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New Research Reveals Racism, Inequities And Under-resourcing Failing To Protect Children Under Five In New Zealand

Racism, discrimination, under-investment in parenting and a broken care and protection system are failing to protect New Zealand’s youngest children at risk of violence and neglect, according to a new report from Save the Children.

Released today, Save the Children’s ‘ Child Protection Situational Analysis’ reveals numerous gaps across Aotearoa’s current care and protection system that signicantly impact the wellbeing of our under-fives. Gaps are evident at every level - system, institution and agency, service and programme, and within the workforce.

Rates of family violence, sexual violence, neglect, and poverty in New Zealand remain unacceptably high, with the research pointing to a systemic failure to address the structural drivers of poor outcomes for children, such as racism and discrimination, poverty and inequity. Tamariki Māori, Pasifika children, children in care and children with disabilities shoulder the burden of these poor outcomes.

Other findings reveal children’s lack of visibility and voice during times of vulnerability; a lack of support for families and whānau; and a system that is failing to adequately protect and care for children.

"The rst ve years of a child’s life is a critical time of development, which has a lifelong impact on their health and wellbeing," says Save the Children New Zealand’s Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey.

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"It is also a time of inherent vulnerability with children highly dependent on their caregivers, and with limited ability and opportunity to express their needs, feelings and wishes. Experts consulted for the research said that this is compounded by the fact that children under ve are frequently not prioritised in Aotearoa New Zealand, resulting in them often being invisible within the care and protection system.

"This research reveals less than 2% of Government funding is invested in primary prevention initiatives, such as strengthening families, culturally inclusive services, or a knowledge of positive parenting and child development. This shows us that significant investment is needed in this area if we are to shift the dial and prevent violence against young children."

Conducted by POINT Research, the analysis consists of a three-part literature review, which brings together evidence from overseas and here in Aotearoa New Zealand, within mātauranga Māori and through surveys of children, and interviews with 35 professionals working across the care and protection system including within health, justice, education, Oranga Tamariki, community support services, the disability sector, government monitoring agencies, system design, academia, and advocacy groups.

Save the Children is calling for an unwavering commitment from Government and all sectors across New Zealand to end the horrific rates of violence against our youngest children.

Says Ms Southey: "We’re interested in the commitments the Government will make to children in this week’s Budget and call for a greater focus on ending violence against children in Aotearoa New Zealand.

"The research shows poverty and toxic stress are key drivers of violence against children, so investment in strengthening families to have the resources and supports they need is crucial to reversing this."

The situational analysis found widespread agreement on the solutions required to ensure the care, protection, and wellbeing of children under ve in Aotearoa New Zealand. These encompass both immediate actions and longer-term transformational measures and include:

  • Support parents, family and whānau: Prioritise maternal mental health, address inequity and toxic stress within families and whānau, and nurture natural support systems.
  • Structural change: Uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi and embrace decolonisation and indigenisation.
  • Systems Change for children under ve: Create a system that centres children's needs and wishes, recognises the important role of family and whānau and focuses on place-based and community-led solutions.
  • Cultural Change: Foster a sense of shared responsibility to care for all children and normalise help-seeking while promoting ‘helpful’ help-giving. Shift to a "duty to care approach" culture within the care and protection system.

According to a UNICEF report from 2021 New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the developed world. The level of abuse is the fifth-highest in the OECD, with an average of one child being killed every five weeks.

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