Report unflattering on NZ social policy

Dunedin Salvation Army Major Glenn Anderson
Dunedin Salvation Army Major Glenn Anderson
The Salvation Army released its State of the Nation report yesterday, summing up the nation's social progress. While it reveals some positive changes, the majority makes for grim reading on the difficulties many face on a daily basis. Ellie Constantine takes a closer look at the report's findings on child poverty, neglect and abuse.

Poverty, abuse and neglect are daily realities for thousands of New Zealand children, and those living in Dunedin are by no means protected from it, Dunedin Salvation Army Major Glenn Anderson says.

The Salvation Army released its fifth State of the Nation report yesterday, providing a snapshot of social progress in New Zealand.

The report covered five social policy areas, children's wellbeing, crime and punishment, work and income, social hazards and housing, and provided a "report card" for each.

In the area of children, it said while the rates of teenage pregnancy and youth offending had fallen, and gaps in educational achievement continued to close, there had been no progress in reducing rates of child poverty, and it appeared more children were being abused or neglected.

As many as 10% of New Zealand children may face violence and material hardship in their daily lives.

"We appear to lack the wit and insight to appreciate the links between the social environments we create and the social outcomes we reap. Until we grasp the association, significant improvement ... is unlikely," the report said.

Maj Anderson hoped the report would "stir" the heart and resolve of the nation.

"Children are a gift" and he wanted communities to work together to turn the statistics on child poverty, abuse and neglect around.

"It's about communities taking measured responsibility for the lives of the community."

In Dunedin, the Salvation Army's welfare assistance figures had plateaued recently, but social workers were helping families tackle more complex issues in housing, education and income.

Along with practical neglect, he believed emotional neglect was often occurring - "the ability of the caregiver to provide a healthy, positive, nurturing environment" - which some were struggling to do because of other life pressures.

"That has a financial impact on the nation down the line - poor health, mental health," he said.

Using Ministry of Social Development figures, the report showed child poverty rates, those living in households with an income less than 50% of the median, remained fairly constant over the past five years.

One in six Pakeha children were likely to live in poverty, one in four Pacific, and one in three Maori. The majority of children living in poverty were in two-parent households.

The number of children living in benefit-dependent households was 237,900 last year, 22% of all New Zealand children.

In terms of child abuse and neglect, Child Youth and Family figures showed confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect rose from 21,025 in 2009-10, to 22,087 in 2010-11. Over the past five years, the increase was 58%, or about 10,000 extra cases of confirmed child abuse or neglect.

Much of the increase in reporting was due to domestic violence awareness campaigns, and the recent practice of police reporting to CYF domestic violence incidents where children were present, the report said.

Statistics New Zealand figures showed reported violence offences against children increased between 18% and 20% during 2010-11.

Reported cases of neglect rose 36%, from 436 in 2009-10 to 595 in 2010-11, reported sexual assaults on children increased 20% during the same period, from 1522 to 1835.

Salvation Army director of social policy Major Campbell Roberts said the report "tragically" signalled the country had "few aspirations for our children and young people and had all but given up on any serious efforts to relieve child poverty, youth marginalisation, or address the causes of crime".

He believed the country was at a point where it had two options, carry on the same policy track of the past three decades, or make a "committed and concerted effort to ensure marginalised New Zealanders, particularly the poor and the unemployed young, are valued and given a stake in the nation's future".

Report card
Child poverty: C-
There does not appear to be any noticeable change in rates of child poverty. About one in five children probably lives in material hardship. The number of children living in benefit-dependent households has probably fallen over the past year, but remains about 20% higher than five years ago.

Children at risk: D
During 2010-11 the number of confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect rose for the third consecutive year. Reporting practices by police cannot fully explain the 20% increase in notifications to Child Youth and Family, which may point to changing community attitudes towards the mistreatment of children.

Children and violence: C+
A further decline in rates of offending, especially of violent offending by youth aged 14 to 16, is pleasing. The continuing excessive criminalisation of young Maori needs to be explained and addressed by the public agencies responsible.

Early childhood education: B
While improving rates of enrolment for Maori are encouraging, the gap between Maori and non-Maori remains large. Progress towards closing the gap is slow, and policy responses cautious.Educational achievement: B+The gains of recent years in closing the gap in NCEA pass rates between high and low decile schools has been maintained. These gaps remain about 30% between the lowest and highest decile schools.

Infant mortality: B+
The recent decline in the infant mortality rate, although small, is encouraging.

Teenage pregnancy: B+
The sharp decline in the teenage pregnancy rate is encouraging, but as it is just a one-year trend, it is too early to tell if there has been a shift in behaviours and expectations. New Zealand's teenage pregnancy rate is twice that of Australia's.

Source: The Salvation Army


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