A two-year-old born prematurely with a chronic lung condition has been hospitalised multiple times this year.
Part of the problem is that the child is sleeping on a damp mattress that urgently needs replacing, says Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety – the Children's Charity.
Variety is on a mission to keep kids like this out of hospital this winter and has been working with providers around the country to deliver proper beds and warm bedding to hundreds of Kiwi kids.
The charity piloted its Beds for Kids programme last winter after Northland organisation Mahitahi Hauora, part of the Manawa Ora Healthy Homes Initiative that works to make homes warm and dry for Northland children, recognised a large problem that needed to be resourced – and contacted Variety.
Variety is now turning to New Zealanders through its Warm Hearts Winter Appeal (donate at variety.org.nz), to raise enough funds to provide beds and warm bedding for 300 Kiwi kids with desperate need right now.
Taylor says it was an easy decision to become involved to purchase and deliver beds but their resources are now depleted: "The facts make alarming reading - more than one in 10 children in our poorest communities don't have their own bed. They're sharing a bed with others or sleeping on the floor."
Besides the two-year-old mentioned above, other families on Variety's waiting list include:
• Two siblings, both toddlers who have chronic asthma and eczema. One sleeps in broken cot and another in an old and worn foam mattress on the floor
• Three children and a baby sleep on foam mattresses on the floor, unable to use one of the bedrooms as everything gets too damp and mouldy
• Four children between ages three and 12, one who is recovering from an operation, are sharing a queen size bed
• A family of five – two parents and three kids under 10 – are sleeping on mouldy mattresses
Ngaire Rae, a wellbeing and health promotion leader managing the Manawa Ora Healthy Homes Initiative, says the aim is to prevent rheumatic fever and other diseases related to housing conditions.
"We know our health is mostly determined by the conditions in which we live. If we can improve housing conditions, we can prevent children ending up in hospital or going back there."
Over the four years the healthy housing initiative has been running, the need for beds for children has been a major issue, Rae says.
"We were really surprised about the number of children who don't have their own sleeping space. They may be co-sleeping with a parent or a sibling or on a mattress on a floor or on the couch.
"We have about 600 referrals a year; upwards of two thirds of those families need support with beds and bedding. For families on a really low income, prioritising the purchase of beds and bedding can be difficult when they don't have enough to pay the rent and the food in the first place."
While working with Mahitahi Hauora to address that immediate need last winter, Variety discovered the issue was not confined to Northland but extended nationwide. Applications to Variety for beds and bedding grew daily, depleting resources.
"It's appalling that in New Zealand we have kids admitted to hospital with rheumatic fever and respiratory infections that could be avoided if they had a warm bed of their own," Taylor says.
"Being in the bottom third of the OECD for the proportion of children living in poor houses is exacerbated during winter – a fact no-one can be proud of," she says.
Other families in urgent need of help include:
• A toddler with autism sleeps comfortably in a cot, but because the cot is broken it must be propped against a wall under a window which makes it very cold
• A mum and two daughters share a double bed. All are prone to strep throat and one child has recently been confirmed strep A positive
• A family of six living in a small three-bedroom house recently had to dispose of all their bedding and lounge furniture due to mould
• A four-month-old who is bed sharing with caregivers was recently hospitalised with bronchiolitis and needs a Pepi Pod
• A family of four with two children under two all sleep together, they have one small heater that does not keep them warm – both children have been admitted to hospital with bronchiolitis
• An eight-year-old who was hospitalised with rheumatic fever is bed sharing with mum, and is really hoping to sleep on a top bunk.
For more information and to donate: variety.org.nz