Growing Up in New Zealand: Transition to school

The following is the abridged foreword by the Families Commissioner for the ‘Growing Up in New Zealand: Transition to school‘ report, published in June 2018.

The Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) study is well on its way to tracking the lives of a sample of New Zealand’s young people for the first 22 years of their lives.

We know that GUiNZ has particular strengths and that its findings should inform policy development in New Zealand. GUiNZ raises issues about how we can better support families during periods of leave, stress and financial pressure.

Since 2013, when Superu started managing Crown funding for the study, we have learned a huge amount about children growing up in New Zealand today. We know that:

  • Our families are ethnically diverse: a third of children are born to at least one parent who didn’t grow up in New Zealand and where at least one parent is multilingual.
  • Almost half of all families are living in rental accommodation when their child is born, and many families move frequently.
  • Although current guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, most newborns are exclusively breastfed for only four months.
  • Nearly one in three newborns lives in a house with a smoker.
  • The number of children living with a single parent increases as the children grow older, with a greater proportion of Maori children living in single-parent households compared to other ethnic groups.
  • By age two, 92 percent of children are fully immunised.
  • By the age of four, 97 percent of children spend time away from their parent, such as in early childhood education or organised home-based care. Most mothers feel that their child has the pre-reading or writing skills to start school, although 14 percent of the children are classified as overweight or obese.

We are also learning more about today’s parents:

  • People are having children later, and 40 percent of pregnancies are unplanned.
  • Most mothers make changes to their diet, most frequently avoiding alcohol, caffeine and raw or highly processed foods, but a considerable number continue to eat these items and consume alcohol during their pregnancies.
  • Family finances can be complex: by the time a baby’s born, nearly one in five families are receiving income from four or more sources. And mothers on leave from work tend to use a combination of maternity leave, annual leave and unpaid leave.
  • One in five mothers experiences depressive symptoms during or since pregnancy, and these are most likely in mothers who are young or facing high levels of financial or relationship stress.

The biggest risk factors for children? A lack of support from wider family, greater parental stress, their family not feeling part of the community, being born to young or single mothers, and living in private rental accommodation. The findings provide plenty of food for thought – and hopefully action – for those developing social policies, programmes and services for families.

Information from the study is already being used by the Ministry of Health, for example, to plan health resourcing and by Auckland Council’s Southern Initiative to help minimise risks for children in high deprivation areas of South Auckland.

It’s amazing to think that these youngsters are now at school. For most, this transition has been a positive experience, and their parents are generally happy with the impact school is having on their children.

We know that healthy families are at the heart of a healthy society. Families give their members a sense of identify and belonging; they care, nurture and support their members; they provide socialisation and guidance; and they manage the family’s emotional and material resources. Being part of a family is the most significant socialising influence in a person’s early life. Given that childhood disadvantage strongly predicts negative adult life outcomes, it’s critical that we understand how our children are impacted by the modern world in which we live.

‘Transition to school’ was produced by the University of Auckland using government funding managed, until recently, by Superu. With Superu’s closure on 30 June 2018, funding is now managed by the Ministry of Social Development.