Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Struggles continue for Pasifika youth

Young Pacific people remain blighted by unhealthy food, barriers to healthcare and poor conditions at home - with an estimated one third living in a house where someone doesn't have a bedroom.

But study findings, released today, also indicate some major gains among the near-1500 students it's surveyed over time, with many making better choices around sex and drugs, feeling less depressed and aiming higher at school.

The survey - the most largest and comprehensive on the health of Pacific students in New Zealand - has been carried out over more than a decade by a team of Auckland University researchers.

An analysis of data collected in 2012 showed that almost half of Pacific youth live with household deprivation, attend low and mid decile schools, and are faced with a range of problems the researchers say demand urgent attention.

Particular problems that had grown worse or not improved over the previous decade were poor socio-economic conditions, exposure to food environments, and issues accessing healthcare and dental care.

Almost a quarter of Pacific students reported their parents worried about not having enough food, and 36 percent said that someone at home slept in a room not designated for sleeping, such as a garage or living room, said the report's lead author, Jacinta Fa'alili-Fidow.

There was little difference in experiences between different Pacific ethnicities, although Cook Island students, when compared with Samoan students, were more likely to report being sexually active, binge drink, feel safe in their neighbourhoods or say that their spiritual beliefs were important to them.

When compared with European students, Pacific youth were more likely to be overweight or obese, have poorer mental health, experience family violence and sexual abuse, smoke and use contraceptive inconsistently and face deprivation.

Despite the challenges, however, the researchers found the youth had made significant improvements in some areas.

They noted stronger family and school relationships, higher academic aspirations, healthier decision-making and outlooks, and less personal violence and sexual abuse.

"There is increasing evidence that health outcomes for Pacific youth can be improved," co-author Dr Tiatia-Seath said.

"Our young peoples' behaviour is positively influenced by their environment - family, school, churches, communities and wider political environments."

The authors said that investment was needed to support them, and interventions, programmes and services that were culturally focused were more likely to be successful.

Labour's Pacific Island Affairs spokesman, Su'a William Sio, said Pacific parents were continuing to endure the hardships of low wages, high unemployment and unaffordable housing to sacrifice for a better educational future for their children.

"But often despite their best efforts and their hard work, it just isn't enough and the research rightly reflects how this impacts on these young people," he said.

"This Government must take seriously the concerns raised in this research that we cannot allow the numbers of young people to continue to grow up in impoverished conditions and expect things to improve for them without positive targeted intervention."

The Government's policy agenda had to slash the cost of rental accommodation, create a "high valued, high paying economy" and boost the supply of affordable, warm, dry housing by 10,000 homes each year for the next 10 years, he said.

"Sooner or later if the cohorts of malcontent young people grows, they may eventually manifest and express their dissatisfaction through destructive ways, as we see in some other parts of the world, which is not what we want."

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples is part-way through a five-year work programme focused on education, qualifications, employment, entrepreneurship, language, culture and identity.

Initiatives aimed at young people include the Pacific Employment Support Scheme, targeted at nearly 7000 Pasifika youth in Auckland not working, training, or studying, and the collaborative Pasifika Education Plan, finishing next year.

Pacific Peoples Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said the report showed young people were making good progress in many areas, but there were "clearly some areas for improvement".

"The Government will use the findings of the study as it continues to address education, health and social issues for Pacific youth and their families."

Employment and education were the key areas to raising living standards and improving social outcomes, Lotu-Iiga said.

South Auckland school sets sights high

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New data showing that Pacific Island students are aiming higher in school isn't surprising to Neil Watson.

The principal of Auckland's Otahuhu College, which has a high number of young Pasifika people on its roll, has watched his students turn in some impressive academic results over recent years.

"Last year, our leavers exceeded the national average for those with Level Two, we had more students than ever before go on to degree level study, and in fact, more Pasifika students went onto to tertiary degree study from Otahuhu College than any other co-educational school in Auckland," Watson said.

"The stronger family and school relationships and increased aspirations to achieve in education found in this study is reflected in our day to day interaction with our students and our families.

"What we find is that the majority of our students and families aspire to degree level education and we are working together, and with our local primary and intermediate schools to help turn this aspiration into reality."

Watson said more and more students - now at a rate of 85 per cent - were staying to complete Level Three, with the majority of students doing university-approved subjects.

Helping drive the progress was a new leadership programme aimed at helping more Pasifika students go onto study at degree level, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

The results of it had been significant, fuelling an increase in Pasifika students undertaking STEM-based courses, getting them into laboratories with top scientists and benefiting more than 500 Pasifika families.

- NZ Herald

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