Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Free meals cut theft in schools

Providing free food at school has reduced the number of pupils pilfering from lunch boxes, a Northland school principal says.

Hikurangi School principal Bruce Crawford said since the introduction of the school's breakfast club and lunch food programme at the start of the year, about 35 pupils were receiving daily meals at the decile one school.

"We saw the need because we noticed lunches and parts of lunches going missing.

"Since the start of the year this has gone down," Mr Crawford said.

He told the Northern Advocate there had also been a change in behaviour of children at the school, which catered for about 180 pupils from years one to eight.

"Kids are ready to learn. They can focus a lot better. It's just been a huge benefit for our kids."

Mr Crawford's comments followed an expert advisory group's recommendation that all pupils at low-decile schools should be offered free food to help combat poverty.

One in four New Zealand children is thought to be living below the poverty line.

The free food recommendation was part of the expert group's Solutions to Child Poverty paper, released last week.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, who formed the expert group in March, said several New Zealand schools already had similar programmes in place.

"The principals are doing that because they know that kids are coming to school hungry, and hungry kids don't learn ..."

Schools providing meals had also adjusted programmes to suit their individual communities, Dr Wills said.

"Each school will do it differently - some will have a meal laid out in the school hall. Others will have a basket of healthy food choices in the classroom, that kids can just help themselves to when they want to.

"They've also learned some tricks in terms of how you feed kids without stigmatising those kids and creating dependency."

Mr Wills said it was important people understood programmes offering food to low-decile students aimed to assist children and families living in poverty.

"There are parents who are poor and who manage their money well, who still sometimes can't afford to feed their children.

"It can be a financial crisis, it can be that parents have mental illness [or] they may have low IQ," Dr Wills said. "This is one of those times when you have to put the needs of children ahead of other considerations."

Dr Wills said his office was yet to hear from the Government about the recommendation.

A hui for social service agencies and community leaders to discuss the group's recommendations and solutions will be held in Whangarei next week. Dr Nikki Turner, a member of the expert advisory group, will be facilitating. The meeting is from 1-3pm on Thursday, September 13, at Manaia Health PHO on Rust Ave. Contact Ngaire Rae on (09) 438 1015 or ngaire@manaiapho.co.nz

- Northern Advocate

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