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Renewed Focus On Children’s Wellbeing Urgently Needed – Chief Children’s Commissioner

No child should be going hungry in Aotearoa New Zealand, and bold, focused action and significant investment in our young people is urgently needed so they can grow up safe and thriving, says Chief Children’s Commissioner Dr Claire Achmad.

The latest Annual Report for the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, released today, highlights some key focus areas to make this change.

It also shows that limited progress has been made since the baseline reporting year, with many of the measures now reverting to those from before the Covid-19 pandemic. These include rates of avoidable hospitalisations, school attendance rates and the effect of unaffordable housing on families.

Disparities experienced by mokopuna Māori, disabled children and Pacific children also remain persistent, for example the report highlights that Māori children are 2.2 times more likely to experience food insecurity than non-Māori.

Responding to the report, Dr Achmad says that “ending child poverty must be a project of national significance led by successive governments.

“It needs cross-party commitment, and focused policies, investment and tracking over time, to bring our unacceptably high rates of poverty down. This is needed in the best interest of children.

“A long-term, cross-government approach to ending poverty and giving effect to our Child Poverty Reduction law has the potential to make a real difference to children and young people’s lives, and to help alleviate many of the stressors placing pressure on our poorest, most disadvantaged families,” she says.

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“With the Government soon to re-set the goals under the Child Poverty Reduction Act (as required by the Act), it is now urgent that we apply the political commitment to set and achieve, effective targets.

“We will also get the strongest long-term outcomes for children if there is a commitment across our Parliament to put ending child poverty above party politics, in the spirit of the agreement that led to the Act being passed in 2018.

“This report is a stark reminder that continued focus on children is needed, particularly when it comes to their physical and mental wellbeing.”

Dr Achmad says that while the Government has recently announced plans to address truancy, the factors affecting school attendance are complex and include things like poor mental health and schoolworkrelated anxiety, bullying, racism and discrimination being experienced at school and learning spaces, as well as stressful family situations and structural barriers.

“We also know that hunger affects children’s learning and their ability to concentrate at school, and that mokopuna with reduced nutrient intake are more likely to experience poor health and malnutrition, as well as other challenges to their development.

“These factors provide a strong argument for the continuation and strengthening of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme, and more measures to alleviate food insecurity in general. Let’s continue to provide healthy school lunches in ways that make them available to as many children as possible, without stigma,” she says.

While the report provides a longer time series to allow us to better understand trends, it also exposes a lack of available data about the big challenges facing children, with a significant proportion of the measures unable to be compared over the past four years. It also lacks specific findings about Pacific children and other population groups previously reported on.

Thishighlights the need for ongoing evidence about children’s outcomes and how their rights are tracking, something the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently urged the Government to improve.

“Robust data and research about children’s outcomes is an essential building block not only to understand children’s lives, but to inform decisions that improve their wellbeing.

“It’s good that this report provides a range of data points, but I will continue seeking assurance that the Government is commissioning good data about children and young people that highlights where more focus is urgently needed when it comes to policies, investment and supports.

“This is vital so that we can see every child growing up loved, safe, healthy and flourishing to their full potential.”

Find the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy Annual Report for 2022/23 here.

Mana Mokopuna – Children and Young People’s Commission is an Independent Crown Entity, and is the independent advocate for all children and young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Chief Children’s Commissioner is the full-time, visible advocate for all children and young people, and is the Chair of the Mana Mokopuna Board.

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