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More to be done to improve outlook for children

Government response to Health Select Committee inquiry shows there is more to be done

UNICEF NZ says the Government’s response to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into improving child health outcomes and preventing child abuse with a focus from preconception until three years of age points to some important Government work with a focus on children, relying heavily on a few selected policy initiatives such as Better Public Service Targets and the Vulnerable Children’s Action Plan.

“The Government has done well to accept or partially accept a number of the recommendations made by the Health Select Committee and we are pleased to see this. The response points to a number of important initiatives currently underway with a focus on children but we are concerned that there seems to be a heavy reliance on a few selected programmes when the issues require a multi-faceted response,” said UNICEF NZ National Advocacy Manager, Deborah Morris-Travers.

“The Health Select Committee has drawn on some of the best evidence possible to develop a range of comprehensive recommendations designed to improve child health and prevent child abuse. They point to the fact that achieving success for our children requires leadership and coordination, very early investment and intervention, improvements in the systems that support the health and wellbeing of parents-to-be and new parents, and social and economic circumstances that ensure an adequate standard of living for families with children.

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“We know that the Government is investing in a range of important initiatives, but we are concerned that these are relatively limited in scope and will not improve the health and wellbeing of all of the children who need additional support. The Vulnerable Children’s Action Plan, for example, is focused on just 10-20,000 children, with a limited perspective on vulnerability and very little that will prevent children becoming vulnerable in the first place. UNICEF and others have consistently advocated for a universal action plan for children.

“The Health Select Committee has recommended extending the Better Public Service targets to establish an overall plan for addressing child poverty and set targets. The Government has accepted that recommendation in part, implying that current efforts to improve education and employment are an adequate response to the 285,000 children living in poverty.

“UNICEF urges the government to be aspirational and build on current efforts with a particular focus on Maori and Pasifika children as well as those living in homes were the primary income is a benefit. Children in poverty are vulnerable to abuse and neglect, as well as a host of infectious diseases, reduced participation in education and being marginalised within their community.

“One of the key themes in the Health Select Committee report relates to the evidence base and establishing government objectives that respond to that evidence. Comprehensive data that is internationally comparable, as well as full transparency about Government investment in children, and accountability, are necessary parts of improving outcomes for children. We are pleased that the Government is working to build this and improve the data sets that enable evaluation of current policy. We hope that this will be expanded over time.

“The Health Select Committee inquiry has made a valuable contribution to understanding about what is needed to improve life for children. Sitting alongside the Experts Advisory Group Solutions to Child Poverty and numerous other reports from both government and non-government agencies, Ministers have received hundreds of recommendations for action in recent years. We hope they will be bold about taking those recommendations forward and investing more in children with the knowledge that there is widespread public support for them doing so,” said Ms Morris-Travers.

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