Report recommends raising wage, parental leave

By Kate Shuttleworth

A report is looking to the Netherlands for ideas on how to improve the quality of life for children. Photo / Thinkstock
A report is looking to the Netherlands for ideas on how to improve the quality of life for children. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand has a lot to learn from the Netherlands, according to a study that recommends increasing wage rates and paid parental leave to a minimum of 18 weeks in order to reduce child poverty.

The study, commissioned by Every Child Counts, was released in Parliament today. It points to the Netherlands as an example of an OECD country where children have a high quality of life, and fewer children live in poverty.

Every Child Counts chairwoman Liz Gibbs says children are doing well in the Netherlands because social services communicate with each other while working closely with families.

"Parents in the Netherlands have access to ongoing support and there is strong focus on local provision of care and support, with children up to the age of 19 receiving regular health checks, a strong emphasis on early childhood education for disadvantaged children and increased funding for schools where there is low parental income," she said.

The study found the Netherlands spend NZ$30,000 per child a year, while New Zealand spends $17,000.

Ms Gibbs said child maltreatment and child poverty cost at least $8 billion a year.

The study recommends New Zealand improves parent support, housing, out-of-school-care, treatment of post-natal depression, improve data collection, collect evidence about the best ways to improve outcomes for children and increase paid parental leave and wage rates.

"The Dutch have put more effort into tracking children to ensure that all professionals working with families coordinate their work and are communicating with each other," she said.

The Government agrees with agencies sharing information, and reiterated how it will support vulnerable children in its own launch today.

Health Minister Tony Ryall, Education Minister Hekia Parata and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett held a press conference in June this year outlining their plan.

In June they said they would improve rates of immunisation, reduce rates of rheumatic fever, increase participation in early childhood education and reduce the number of assaults on children.

Today Ms Bennett said the main change will be information sharing among the social sector agencies.

"They will share information to identify who our vulnerable children are and how we can help them better.

"Our frontline workers will work together more," said Ms Bennett.

Ms Parata said the Ministry of Education had set up a taskforce which worked with families through schools to identify at-risk children.

"We are unequivocally focused on the child at the centre - 50,000 new entrants start school in New Zealand every year, we know 3000 are starting without any early childhood education.

"We also know that those early learners who start behind, stay behind," said Ms Parata.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said the Netherlands did not have an indigenous population.

"We have to take into account that there are no indigenous people in the Netherlands - I think there are some aspects we can look to around investing in education and investing more money in children and families."

Labour's spokeswoman for social development and children Jacinda Ardern hoped the study will be a catalyst for a change in thinking.

"We would urge Ms Bennett to take the findings into account for her upcoming White Paper on vulnerable children," she said.

New Zealand's Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills will deliver a report next week, and the White Pater on vulnerable children will be released by the Government in October.

Poor outcomes - where New Zealand is performing poorly compared to OECD recommended levels:

- Rates of breast feeding
- Vaccination rates
- Child mortality rates
- Suicide rates
- Teenage births
- Average disposable income
- The number of children living in poor families.

- APNZ

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