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Proposals to Reduce Child Poverty for Under 6s are Welcome but more Debate is Needed

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There are very real and serious risks for children in the early years of life as kids are particularly vulnerable to severe and persistent poverty thus affecting their future wellbeing, the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on child poverty says.

The EAG today released a series of working papers outlining issues and options for reducing poverty and better meeting the needs of children living in poverty.

“It was good to hear recognition by the EAG at yesterday’s briefing that the dice should be strongly loaded in favour of younger children because parents often are not in a position to work when their children are young and it is a time when families are often most stressed and most economically vulnerable,” Dr Sarah Farquhar of ChildForum says.

Recent research has shown that about 200,000 New Zealand children are suffering from lack of sufficient food, warm housing and adequate health care with the kids not reaching their potential in school.

The children’s poor educational performance leads to higher risk of unemployment, more ill-health, attraction to alcohol and smoking and greater likelihood of involvement in crime, the research has shown.

The EAG group proposes that a key to lifting children out of poverty is to raise household income by significantly expanding childcare and getting more low-income parents into employment.

Dr Farquhar says this proposal can have a place for babies and young children who are physically healthy and who have established secure attachment relationships with parents or caregivers who are confident in their parenting, able to parent, and have support around them as they adjust to juggling work, self, and family life.

“Putting vulnerable children into an early childhood education facility for 8 – 10 hours a day with scores of other children and changing teachers throughout the day will bring home some money for the table as parents are freed to look for jobs.

“However, there is a significant risk of creating a different kind of poverty – that which comes from emotional neglect and institutionalization,” says Dr Farquhar.

In an interview published online at ChildForum’s website, New Zealand researcher Mr John Pearce, who has studied child poverty extensively, said that for young children the consequences of poverty are more related to ‘poverty of experiences’ because these are the factors that influence their future opportunities, rather than directly to low income.

“Income is only a surrogate measure of the likely poverty of experience and this is demonstrated because some children from poor families are very successful.”

Dr Farquhar suggests that more thought be given by the EAG to how any push to get young vulnerable children into childcare and their parent(s) into employment might play out from the perspective of the child and to give greater consideration to how family income may be lifted by other means. 

When members of the EAG were asked by Dr Farquhar at yesterday's briefing what thinking they had done on how their proposal for an expansion of childcare to get more low-income parents into paid work in order to raise household income might play out for meeting children's needs, Prof Richie Poulton a member of the EAG and the Government's ECE Taskforce replied that the EAG had taken the work of the ECE Taskforce and endorsed it (without question).

Dr Farquhar says this explains why the EAG have come up the proposal that household income be lifted primarily by making more childcare available and focusing on getting the parents of vulnerable children into paid work, and has not considered this idea further in relation to children in proverty, and their best interests and particular needs.

Significant improvements in standards in New Zealand early childhood centres such as reducing class size, having teachers home-visit families, and fully-trained staff would be needed to match those of the overseas intervention programmes, such as the Abecedarian Projectthat have proven effectiveness.

A second option for better supporting vulnerable children would be to do as some other countries do, for example The Netherlands and Germany, and work on developing a culture of respect for children and of the caring responsibilities of parents. New Zealand could support parents and caregivers financially to have the choice to care for and learn to be their child’s early educator or to use an early childhood education service (see an earlier report by the Children's Commissioner on the quality of non-parental ECE for infants and toddlers, click here).

Other options could include: 

  • better government support of early childhood services, such as Playcentre and Kohanga Reo, that involve parents as teachers and provide parenting support and learning;
  • expanding programmes such as Early Start, PAFT, and HIPPY to support parents at home to assist in their child’s early education and wellbeing;
  • funding for early childhood education centre staff to home-visit the families of vulnerable children;
  • funding to cover the full cost of early childhood education, including ECE service additional charges for children on the 20-Hour funding scheme; and
  • funding early childhood services to provide breakfast, transport, clothing and meet the extra health costs of children.

Prof Johnathon Boston, co-chair of the EAG, says the EAG's Issues and Options paper reflects all the work that has been done by other researchers and lobbyists for child poverty and it is hoped it will lead to action.

"There is a widespread recognition across the community that there is a problem. The great news is that we can do something about it.  We need a comprehensive, realistic and fiscally responsible package and this is what the EAG propose. Now we have to mobilise and address the problem," says Prof Boston.

The EAG is inviting feedback and engaging in a period of consultation before submitting a final report to the Children's Commissioner in December. The Group is interested to know your views on: 

  • Which proposals will be effective in reducing child poverty?
  • Which proposals are less likely to be effective?
  • What are the most important proposals to reduce child poverty?
  • What needs to be done first and why?
  • What is missing from the package?

 

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