Jacob Batten will always remember October 30 – the day he not only received awards from his college, but was also a guest at a royal reception, hosted by the Prime Minister.
It was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for the 17-year-old who had a troubled family life but thrived when he was given a home by a local caregiver.
The Whangaparāoa College student received the Academic Councillor’s award, as well as the Year 12 Dean’s award in recognition of his academic achievements and contribution to the school, which includes starting two support groups.
Jacob is also active in youth work outside the school, both with CYC Trust and as secretary of the National Youth Council of Voice of Young and Care Experienced (VOYCE).
Along with other VOYCE representatives, Jacob was invited to a royal reception at Auckland Museum with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and Megan Markle) and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
A total of 100 representatives of youth organisations attended the reception.
Jacob says that the event was an eye opener – from the amazing food to the engaging and heartfelt speeches given by Prince Harry and Jacinda Ardern.
“Their speeches thanked us for all the contributions that we have made in the community,” Jacob says. “Prince Harry talked about the importance of youth mental health support. I felt blessed – it felt as though he was talking directly to me, which was a bit surreal, having only seen him on TV before.”
He shook hands with Megan Markle, who came around to meet the various groups.
VOYCE is relatively new on the scene, having started around seven months ago. It was put together by Government to ensure that people who are, or have been, in care have their voices heard.
Jacob has been the secretary since the organisation started.
“Previously there wasn’t an organisation of young people, only for them,” he says. It’s been great, because I feel I am being listened to, as someone who has been in care and we have given feedback on Bills that are before parliament that affect us.”
Jacob and his two younger brothers went into care in 2015. Since their parents separated in 2014, they had been living with their father and Jacob says that environment was not a safe or healthy one.
“Dad wasn’t responsible and was involved in drugs and alcohol. My education was being jeopardized because I couldn’t focus on that when I was effectively being the parent to my brothers.”
CYFs (now Oranga Tamariki) took us out of that environment for our safety, but it was a shock because I was taken from school without any warning, which was the safest way to do it. I had no time to process it.”
Jacob and his brothers went into the care of a local woman, which was supposed to be transitional, for 10 days.
The stability that this home provided enabled Jacob to thrive, and three years later it is still his home.
“It’s been amazing to be in a loving stable home and know I’m going to be fed and cared for. I used to be very shy and closed off, but slowly it became clear that what had been going on in my family wasn’t normal. From then on, I took every opportunity to do as well as I could.”
Jacob says he loves school and will continue his studies, with a focus on social studies subjects, next year. After that he hopes to become a youth worker.
“I may go into politics one day, but that’s all a long way off,” he says.