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PHA calls on teachers to be alert to child poverty

Media release -attention education and social issues reporters

PHA calls on teachers to be alert to child poverty

When it's lunchtime, they pretend they're not hungry or they forgot their lunch. When there's a school trip, they've forgotten their permission slip. On special PTA lunch days to raise school funds, they claim they don't like hot dogs or pizza.

With the start of the new school year, the Public Health Association is calling on teachers to be alert to the signs of child poverty that can have a major effect on student learning and health. PHA director Dr Gay Keating says government statistics show a third of New Zealand children are living in poverty and this can mean there is no money for lunch, school outings or sports activities.

Dr Keating says many schools are becoming increasingly familiar with the tactics children employ to avoid the embarrassment of not having any money. Even routine costs such as $25 to $40 for a team uniform, or money for course materials, can be beyond the means of many families, Dr Keating says.

"Teachers are not employed as social workers but school is the place where the red flags come up."

She says child poverty is a major issue for some schools because hungry children are not able to concentrate as well in the classroom and poor nutrition is associated with lifelong health problems. Some schools in poorer communities provide food for children without lunches but Dr Keating says it is important schools in affluent areas do not assume all their families have adequate income to buy food.

"There are pockets of poverty in most affluent areas throughout New Zealand."

The PHA says one solution is a comprehensive government strategy on child health, starting with the basics of food, housing and income. The next budget must also give priority to those most in need.


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