Principals support breakfast scheme

By Sam Hurley

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The $9.5 million dedicated from the Government in the next five years to expand school breakfast programmes has been meet with positive responses by Hawke's Bay principals, but they say responsibility still needs to lie with parents.

Prime Minister John Key announced the funding as part of the Government's response to a report on child poverty by an expert advisory group set up by the Children's Commissioner.

The extra funding will cover half of the expected costs to expand the KickStart programme which was set up in 2009 by Sanitarium and Fonterra. The companies will be expected to cover the rest.

The development will allow the initiative to expand to five days a week for all schools that need it.

Nelson Park School principal Nevan Bridge said any targeted assistance to hungry children could only be a good thing.

"Children and people tend to struggle to learn when they are not fed properly but I think we have to look at the underlying issues that are creating these problems," he said. "We have up to 270,000 New Zealand children living in poverty and not eating properly."

The Prime Minister said yesterday that although he believed it was the parents' responsibility to feed their children, the Government accepted that it needed to step in. The extra funding will boost programmes already under way rather than set up new Government schemes.

Mr Bridge agreed with John Key, saying it is still largely the responsibility of the parents to ensure their children are fed before they head off to school.

"We are helping out kids with lunches but sometimes its difficult to tell whether they have eaten or not but we do check their lunch boxes," Mr Bridge said. "Unfortunately if parents are struggling with their budget they tend to go for the lower quality food. There also needs to be an education for parents on how they can help feed their children the best they can."

The programme provides a breakfast consisting of Weetbix and milk twice a week to children at about 570 schools across the country, involving half of all decile 1-4 schools.

Hawke's Bay Primary Principals Association president and Mahora School principal Rohan Pearse said the extra funds will help Hawke's Bay schools and kids are in need of a good start to the day.

"The decision has some debate around it, there are two very different viewpoints to the idea of feeding kids in schools.

"We understand both views, one that these kids need to be feed an the other that it is the parents responsibility," Mr Pearse said.

"But at the end of the day kids don't get to make that choice and there are hungry kids out there that need food to help support their learning."

Irongate School principal Fay Wooster said although her school and many others are already feeding children breakfasts and other meals there needs to be a recognition of the problems in society that causechildren to go hungry.

"We tend to feed between five to 25 kids every morning," she said. "But I think people need to understand that there are problems that need to be addressed by social development that are not education related problems."

Act Party leader John Banks said it was wrong for the Government to accept parental responsibility when there was already "plenty of welfare structure in place to make sure there's a couple of Weetbix and hot milk on the table every morning".

"I remember going to school hungry often, and no one wants kids going to school hungry. But unfortunately I'm not sure it's going to work, because is the next thing lunch and then dinner?

"Shouldn't we be looking at parental responsibility. Shouldn't we be looking at what is going on and the trauma in the family that's causing the kids to go to school hungry?"

Salvation Army social policy spokesman Major Campbell Roberts says the announcement shows that policy-makers are attentive to the public's concerns regarding children and a commitment to reducing child poverty.

"While food in school's programmes are critical in alleviating some of the symptoms of child poverty, as well as giving these children a fairer chance of achieving at school, it is also crucial to address the underlying reasons their families are impoverished," Major Roberts said.

"Child poverty is a source of deep shame for us as a country and we need to be prepared to pay the price to mitigate this dire social problem now or we will be paying a greater price for decades to come."

Other initiatives include an extra $500,000 a year for the next three years for KidsCan to provide more clothes, and health and hygiene products to disadvantaged children.

 

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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