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Dyson: Launch of Growing Up Longitudinal Study

4 April 2008 Speech Notes
Hon. Ruth Dyson, Minister for Social Development and Employment

Address to launch of Growing Up In New Zealand - a Longitudinal Study of Children and Families

11am Tamaki Campus, University of Auckland.

Good morning everyone. It's a pleasure to be here.

I would like to acknowledge my fellow Members of Parliament who are here today, especially Steve Maharey who was so instrumental in promoting the value this study to his colleagues. I also want to extend my appreciation to the Vice Chancellors and the other university staff who have staged this event for us.

I'm delighted to be launching this important and exciting study. This will be one of the most significant social science projects ever undertaken in New Zealand.
I believe its real importance lies in its potential to help us in government give every child the best chance to succeed in life.

This study will help us to understand not only why some children fare poorly, but also why others excel and what we, as government, can do to improve those outcomes.

In recent years, the wider community has become familiar with the notion of long-term studies of child development. Programmes such as "Child of Our Time" and the "Seven Up"series have created a widespread awareness of their value and the significance of their findings.

We also have outstanding homegrown success in the longitudinal studies that have been underway in Dunedin and Christchurch for a number of years. I would like to acknowledge the ground breaking and internationally recognised work of both of these studies and their leaders, Professors David Fergusson and Richie Poulton.

The Christchurch and Dunedin studies have provided an excellent evidence base for public policy. For 30 years they have produced a stream of publications with important implications. They have demonstrated that longitudinal research is an area of expertise in which New Zealand is setting international standards. And they have provided insights that have grown into current policy initiatives.

Research has provided more information on the impact of poverty on child development including health, education and social outcomes. It provided the evidence base on which we could build a whole new programme of financial assistance for families with children.

The Working for Families package of support now reaches about three out of four families in New Zealand.

We expect Working for Families, along with decreasing unemployment and other government policies, to lift an estimated total of 130,000 children out of poverty - moving New Zealand into the top half of the OECD.

Other evidence from the Dunedin and Christchurch studies informed development of the government's Severe Antisocial Behaviour Plan. They confirmed how behaviour problems in early childhood can predict difficulties later in life. This gives us an opportunity to intervene early with effective services. Services that will address behavioural problems, support effective parenting and help children engage in social activities.

The Dunedin study early on showed how breastfeeding reduces the incidence of respiratory illness in young children. This finding has informed public health policy. We developed a number of targeted initiatives to build support for mothers caring for young babies. The Baby Friendly initiative funds health services to educate and inform parents about the benefits of breastfeeding and we have recently announced the introduction of legislation that will protect and promote breastfeeding by mothers in the paid workforce.

Another research finding was that early health problems such as glue ear can have a lasting impact on learning and behaviour. We have invested heavily in young children's health by ensuring that all New Zealand children under six now have access to free health care. We're also providing free screening to newborns and preschoolers to identify and offer support on hearing and other issues that might affect a child's future.

But we need to renew our investment in this type of research. This new study will give us information on new generations of children growing up in twenty-first century New Zealand. There's intense interest in the study from across the whole of the Government social policy sector.

That's why our Labour-led government has committed $7.5 million to get this study started and why I am extremely pleased to be able to announce today a further investment of $6 million dollars in Growing up in New Zealand. This additional funding of $3 million dollars a year over two years will enable the study to get on a firm footing and position itself to seek ongoing support as it progresses in the future.

One of the most important things about this new study is the highly collaborative way in which it's evolved. While it's being led by the University of Auckland, the study will actually involve researchers from four of our universities. The Ministry of Social Development has been working in partnership with the University of Auckland to set up the study and a wide range of other Government agencies have also become involved, both as funding partners and as active participants.
Support to date has come from the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, the Families Commission, the Ministry of Justice and New Zealand Police. I hope to see other agencies joining the partnership in the future.

This is an excellent, and possibly unique, example of research/policy collaboration. It provides me with great confidence that the study will really connect with some of the most difficult and enduring issues faced by government.
So it's clear that we all have very high expectations about what the study can provide. We're more than confident in the ability of the University of Auckland, and its partner institutions to de deliver what we need. The quality of work to date is clear evidence of that. In particular, I'd like to acknowledge the outstanding credentials of Dr Susan Morton and the strong leadership she's provided in developing a blueprint for the study, and building a team to undertake it. I congratulate you, Susan, on laying the groundwork and I look forward to seeing you building an outstandingly successful study.

This new study is set to be a remarkable journey of discovery for everyone involved. I celebrate the collaborative effort and sheer determination shown by all those responsible for the study's conception, its design, and its realisation.

Thank you and enjoy your day.


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