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Growing up in New Zealand Provides New Insight

Growing up in New Zealand Provides New Insight into the Lives of Our Children up to Two Years of Age


Auckland, 17 June 2014 – High levels of mobility and the diverse environment of New Zealand families with young children challenge the way we provide education, health and social services, according to a new report from Growing Up in New Zealandreleased today.

Growing Up in New Zealand, based at the University of Auckland, is the country’s largest and most up-to-date longitudinal study, able to provide a vivid picture of the reality of life for young children and their families in New Zealand today.

The latest report from Growing Up in New Zealand, ‘Now We Are Two: Describing our first 1000 days’ provides new insight into the lives of two-year-olds in New Zealand - describing health and safety, emotional and behavioural development, and early learning of the nearly 7000 children that are part of this research project.

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life - from gestation until the age of two – are critically important for shaping lifetime development.

‘Now We Are Two: Describing our first 1000 days’ builds on the previous reports from Growing Up in New Zealand released in 2010 and 2012 which described these same families and children before they were born and throughout infancy.

As the story of the Growing Up in New Zealand families continues we see that these children remain highly diverse in terms of their identity, development and capabilities. Many two-year-olds are using technology with ease, and a majority are spending an average of 1.5 hours per day in front of television.

These children are also commonly multilingual. Just under half are able to understand more than one language at two years old, most commonly English and Te Reo Māori.

This report also shows that New Zealand two-year-olds are living in a wide range of household types and economic circumstances, and are taking part in a wide range of activities in their communities.

“Our third comprehensive report ‘Now we are two’ provides an overview of milestones the Growing Up in New Zealand children have reached at this point, and the environment within which they live, learn and play. We are building an understanding of what has shaped our children’s development and how their families are supported to help them reach their potential,” says Study Director Associate Professor Susan Morton.

“This information is made available to policy makers so that they can understand what is working well for all our families as well as what we might do better to reach children who are most in need.”

Many things are going well for these toddlers and their families. However, this report also highlights areas where New Zealand could do much better: “Infectious diseases are common, and hospital admissions for respiratory and other illnesses are also high,” explains Dr Morton.

“We are hopeful that the information we are collecting from the families and the children themselves will help us to understand how we can improve these statistics, and importantly how we can reduce the inequities in outcomes some groups of children experience.”

Now We Are Two: Describing our first 1000 days’ also looks at how the home environment, childcare arrangements, socioeconomic situation and support structures for families have changed over the first two years of life for these children.

As Dr Morton explains: “Because we now have information over three time points we can begin to appreciate how families and environments change for children over their early years, and how these changes influence growth and development. The depth of information available is an important strength of this type of longitudinal study, and can really help us understand what works for our children rather than just describing the problems they face.”

One of the striking features of change in the lives of our families seen in the Now We Are Two report is the high mobility between and within neighbourhoods. Approximately 2000 families have moved since their child was nine months old, and mobility was also high in the infancy period.

“The high mobility, the diversity of the environment, and the changing circumstances of families challenges us to consider how we best deliver health, education and social services to support these children during their earliest years,” says Dr Morton.


Key results from “Now we are two

The personalities and skills of New Zealand two-year-olds
- There is significant ethnic diversity within the cohort. One quarter of the Growing Up in New Zealand children are identifed as Māori, 20% as Pacific, and one in 6 as Asian. Multiple ethnicities are also very common (almost half of the children).
- Two thirds of the children knew they were a boy or a girl, and the same proportion used their own name or expressed their independence by typically saying 'do it myself'.
- Tantrums were the norm for children at two years, with four out of five often expressing themselves this way.
- Bananas were the most common favourite first food; and saying 'mum', 'mummy' or 'mama' was the most common first word.
- More than 40% (around 2,500) of our children understand two or more languages at two years old. Te Reo Māori was understood by 12% of children in the cohort, and we are looking forward to exploring the use of language further and how this may or may not impact with access to appropriate service and programme delivery.
- We are starting to see that this new generation of children is a generation of digital natives. Around 80% watched TV or DVDs daily at age two, a greater proportion than the 66% who have had books read to them every day. One in seven had already used a laptop or kids computer system.

The health and safety of New Zealand two-year-olds
- 86% of children were described as in very good or excellent health.
- 92% of children were fully immunised at two years of age.
- Just under half of the cohort had had an ear infection and 14% a skin infection since they were nine months old; tummy bugs and chest infections were also common at this age.
- 10% of children had been told by a doctor that they have an allergy of some kind, with egg and dairy being the most common allergens.
- Working smoke alarms were only present in 79% of the children’s homes and 38%
of children were living in a house without a fully fenced off driveway.
- Just under one third of children had had a significant accident requiring medical help.
- One fifth of children had experienced at least one hospital stay by the time they were two years old.

The families and environments of New Zealand two-year-olds
- 69% were living in a household with two parents present (and no other adults, but possibly other children), and 20% were living in an extended family household (including one or two parents). More children (6%) were living in a household with their parent(s) and non-kin (such as flatmates) than those living with a single parent (without other adults, but possibly with other children; 5%).
- The proportion of children living in extended family households differed according to their identified ethnicity. Approximately 43% of children who identified as Pacific, 27% of children who identified as Asian and 27% of children who identified as Māori were living in extended family households. This is compared to the 14% of children who identified as European living in an extended family household.
- Just over half (55%) of the children lived in family owned accommodation at two years of age. The remaining 45% lived in rented accommodation, the majority of which (86%) was private rental accommodation.
- The families showed high levels of mobility, with around one-third (approximately 2,000) families having moved house since their child was nine months. Despite this high mobility (and the challenge of life with a toddler), 92% of the recruited families continue to be committed to being involved in Growing Up in New Zealand. This commitment reflects how important our families feel it is to be able to contribute their stories to shaping policy and programmes in New Zealand now and into the future.
- We are seeing changes in the children’s environments over time. For example, approximately 300 children and their families were living in more crowded conditions in their homes at two years of age (compared to at nine months), while a similar number are now in less crowded conditions. Around 300 families moved out of their own homes into rental accommodation, while approximately the same number moved into their own homes.
- While they were recruited from the Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato District Health Board regions, the Growing Up in New Zealand children are now living from Kaitaia to Bluff, and many overseas.

Systems and supports for New Zealand two-year-olds
- Half of the mums of the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort were not in paid work when their children were two, but almost all of the fathers were in paid work at this stage. On average, the mothers in paid work were working 29 hours per week.
- Over half of the children at two years were in regular early childhood education and care predominantly because of the work and study commitments of their parents but also because their parents were interested in the positive impact that this education may have on the social and language development of their children. When children were not in regular education or care, 10% of their mothers described cost to be a barrier.56% of children were being looked after regularly each week by someone other than their parents. This had increased from the 35% of children in regular formal or informal early childhood education and care at nine months of age.
- The average length of time that two year olds were spending in their main child care type was 24 hours per week. The average cost of childcare per week was $160 (median $144). A childcare subsidy was knowingly received by 879 families (23% of the families using childcare).

About Growing Up in New Zealand

Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study following the lives of approximately 7,000 families that provides a contemporary, population relevant picture of what it is like to be a child growing up in New Zealand in the 21st century. The ethnicity and socio-demographic characteristics of the children and families in the cohort are broadly generalisable to those of children being born in New Zealand today.

Growing Up in New Zealand is unique for its inclusion of significant numbers of Maori, Pacific and Asian children as well as New Zealand European and other ethnicities, and for the representation of families from across the socioeconomic spectrum. This study is unlike any other data source in its ability to contribute evidence of what works in contemporary New Zealand to inform policy evaluation and development.

Growing Up in New Zealand is University of Auckland-led research and funded by multiple government agencies. The government contract for the study is managed by the Families Commission.

ends

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