New Zealand belongs on ‘international roll of shame’ on children’s wellbeing – Stuff.co.nz

Posted: October 21, 2021 at 11:04 pm

New Zeland is a great place to be a child if you are rich, white and able-bodied, but the reality for at least 125,000 children includes abuse, neglect, poverty, and poor health and education outcomes.

Childrens Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft is not mincing his words on this countrys failure over the last 30 years to prioritise children, with 20 per cent living in and out of poverty, and 10 per cent really doing it tough.

The two latter groups are disproportionately populated by Mori, Pasifika and disabled children.

The width and depth of the inequities in child wellbeing is shocking, Becroft said in a speech at the University of Canterbury on Friday, one of his last before his tenure as commissioner ends on October 31.

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The wellbeing of at least 125,000 children is significantly compromised by serious material hardship. For this reason, and because this situation is totally avoidable, we belong on an international roll of shame, he said.

The Government needs to commit $2 billion a year over the next 10 years to improve outcomes through measures such as lifting core benefit rates, introducing rent controls, increasing social housing and making adequate mental health services accessible to all youth, Becroft told Stuff.

He painted a grim picture with statistics on rheumatic fever, which affects Mori and Pasfika children disproportionately (its a scandal that this entirely preventable disease even exists in New Zealand); youth suicide (one of the highest reported rates in the world, with the rate for Mori youth 2.1 times that for non-Mori youth); abuse and neglect (69 per cent of children in State care identify as Mori); bullying (one of the highest rates of school bullying internationally); and racism.

CHRIS SKELTON/Stuff

Judge Andrew Becroft is finishing his tenure as Childrens Commissioner on October 31.

Becroft blamed the toxic stress of poverty, inconsistent early intervention and the lethal cocktail of the enduring legacy of colonisation and modern-day racism for the poor outcomes.

One of the most pressing issues for youth was mental health, with children and youth at high risk of negative mental health effects from Covid-19.

Girls, Mori, Pasifika, and gender minorities are particularly affected, he said.

Becroft said children and young people were often invisible despite the grim statistics. They were not well represented in He Ara Oranga, the report from the government inquiry into mental health, or in the Covid-19 response.

New Zealand was also behind on diagnosing and supporting neurodevelopmental issues, he said.

History will judge us harshly. When it comes to neurodevelopmental issues, for some reason New Zealand has been asleep at the wheel.

Despite what seemed like an unsurmountable mountain to climb to make this country a safe place for all children, Becroft remained positive.

CHRIS SKELTON/Stuff

Becroft says he has given his all to his role as Childrens Commissioner.

We have made terrific progress over the last five years, and the Governments goal to halve child poverty in 10 years is very attainable.

Of course I wish more could be achieved faster. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

He believed the Government, and society at large, had finally woken up to the needs of children.

Multiple strategies, targets and goals were in place to lift children into wellbeing over the next 10 years, he said.

CHRIS SKELTON/Stuff

Becroft is optimistic about the future of children in Aotearoa despite grim statistics.

While reluctant to sing his own praises, Becroft believed the relentless advocacy from his office during his five-year tenure had played a big role in this shift.

He was particularly fond of the little known Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, which was informed by his offices work, including interviewing 6000 tamariki and rangatahi.

The office played an independent watchdog role, but did not have extended powers.

It is what it is. We dont have any direct levers, Becroft said.

He still believed the office had made a huge difference for children, with his tenure being one of the greatest honours of my life.

Ive given it my all.

As to what next, he would figure that out after he finally took all the accumulated leave he had not taken over the last five years, he said.

The next Childrens Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers, would start on November 1.

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New Zealand belongs on 'international roll of shame' on children's wellbeing - Stuff.co.nz

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