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Living in poverty effects children’s development from start

A new analysis of Growing Up in New Zealand (GUINZ) data released today contains some “disturbing and challenging findings”, according to the Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

Babies who experience poverty and hardship in the first year of life are at greater risk of later emotional and behavioural problems than babies living in better material circumstances.

The new report identified a difference in babies' temperaments, strongly associated with their living conditions at nine months. This is particularly significant because other research indicates that negative emotions and behaviour as a baby, such as being unsettled or angry, are associated with problems later in childhood, including hyperactivity, anxiety and depression, and conduct problems.

“In fact the report tells us that babies, whose mothers reported high levels of material hardship when their children were around nine months old, had almost triple the risk of negative emotions and behaviour than babies who didn’t live in hardship,” says Commissioner Becroft.

"We already knew that living in poverty sets children up for poor physical health, such as respiratory problems. But this research tells us it affects their social, emotional and behavioural foundations as well, and from the earliest months".

“This data shows us clearly that the tentacles of poverty and material disadvantage reach into many areas and aspects of an infant’s life. Living in poverty with a baby has profound negative effects for mothers and their children. The worse the poverty, the worse the impact. It’s vital that we recognise the wide-ranging effects child poverty has.

“That’s why the Child Poverty Reduction legislation is of such crucial importance. Reducing material hardship and poverty for families with children should have flow on effects that benefit child, mother, and the community as a whole” says Judge Becroft.

“We know the first three years of life are a crucial foundation where both positive and negative development starts. These findings show that we need to be supporting young families better, right from the beginning.”

Judge Becroft looks forwards to more analyses of the GUINZ data. The babies whose experiences were analysed in this report are now eight years old. “How these children have fared in the past seven years is something we can learn from” he says.

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