15 Aug 2011

Welfare report paints bleak future for some children

10:44 pm on 15 August 2011

A group that commissioned a damning report on child welfare is calling for an overhaul of funding and services aimed at helping families with young children.

The report for the group, Every Child Counts, ranks New Zealand 28th of 30 OECD nations for giving children a good start, based on measures such as overcrowding in homes, infant mortality and youth suicide.

The report paints a bleak picture for some New Zealand children, with this country spending less than half the OECD average on those aged under six.

But chairman of Every Child Counts, Murray Edridge, says simply throwing money at the problem will not work and spending should be much more effectively targeted, so that it does not go to waste.

"What I believe we need to be thinking about in New Zealand is moving very quickly from universal availability to a targeted approach. We were thinking about who are the children and the families in most need."

The report's author and an Infometrics economist, David Grimmond, says it is not just money that those families desperately need. "If they're not actually working, that creates some social alienation."

Mr Grimmond says the consequences of a poor start to life are costing the New Zealand economy $6 billion a year. He hopes that economic downside will motivate the Government and policy makers to take action.

Prime Minister John Key agrees the future of some children is at risk, but says their needs should be balanced with those of other New Zealanders.

The Labour Party says a bigger investment must be made in the country's children - not just in financial terms, but also in terms of expertise and advice to parents.

Social Development spokesperson Annette King says it is time that looking after children was again considered as employment.

The ACT Party says welfare reform and mentoring of young mothers is the key to lifting children out of poverty. Leader Don Brash believes getting young mothers into work will have a positive impact on families.

UNICEF says lack of money at the top of the cliff is resulting in bottom of the cliff costs.