Some government mechanisms being used to monitor the well-being of children are painting a rosier picture than the reality, says the Salvation Army.
The organisation today released its annual State of the Nation report, which says data assembled for the Government's Better Public Service targets are sometimes disguising other, less favourable statistics.
A Salvation Army policy analyst, Alan Johnson, said one glaring example was the number of child abuse cases, which, according to Child, Youth and Family, has dropped from 21,000 to 16,500 since 2010.
"But if you actually have a look at what's happened, Child Youth and Family have chosen not to follow up as many cases of emotional abuse or reported neglect and in turn, don't follow up as many of the 150,000 reported suspected cases of abuse or neglect from the public."
Mr Johnson said the targets should be monitored by an independent agency such as the Ombudsman or the Auditor-General, rather than the government departments responsible for meeting them.
Other areas of poor social performance highlighted in the report included a fall in UE pass rates and the fact that less than a third of all crime was reported to police. The Māori rate of imprisonment remains seven times that of non-Māori and that reoffending rates are beginning to rise again were also matters of "serious concern".
There were some signs of optimism, with a further decline in teenage pregnancy rates, less youth offending, a 40 percent reduction in drug offences since 2010, and a decline in alcohol consumption.
But Mr Johnson warned that much of the country's social progress continued to depend on economic growth and the jobs and incomes this created.
"Should this economic growth falter, there is a very real risk that many areas of social progress will reverse. We don't yet appear to have a set of social policies to sustain this progress through an economic downturn."