful mentors I have met along the way.”