We advocate for the interests, rights and wellbeing of children and young people

The COVID-19 pandemic is broadening and deepening inequities for children. But there are important lessons we can learn from this experience. We can respond to the ongoing pandemic and ‘build back better’ by listening to children and young people and considering their rights and wellbeing.


1. The pandemic is broadening and deepening inequities for children

As at 5 October 2020, 235 of the 241 children (aged 0-19 years) in New Zealand diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered. But while recovery rates from the virus tell a hopeful story, COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus, and in some cases exacerbated, existing problems and inequities for children. Poverty, inequity, racism and discrimination, family violence and a lack of affordable and warm housing are all issues that are being compounded by the impacts of COVID-19.

The long-term impact of border closures and the projected recession will lead to mass unemployment forcing thousands more children into poverty. With increased numbers of families living in hardship we can expect to see a rise in family violence caused by toxic stress and an increase in demand for mental health services. Read our report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on COVID-19 and children’s rights.

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2. Children and young people’s experiences of lockdown have been diverse

Preliminary research, anecdotal evidence and survey data show how children and young people’s experiences of the lockdown period between March-May 2020 were diverse.

For some children with parents or carers who were healthy, financially secure, and able to support their learning and play, the lockdown may have had little to no impact on their long-term development. We heard from some children that they enjoyed less rushing around and more time at home with their family.

"They've [family relationships] gotten significantly stronger. The valuable time we've spent together has strengthened bonds between us, but also helped us learn a lot about each other, and grow a greater appreciation for one another." 15-year-old, NZ European/Samoan*

But the lockdown period also meant children and young people missed their friends and social connections. The lockdown was particularly hard for children living in unsafe homes or households without enough money, resources or support.

"Didn't get to see my friends, they are who I go to when I'm sad." 14-year-old*

*Voices heard through an OCC survey on children and young people’s experiences of COVID-19 lockdown, full report to be released soon.

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3. We adapted the way we heard from children and young people in care and protection and youth justice residences

When the lockdown in March 2020 was first announced, we quickly adapted the way we monitored care and protection and youth justice residences. We used remote technology to monitor the safety and wellbeing of children and young people detained in secure locked facilities during the lockdown.

Overall, we heard from children in Care and Protection and Youth Justice residences during lockdown that they felt safe and knew about COVID-19 and the lockdown. For some, video calls were a new way to connect with whānau. However, children and young people in residences were worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their whānau, especially older family members, and were concerned about delays to their transitions and family visits.

Find out more about what we learned about the experiences of children and young people in secure residences during lockdown.

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4. Iwi and Māori leadership has been swift and powerful

Māori leadership in responding to the pandemic included significant cultural concessions (such as temporary bans on tikanga like hongi and tangihanga); engaging networks such as iwi, hapū, marae, Whānau Ora agencies and other Māori organisations in sharing information; and distributing food and care packages to vulnerable whānau, the elderly and those in need. These initiatives were a critical factor in reversing embedded trends of disproportionate disadvantage in the first wave of infections. See ‘Māori responses to COVID-19’ in the Policy Quarterly, August 2020.

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5. What we learned and how we can respond and ‘build back better’ by listening to children and considering their rights and wellbeing

The New Zealand Government moved quickly to put in place a range of measures and supports to assist families in response to COVID-19. These included the $25 increase in the benefit rate and the double winter warm up payment; wage subsidies and 12-week income support payments for people who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and; and additional funds for community supports such as food distribution.

On child-specific policy, the government prioritised resourcing at home learning by increasing digital connectivity, delivering devices and hard copy school resources to those in need and broadcasting educational content on television.

Central Government’s rapid policy response demonstrated how difficult problems can be resolved quickly in an emergency, (for example housing the homeless). But in acting swiftly, the government missed the opportunity to work alongside and adequately resource iwi and community organisations. For example, Civil Defence became the funding mechanism used to reach communities, excluding Māori and community networks with the most intimate knowledge of what families need and how to best deliver support.

New and adapted policies must be regenerative, equitable, rights-based and built on Treaty-based strategic thinking, offering a future-proof framework for inclusion and diversity that is sustainable. This would enable partnerships with Māori to be engaged more effectively, Māori knowledge to be used as the source of innovative new solutions, and services to be delivered to a gold standard in terms of cultural intelligence and literacy.

We do not need a new plan for addressing the pandemic recovery. Instead we need to apply urgency for action to the well-researched and planned Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy developed and published, but not yet implemented. We recommend the government implement the recommendations from the 2019 Welfare Expert Advisory Group and explore emerging options for a changing world like a guaranteed minimum income.

Children and young people must have a say in building a response that is not just shovel-ready, but future-ready. This demands that policy and investment planning is child-centred, builds on the positives we have learned, and implements the holistic vision of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy fully, and in partnership with Māori and communities.

Read more in ‘Doubling Down on Children and Young People’s Aspirations Post-Lockdown’, Policy Quarterly, Vol 16 (2020)

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6. Resources to support children and their carers

Children feel safe and reassured when they are well informed and have access to information that is appropriate for their age and development. Here is a list of resources for children and young people and the adults who care for them about COVID-19.

The government’s central website for COVID-19 is www.covid19.govt.nz



Free counselling and helpline, What’s up 0800 9428787

If you need help and someone to talk to, Youthline 0800 376633 or text 234


COVID-19 explainers for children

Nanogirl Explaining Coronavirus (YouTube)

Coronavirus Picture book (Mindheart)

Coronavirus Comic for Kids (NPR)

Nanogirl Hand Washing (YouTube)


Going back to school

Resource for children to help them adjust to going back to school ‘When the world went back’ (PDF Mel Churton, May 2020)


Resources for young people

Navigating the pandemic together (Ara Taiohi)

Free legal help for children and young people (Youth Law)

Advocacy support for young people in care (VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai)

How to help, volunteer, or donate to the fight against Covid-19 (The Spinoff)

Spreading acts of compassion (Caremongering New Zealand)

Student Volunteer Army (SVA)

COVID-19: Combating social isolation through photography and community (Voices of Youth)

What Young People Can do (World Economic Forum)


Resources for carers of children and young people

Getting through together – wellbeing for parents and whānau (Mental Health Foundation)

COVID-19 and wellbeing resources (Ministry of Education)

Talking with children about mental distress (Ministry of Health)

COVID-19 information for Māori (Te Puni Kōkiri)

Resources for whānau during the COVID-19 rāhui and beyond (Protect our whakapapa)

Pānui for your whānau (#Manaaki20)

Information and advice for tamariki Māori (Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā)

How to talk to your kids about coronavirus (Save the Children)

Helping kids stay calm amidst COVID-19 (Parenting Place)

Resources for Oranga Tamariki Caregivers (Oranga Tamariki)


Resources for Māori whānau

Te Whare Māori, Info and resources for whānau, communities and kaupapa Māori services (NZFVC and Ngā Wai a Te Tūī Māori and Indigenous Research Centre) 

COVID-19 information for Māori (Te Puni Kōkiri)

Information for whānau hauā (whānau with impairments), nga marae and kaumatua (Paerangi)

Resources for whānau during the COVID-19 rāhui and beyond (Protect our whakapapa)

Pānui for your whānau (#Manaaki20)

Information and advice for tamariki Māori (Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā)

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Updated 6 October 2020