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Speeches bring important focus onto children – UNICEF NZ

UNICEF New Zealand welcomes the ‘State of the Nation’ speeches delivered by National, Labour and the Greens for placing children at the centre of policy announcements early in this election year, but the charity is also stressing the need for greater cross-party agreement for NZ’s kids.

Deborah Morris-Travers, Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, said “These first big speeches of the year are important for setting out political priorities and promoting new policy, so it’s good to see children, education and alleviating poverty are high on the agenda.

“However, while each party has made positive announcements what’s missing is any evidence of agreement between the parties that could form the basis of cross-party agreement on the key priorities, as recommended by child advocates and also the parliamentary Health Select Committee. A strong cross party approach has seen our senior citizens rate highly in the OECD tables, but a lack of consensus for our kids means that many are missing out on a healthy childhood.

“The National Party has picked up on the importance of school leadership and clustering schools to share best practice in education to support improved student achievement. The investment of $359m over four years is significant and has the potential to greatly improve educational practice in the interests of children.

“We welcome the announcements, which are supported by evidence showing professional development and school leadership to be essential. However, we encourage National to also consider expanding policies that build the social wellbeing and health of children, through income, housing and family learning and literacy.

“When parents continue learning and education becomes a strong focus in every home, children will be better prepared for school. Continuing education increases the likelihood of employment and builds parents’ connections to community, while also supporting their mental health. It’s also strongly beneficial for our country’s economic development.”

Ms Morris-Travers added, “Labour has made a bold announcement about increasing income to families with the youngest children, improving antenatal services and investing in early childhood education. These policies respond to the recommendation from the Experts Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty for a universal child payment and recognise the particular vulnerability of babies and families with very young children.

“Improved access to antenatal services is an essential part of improving the safety of babies because it links families into community services and support before baby is born. Accessible early childhood education for three and four year olds makes an important contribution to the social and educational development of the children, while also enabling parents to work.

“Making early childhood education available to vulnerable children under three is also positive, with evidence showing that children living in poverty and stress are those that benefit most from participation in early education. Labour’s focus on income, child health and education is welcome.

“The Greens have also made important policy announcements focused on bringing health and social services into the school environment, increasing access to out of school care and co-locating early childhood centres with schools. These are policies that deliver significant benefits to children in countries such as The Netherlands, where child wellbeing is much higher than it is in New Zealand.

“The Greens’ policy recognises that a child’s readiness to learn is affected by hunger and health, with schools playing an important role in social wellbeing, community development and support for parents. In the parts of New Zealand where these are already operating, there are demonstrable benefits to the wellbeing of children, parents and communities alike.

“We welcome the fact that National, Labour and the Greens have all made strong policy statements in the interests of children, signalling that kids will be firmly on the agenda this election year.

“However, we also encourage parties to work towards identifying the common ground that exists between them so that in the post-election period they can establish agreed priorities that can be advanced beyond the three-year electoral cycle.

“This will help avoid the haphazard approach to policies for children that has, in previous years, created significant uncertainty and led to positive initiatives not being sustained in the long-term,” concluded Ms Morris-Travers.

ENDS

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