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Poor Report Card results show New Zealand is failing its children

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that New Zealand’s failure to improve the situation for many children is evidenced in the latest Innocenti Report Card 14 Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries by UNICEF, and calls for the Government to make it’s primary goal to dramatically improve the physical and mental health of children.

The report focuses on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sand ranks 41 OECD countries on how they are doing with each goal. It presents data on the numbers of children affected by specific issues.

Depressingly, New Zealand’s ranking for children’s outcomes poorly compared with most other countries across many different SDG measures. Particularly concerning is that New Zealand is ranked 38th out of 41 countries for child health and wellbeing:

  • We continue to have a high neonatal mortality rate;

  • We now have the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD (15.9 per 100,000 among children aged 15-19);

  • The teenage birth rate is still high at 23.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19, though this is a reduction from 28.7 per 1,000 in 2005;

  • New Zealand also has a higher-than-average child-homicide rate;

  • High numbers of children are experiencing food insecurity and material deprivation.

The long-term impact of poverty on children’s health can be severe, and the situation for many children has become desperate. Small measures within the latest Budget to address these issues will not come into effect until April 2018, and for many children this will simply be too late.

Shockingly, New Zealand does not capture data for many of the SDG indicators, compared to most other OECD nations. New Zealand has provided insufficient data for the SDG of ending child poverty, and no internationally comparable data on the rates of child obesity, or adolescent mental health.

“Given New Zealand’s extreme youth suicide rate it is a huge gap that we do not collect standard data on the mental health of teenagers,” says says Professor Innes Asher, CPAG health spokesperson and paediatrician.

“The link between child mental health and poverty cannot be ignored, and a sudden jump to high-cost health care at age 13 may mean teenagers do not get to see the doctor when they need to.

“Early primary health care can stop the worsening of illnesses such as depression, pneumonia, rheumatic fever and serious skin infections.”

The report comments that, “commitments to Sustainable Development Goals made by governments now need to be translated into programmes and public investments."

Dr Nikki Turner, health spokesperson for CPAG, says that, “The first thing Government should do to improve children’s health outcomes is urgently focus on improving household incomes for those families in greatest poverty and enabling warm, dry and secure housing.

“To support improved health outcomes particularly for our youth we should expand the zero-fees scheme for primary health care and prescriptions for all children up until their 18th birthdays. This is working for children under 13, and is just as important in teenagers,” says Dr Turner.

“It is essential that all schools are equipped to provide a comprehensive range of quality health care services appropriate for the age of the pupils, and their health needs.

“Furthermore, a greater focus on coordinated support for maternity care and infancy is needed to reduce our poor neonatal outcomes.

“We need a much broader and inclusive approach to social investment so that we can achieve the SDG targets by 2030, rather than the highly-targeted approach the Government has required of Oranga Tamariki,” says Professor Asher.

CPAG welcomes the Government’s new Better Public Services targets, with the commitment to reduce avoidable hospital admissions among children aged 0-12, and also commends the commitment to reducing incidences of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).

Policies that support better incomes and housing for families, as well as early detection and timely access to treatment of health problems in children, are fundamental to ensuring that all children thrive and have the opportunity for good life outcomes, and that New Zealand fares better in the next report.