2017 winner of Oranga Tamariki Award defies all odds

By Leah Te Whata

Seventeen-year-old Lucas Walters, who has been in State care for most his life, is the recipient of the Oranga Tamariki Tertiary Award at this year's William Wallace Awards.

The achievement comes with a $3000 scholarship which will go towards his university studies next year.

Coming up through state care has been a tough journey for Walters, but in his success, he is defying all odds.

"Coming through the system was hard, but these statistics that are put against me," says Walters, "It kind of inspires me to be better than what people have stereotyped me to be."

More than 4,700 New Zealand children were in and out of home placements as of June this year, with more than 2,800 of them being Māori. 

Walters' Social Worker, Emma Ostman, says it's Oranga Tamariki's job to support young people to achieve the best that they can.

"It is definitely a challenge for Māori children in care but it's up to us as an organisation.  It's us as social workers bring that out in them because everyone has it in them and everyone deserves the same opportunity in life.”

Walters recently graduated high school at just 17 years of age after being put ahead a year.

He says a life experience like his has the potential to break, or in this case, make a person.

“Coming through a bad situation there's an ultimatum of two options.  You come out as a better person or as a worse person, so I think you should always aspire to come out the other side a better person." 

Walters says that without the right support systems, he could have easily fallen through the cracks of the New Zealand child welfare system.

"I have so many people to thank, having had the support network that I've had. I feel that if I didn't have such great support then I would have probably just fallen through the system and struggled a little bit more."

Receiving the Oranga Tamariki Tertiary Award scholarship has provided a boost for Walters who is considering his career options while looking positively to the future.