KidsCan helping vulnerable preschoolers in first national programme for under 5s

Sunday, March 10, 2019

KidsCan has created the first national programme supporting children under 5, with the aim of helping the country’s most vulnerable kids attend early childhood education. The move comes in response to increasing requests for help from centres, as parents struggle to provide enough food or warm clothing for their children.

KidsCan’s Founder and CEO Julie Chapman says until now, early childhood centres have been overlooked.  “School children are supported with a range of food and clothing programmes. But there’s been no programme to nourish our tiniest bodies, and provide the warm clothing and shoes they are missing out on. Children don’t suddenly find themselves in poverty when they turn 5 - and a lack of investment in them means they’re on the back foot before they even start school.”

Last October, KidsCan launched its new programme in 25 early childhood centres in Northland, Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, supporting around 950 children. Children are provided with fresh meals, raincoats, shoes, and head lice treatment. The change in the children has been significant, and the charity is now aiming to offer the programme to other equity 1-4 early childhood centres nationwide.

Professor Richie Poulton, Director of The Dunedin Study, says the importance of the early years has been underestimated.

“The early years matter tremendously for how a person’s whole life turns out. It’s when all the brain connections are being made. Poverty and its consequences are obviously one of the threats to ideal brain development.”

“A child is very malleable or very open to experiences, and if they are bad experiences. they become embedded in a child’s physiology, as well as in their emotions and their thoughts… and that hangs around forever. Getting those early years right, therefore, is absolutely critically important for individuals, for their families, communities, and for the country.”

KidsCan is providing five fresh meals a week, with a menu designed by internationally renowned chef Anthony Hoy Fong, and endorsed by the Heart Foundation.

The menu includes Subway® sandwiches, EasiYo yoghurt, fresh fruit, and nutritious ingredients for three hot lunch meals from Countdown.

Head teacher Kathy Belz, from Manaia View Kindergarten in Whangarei, says her centre’s children are much more settled, and better able to focus on their learning.

“For some families, come Monday there is no food in the house, and previously they have kept their children home as they were too embarassed. Several of our parents were close to tears with gratitude when we started giving out jackets.

“Our centre had been using our equity funding to feed children. Now we can use it for the resources, projects and learning opportunities it was intended for.”

The Heart Foundation’s Chief Executive, Tony Duncan, says establishing healthy eating habits early in a child’s life is crucial.

“Improving food environments for children is an important step in the life course approach to heart health. We’re delighted to be able to share our expertise in food and nutrition with such a willing partner as KidsCan, and help people who need it the most.”

Researchers from Waikato University are evaluating the impact of KidsCan’s programme on a child’s participation, wellbeing, health, education and school readiness, in a study lasting until September 2020.

They surveyed 325 whanau before KidsCan’s programmes started, and found 35% were using special food grants or food banks, 37% go without fresh fruit and vegetables often, 26% continued to wear shoes with holes as they couldn’t replace them, and 35% of kids didn’t have their own raincoat. That lack of food, suitable clothing, and transport difficulties meant they sometimes kept their children home from an early childhood centre.

KidsCan is asking Kiwis to step up and donate $30 a month, to help support 1000 more children in early childhood centres. The charity will then roll the programme out nationwide as funding allows. People can donate at www.kidscan.org.nz. If you can include this link in your coverage, it makes a huge difference to donations.