3 Sep 2009

Report paints grim picture for some NZ children

10:27 pm on 3 September 2009

An international report on the wellbeing of children has painted a bleak picture for some young people in New Zealand.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's first-ever report on child wellbeing says New Zealand has some of the highest rates of youth suicide, teenage pregnancy and child poverty in the developed world.

The report ranked New Zealand 29th for children's health and safety ahead of Turkey.

Co-author Dominic Richardson says the statistics are poor, considering New Zealand is more wealthy than some other developed nations in the 30-member OECD.

Mr Richardson says New Zealand needs to spend considerably more on its younger disadvantaged children and the country is a low spender on early education and care.

He told Nine to Noon the large amount of government spending on older children needs to be targetted at problem areas.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agrees the report does not look good, but says the situation has improved since the data was collected in 2003.

Ms Bennett says the Government has already taken action, but it is not just about throwing money at the problem. She is keen to focus on reducing teenage pregnancy.

The Child Poverty Action Group says the report comes as no surprise and though there have been some improvements, it is concerned the recession will undo what progress has been made.

High teen suicide rate

The OECD report showed New Zealand has the highest rate of teenage suicide in the developed world.

The report suggests suicide rates for New Zealanders between the ages of 15 and 19 are well ahead of countries such as Ireland, Canada and the United States.

Youthline says New Zealand's bad attitude towards its young people is to blame for the high suicide rate, and the country needs to do more to celebrate its young people.

Youthline chief executive Stephen Bell says it interviewed 300 to 400 young men and asked what they think the world thinks of young men.

"Ninety-nine percent of the responses said that they think the world thinks young men 'suck', or words to that effect," he says.

Another survey found there was only one good news story about young people for every 40 bad stories, and this attitude fosters feelings of hopelessness which can lead to suicide, Mr Bell says.

The Health Ministry says although New Zealand's youth suicide is the highest amongst developed countries, the rate has come down nationally.

Child and Youth Health chief adviser Pat Tuohy says the Suicide Prevention Strategy introduced three years ago is making a difference.