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Too many children falling behind peers

Media Release
26 November 2009

Too many children falling behind peers, Children’s Commissioner says

The age-old claim that New Zealand is a great place to bring up children and be a child is not what the facts show for about 20 percent of them, Children’s Commissioner Dr John Angus said today.

“The Children’s Social Health Monitor launched yesterday reinforces what we have known for long enough, that a significant group of New Zealand children – as high as 20 percent – are falling well behind their peers in education, health and economic circumstances,” Dr Angus said.

The Children’s Social Health Monitor, launched at the Paediatric Society three-day annual conference in Hamilton yesterday, will track the effects of the economic downturn on child health and poverty annually.

“When I look at the social and economic position of children in New Zealand from the data available*, two things stand out for me. As many as 80 percent of New Zealand’s children do well in comparison to their parents’ generation and not too badly in relation to other OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries in terms of education, recreation and opportunity for employment, though perhaps not so well in health and safety,” Dr Angus said.

“But as many as 20 percent do poorly and face disparities against their peers that will have lifelong effects for them. And it is a feature of the New Zealand data that those who are falling behind are so far behind.

“This pattern is common enough and entrenched enough across various dimensions of wellbeing for me to wonder if we have not as a society accepted some sort of 80:20 rule about the social and economic wellbeing of our children.”

Dr Angus said that children in very low-income families in the first five years of their lives, in addition to experiencing poorer health (across a range of measures including hospital admissions and mortality from various causes), also have poorer long-term outcomes such as failing in education and the resulting diminishing opportunities.

“Part of the solution lies in paying more attention to the impact on children of the decisions we make about taxes, benefits and government services. Children in poor families should not bear the brunt of fiscal constraint measures, as they did in the early 1990s as a result of benefit cuts and tax changes.

“Access to up-to-date information about the economic and social position of children, particularly those who are getting left behind, is vital to both inform decision makers and hold them to account for the impact of policies on all children. It will help us avoid the costs we will all bear as a society if we continue to allow so many children to fall so far behind in their education, health and ability to move into employment.

“So I think reports such as the Children’s Social Health Monitor are very useful. This information will be added to further by the comprehensive longitudinal study, Growing up in New Zealand, which is soon to produce its first results in Auckland. This great investment by government departments in obtaining up-to-date information about how children are being brought up will, for example, increase knowledge about how government services for children are used and might be made more effective.”

* Ministry of Social Development’s annual Social Report, Children and Young People: Indictors of Wellbeing in New Zealand 2008, and 2009 Household Income Report; OECD Doing Better for our Children 2009; and New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service’s New Zealand Children’s Social Health Monitor 2009.


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