The government has the main role in reducing child poverty and mitigating its effects
- The central government's main role is in regulation, welfare and support
- Local government's main role is in supporting communities and the local environment
- District Health Boards deliver child health, mental health and public health services
- Communities provide social support to families through groups of like-minded, and caring people who help each other.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner established an Expert Advisory Group that developed 78 recommendations for government to reduce child poverty in "Solutions to Child Poverty". See our page on Child Poverty for more information about these recommendations. An outline of the government response to these recommendations as of June 2016 can be found here.
The main way that central government prevents poverty is providing social welfare supports for people with children who don't have sufficient work (e.g. due to caring responsibilities), and those whose incomes are too low to support children well. Despite these supports, child poverty rates remain at high levels - for example relative income poverty is three times greater for those aged under 18 than for those aged over 65.
Central government also sets regulations that protect people. These include the minimum wage rate, employment protection laws, tenancy laws and other protections. However, disadvantaged people sometimes do not know their rights, or cannot access them due to the cost of taking someone to court, or the power imbalance e.g. between tenants and property managers.
The main way central government is influenced is by popular opinion - the voters of New Zealand stating what they think are important issues to address.
Local government has key roles in providing for the recreation of children (parks and playgrounds, fields, swimming pools, recreation centres, libraries), the environment (clean water, air, pollution and noise standards), and public transport. In addition, things like building standards and zones can affect children. Services provided to the population need to consider how well they serve children, particularly in low income areas. We encourage local and regional government agencies to undertake child impact assessment processes to inform all their policy and decisions.
Recreation facilites support healthy child development, and enable participation in society. Poverty is a barrier to participation and local government can mitigate this through free or subsidised access to recreation and cultural facilities for low income families. For example, Community Services or Leisure Cards are available for those dependent on benefits. They provide free or subsidised access to a number of services.
Local government also has a role in supporting young people in civic engagement and developing pro-social skills. For example, many have youth councils to advise the elected Councillors on decisions that affect children and young people. We encourage youth councils to seek the voices of wider groups of children and young people.
The governance bodies of DHBs are elected by local citizens, and DHBs have a responsibility to ensure services support children, even though they can't vote. Services provided by DHBs including primary health care, hospital-based provision and community services, are important for a child's survival and development. From emergency responses, to mental healthcare and disability supports, these services provide both medical and social care, including the opportunity to identify abuse or neglect. DHBs are key partners in providing health services for children in care (e.g. foster care).
Voters also have opportunities to influence DHB priorities through local elections and lobbying.
Children live in families in communities and cannot be considered in isolation of these. Communities are important as they provide the supports needed by families to bring up children well. More disadvantaged families depend more on supportive communities. Communities provide these social supports through formal and informal service providers.
Organisations such as faith-based groups (churches, temples, mosques, etc) provide key supports including philanthropy and social connectedness (e.g. youth groups). Some provide services that are delivered by volunteers and/or contracted by the government, e.g. parenting courses, housing support, counselling, or home-visiting.
Community houses offer places where local services can be provided, e.g. parents and babies groups, Plunket or other Tamariki Ora health services, youth groups, and parent support groups (some of which focus on helping people overcome drug and alcohol addiction).
Sports groups provide opportunities for children to play, learn social skills, and keep healthy. Thriving sport and recreation opportunities in disadvantaged communities are very important for the children growing up in those areas.
Community organisations usually depend on the goodwill of individuals. All of these community-based services require generous people to ensure they can continue. Philanthropic giving and volunteering are key ways to help those services provide what children (and their families) need to thrive.