Social Work students grapple with child poverty

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30 May 2016

The causes of child poverty are complex, but that hasn't stopped dedicated individuals and organisations from finding and implementing solutions. The Child Poverty Action Group's Post Budget Breakfast last Thursday was evidence of these efforts.

 Ara Social Work students Madeline Bay and Yasue Hirao spoke at the event, sharing their research and community projects with an audience drawn from the health and social agency sectors. Guest speakers with many years of experience also spoke about child poverty.


 Ara Social Work studentsYasue Hirao and Madeline Bay contributed to an event addressing the problem of child poverty in New Zealand. 

Focus on Mairehau

 Bay discussed her work placement during her first year of the Bachelor of Social Work. She worked with The Mairehau Project, an initiative led by Neighbourhood Trust in conjunction with Te Ora Hau, Kingdom Resources and Mairehau Primary school.

 "Mairehau is a high needs area," she said. "For example, 21.7% of population are single-parent families. Earthquakes destroyed 600 state homes, two schools closed in area and there were several mergers. This created a massive influx in children presenting with anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress syndrome symptomatic behaviour."

 Bay found that post earthquake demographic changes, with an increase of working families, was actually working against the community because it had sparked funding cuts. Those who needed support were therefore worse off.

 Her involvement was "helping to run community led interventions and initiatives so the power for change was in the hearts and hands of the people themselves."

 Comparing to Japan

 Hirao looked to her native Japan for comparisons and found a large scale problem with different contributing factors to the New Zealand context. While single parent families are on the increase in Japan, the stigma attached to accessing social welfare, the high costs of education and the reluctance of Japanese men to pay child support is creating huge challenges for women trying to bring up children alone.

 Child poverty is not going away

 The first guest speaker Paul Dalziel, Deputy Director of the Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit at Lincoln University, kicked off the programme at 7.30am. Drawing on 25 years of research into social policy, he argued that child poverty is getting worse and we need significant social change to make a difference.

 Dalziel was followed by Rosee Hodgson, who completed her Master's in Public Health in 2015, focusing on the perceptions of neighbourhood that children develop in a socioeconomically deprived area of Christchurch. Hodgson's work with these children showed the importance of belonging and how stigma affects children's identity. She is now is working part time as the Solutions to Child Poverty Advocate for the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch. 

Stephanie Cowan, the third guest speaker, is founding director of Change for our Children, an independent and self-funded social enterprise based in Christchurch. She shared stories of success from more than 25 years of experience in designing and implementing change programmes at regional, national and international levels, particularly the 'pepi pod' project which achieved a decline in infant mortality rates in the Maori community by providing sleeping pods and resources to families with young babies.

Find out more: Social Work programmes at Ara.