Children in poorer neighbourhoods are being admitted to hospital as victims of assault, neglect or maltreatment at a rate more than five times that of children in wealthier neighbourhoods, a report has found.
The Children's Social Health Monitor's 2011 findings show hospital admissions arising from "assault, neglect or maltreatment" were 5.6 times higher for those in the most deprived areas, Otago University child and youth epidemiology service director Dr Elizabeth Craig said.
Mortality from sudden unexpected death in infancy was 7.4 times higher for those living in the most deprived areas, the report found. Infant mortality rates were also higher for Maori and Pacific Island infants, and those with mothers younger than 30.
The report found 20.4 per cent or 234,572 children were reliant on a benefit in April. In 2008, there were 201,083 children relying on a benefit.
The report suggested benefits inadequately protected children from hardship, such as having to wear worn-out shoes or clothing, share beds, cut back on fresh fruit and vegetables, and postpone doctors' visits because of cost.
In the June 2011 quarter, unemployment rates were 12.6 per cent for Maori, 13.7 for Pacific Islanders, 6.5 for Asian and 5.3 for European.
Admissions for socio-economically sensitive medical conditions - respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, skin infections - were higher for Maori and Pacific Island children than for European or Asian, the report found.
Dr Craig said admissions for those illnesses decreased for Pacific Island children in 2010. But more years of data was needed to be clear if it was a downward trend.
Auckland University department of paediatrics child and youth health head Professor Innes Asher said the slowing rate was encouraging, however by 2010 there were still about 4890 extra hospital admissions a year, compared with 2007.
The figures reflected a considerable extra cost to the health system and the children and their families.
"Greater attention needs to be paid to addressing the reasons why children fall ill in the first place," Professor Asher said.
"This means the provision of healthy housing through better heating and insulation, better access to GPs (including after hours), improving immunisation rates, and addressing New Zealand's high levels of child poverty."