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Child & Youth Research a wake up call



27 November 2007

Child & Youth Research a wake up call for government

Richard Lewis, leader of The Family Party, says research by the NZ Child & Youth Epidemiology Service into child and youth wellbeing in New Zealand is a timely ‘wake up call’ for the government in its approach and attitude towards families.

Mr Lewis says the research titled “Monitoring the Health of NZ Children & Young People” paints a concerning picture of deprived living conditions being experienced by an unacceptable number of New Zealand children. Notably, the research highlights a direct correlation between family breakdown and detrimental home environments through a marked shift away from two-parent families over the last 25 years.

“This research tells us that the key to providing a healthy environment for New Zealand children is in the strength and prosperity of our families. There is no such thing as a poor child, just poor families. The problem with our government is it approaches children and young people independent of their parents. To change this picture, government needs to change its approach to families and particularly, New Zealand parents,” says Mr Lewis.

The research acknowledged the importance of family composition in terms of the socioeconomic resources available to dependent children. The 2004 Living Standards Survey suggested that 42% of sole parent families lived in significant or severe hardship, as compared to only 14% of two parent families. Such hardship resulted in families postponing children’s doctors or dentists visits, children sharing a bed, wearing poorly fitted clothes or shoes, or going without wet weather clothing. In addition, the survey noted that sole parent families were more likely to be reliant on benefits (sole-parent 62% vs. two-parent 6%) and that much of the differences in living standards between sole and two parent families was due to the formers greater reliance on benefits as their primary source of income.

Some of the research findings include:

 Hospital admission rates for childhood skin infections have increased in recent years and are currently double that of the USA and Australia. From 1990-2006, there was a large increase in the number of children and young people admitted to hospital with serious bacterial infections. Hospital admissions were notably higher for Pacific and Maori children and those living in deprived areas.

 High rates of child poverty, leading to low birth weight, infant mortality, poorer mental health and cognitive development and hospital admissions. In 2006, nearly 40% of all babies were born into New Zealand’s most deprived areas (Decile 8-10), with Maori and Pacific babies more likely to be born into deprived areas.

 Large increases in the number of children and young people living below the poverty line during 1998-2004. In general terms, Maori, Pacific, children of sole parents and beneficiaries, were more likely to be growing up with restrictions on socioeconomic resources.

 The estimated prevalence of Bronchiectasis for New Zealand children is 7 times higher than the only country (Finland) for which comparative incident figures are available. They are 3 times higher for Maori children and 12 times higher for Pacific Children. Incidents demonstrate a marked socioeconomic gradient, with nearly 70% of children in one study living in NZDep deciles 8-10. Hospitalisation has increased dramatically in the last decade. (Bronchiectasis is a progressive disease characterised by bronchial dilatation with or without associated damage to the brachial wall and lung parenchyma. The symptoms result in significant morbidity, lost school days and multiple absences for working parents of affected children. Children have reduced exercise capacity and may have slower growth)

The research noted that from 1980 – 2006, the socioeconomic position of Pacific and Maori babies did not improve appreciably over 26 years.

The research also revealed the proportion of benefit dependent children relying on DBP recipients increased during 2000-2007. Younger children were disproportionately reliant on benefit recipients.

“Intergenerational welfare dependency is a major problem in our country that is crippling the potential of our children. It is far too easy for fathers in particular, to walk away from their responsibilities to their children and their family. Likewise, state dependency through sole-parenting is viewed as a valid career pathway by an increasing number of young women. The problem is that our welfare system is creating a culture of dependency by making it more financially attractive for parents to live apart than to formalise their relationship and build a future for their children together. Moreover, Labour's approach of directly and indirectly over-taxing families is also inherently wrong and dissempowers families by requiring parents to 'line up and sign up' for money that was rightfully theirs in the first place," he added.

The Family Party will pursue policies that encourage enduring two parent families, raise the profile and positive image of marriage and parenting, pursue lower personal tax rates and remove incentives towards parental separation.


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