The child advocacy group Every Child Counts is forging links with the business sector in a bid to widen their campaign to get children on top of the government’s policy priorities list.
The organisation was formed in 2004 to lobby the pre-election government for greater attention to the plight of children in light of recent figures which saw almost a quarter of the country’s under 18-year-olds living in poverty.
A conference in July heard clear evidence of the need for Every Child Counts to continue its advocacy for children.
Starship Hospital paediatrician and head of the Department of Paediatrics at Auckland University, Professor Innes Asher, told the conference Making Every Child Count – Getting Together for All Children in Wellington that children need more security, not less when they are in families with low incomes.
‘A large redistribution of resources is needed to rectify the harm to a generation, and protect against poverty in children now and in the future.’
She highlighted the most recent statistics from the Ministry of Social Development, which show that the proportion of under 18-year-olds living in poverty had increased from 18 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2004.
In the same period the poverty of those over the age of 65 rose from 2 percent to 4 percent.
With trends such as this occurring, the need for continued, coordinated and concerted advocacy for the nation’s children is clear.
The Every Child Counts campaign has consistently highlighted the fact that New Zealand’s social and economic development depends on today’s children and has specified four priorities:
• Putting children at the centre of policy
• Ensuring children get a good start
• Reducing child abuse and neglect, and
• Ending child poverty.
Steering group chair, Murray Edridge says, ‘As a nation, we pause and wring our hands at the latest tragedy, we lament the international comparisons, we squabble about parental protection and the basic human right to protection from physical punishment, we reach for the most superficial, ethnicity-based analysis of child abuse figures. And then we console ourselves with the heart-warming myth that New Zealand is a great place to bring up children. Anxieties calmed, consciences quashed, and children forgotten again, we return to the current national interest of the day.
‘If we keep leaving children at the bottom of the nation’s list of policy priorities, not only will children continue to suffer as a result of that neglect, but the prospects for our collective social and economic development will also be undermined. It’s time for all New Zealanders to acknowledge the terrible waste that this represents and to see that improving children’s status is in everybody’s interest.’
This point was illustrated by Dr Simon Rowley of the Brainwave Trust, who presented the conference with evidence of the links between child abuse and neglect with poor future prospects including criminality and other social dysfunction.
Describing her vision of what needs to be done to address this situation and reduce child abuse, Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro said, ‘Research on resilience tells us that it is the balance between positive and negative factors that determine outcomes. Instead of trying to identify the families most likely to cause harm to their children, we should be working to extend the networks that support families in fulfilling their responsibilities and provide opportunities for children in need to be identified.
‘Assessing and providing early solutions will surely save us money and resources later in the life of a child, even if they still might require some level of assistance as they grow towards adulthood.’
As Every Child Counts establishes itself for the significant work to be done between now and 2008, we will be working to forge relationships with groups and sectors that haven’t traditionally been advocates for children and families. Among them is Business New Zealand, whose Chief Executive, Phil O’Reilly, has an excellent grasp of the potential that exists if businesses get their policies and practices right.
He told delegates at the conference, ‘How work and family intersect has a big impact on children. Companies that provide flexibility not only gain a competitive advantage, they’re doing a good thing for our kids.’
Doing a good thing for our kids means we also do a good thing for ourselves. Secure, healthy children will make New Zealand into a vibrant, safe and economically competitive nation. And this is why every child must count.
He Mana to ia Tamaiti / Every Child Counts is guided by a steering group currently comprising Barnardos, Plunket, Save the Children, Unicef NZ and AUT’s Institute of Public Policy.
The coalition is supported by more than 350 other organisations and thousands of individual supporters throughout the country. But we need more! We’re gearing up for an exciting campaign and we need as many people as possible to add their names to our list of supporters. Join us! www.everychildcounts.org.nz