Researchers are calling on the Government to take action after uncovering an alarming connection between childhood safety and social disadvantage

Child poverty adds insult to injury, a recent study reveals.

Researchers are calling for a strategy from the Government to ensure the safety of young children after analysis of Growing Up in New Zealand – the country’s largest longitudinal study – showed that high stress and deprivation in the family increased the likelihood of injuries to preschool-aged kids. 

Lead researcher, associate Professor Bridget Kool, examined data collected from interviews with more than 6000 families and found experiences of child injury were associated with a variety of potentially contributing factors including socioeconomic disadvantage, household living environment and the parents’ health and wellbeing.

Children living in families experiencing high stress and deprivation were found to have much greater risk of injury in their preschool years.

A spokesperson from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner agreed with the results, saying Commissioner Andrew Becroft often described the “tentacles of poverty” as reaching into every aspect of a child’s life.

Kool says the University of Auckland study, which was funded by the Ministry of Social Development, highlights the need for policies that reduce inequality in order to lighten the burden of childhood injuries.

“New Zealand as a country has so many advantages – we should be able to get this right.”

She hopes confirming the link between child poverty and injury will spur the Government to address housing and inequality as a first step to reducing child injury rates, saying now is the time for government and research bodies to come together on the issue.

“We need to get everybody on the same page on how to deal with this. Raising awareness is one arm, building safer environments is another.”

She compares the approach to Australia’s recently-launched national strategy, designed to address injuries at all ages.

A similar child-focused strategy from New Zealand would mean government and advocacy agencies could work together to raise awareness and build safer environments for children.

“If we could provide some clear objectives, we could target exactly where the funding and research needs to go,” Kool says.

Lead researcher associate professor Bridget Kool says housing stock plays a big role in determining how safe children are. Photo: Supplied

The office of the Children’s Commissioner said the Government had made plans to tackle the problem via the child poverty reduction act, the families package and pegging benefits to wages.

However, it said “much more needs to be done if [the Government] is going to meet its target to halve child poverty within 10 years”.

The wide range of factors affecting the likelihood of injury means we should not simply blame parents, says Kool.

“It’s not something that can always be directly attributed to parenting or parenting ability,” she said. “There’s a number of things at play – it’s a complex relationship.”

One factor found to influence the safety of children was housing stock.

“We found families who have to move a lot have more issues,” Kool says. “If you own your own home you can control the safety of the space – whether it’s fencing off a driveway or a staircase.”

Another influential factor was the number of children in the family, which Kool can sympathise with on a personal level.

“We had four preschoolers at once. I know you can’t supervise them all the time.”

The office of the Children’s Commissioner also pointed out the higher likelihood of disadvantaged neighbourhoods being near industrial traffic or lower quality playgrounds, and children from lower socioeconomic groups being more likely to walk, scoot or bike to school.

The Growing Up in New Zealand study sees researchers visit parents around every three years to gather data. The study intends to follow these children until they are 21 to gather information about unique elements of childhood in New Zealand.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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