KidsCan says number of poverty-stricken school kids needing 'urgent' help is growing

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Charity KidsCan has seen a "worrying increase" in school children urgently waiting on food, clothing and health support.

The organisation reported the highest number of poverty-stricken students on its wait list in three years.

CEO and founder Julie Chapman said the 2652 students from 19 schools is a jump of more than 1000 children since this time last year.

Those wait lists will not go away without adequate funding, she said.

The rise in children's needs comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reveals details of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill, which will force the Government to set targets against hardship, income poverty and persistent poverty measures.

Chapman said the considerable number of children in "urgent" need came at a time when families were already struggling and crippled by back-to-school costs.

There was extensive deprivation and "material hardship" among families who were living without basics and faced mounting stress following the Christmas period, she said.

But this year is worse and housing is playing a part with households spending 60 to 70 per cent of their income on rent.

"There's little left over to meet the needs of their children, especially this time of year."

A school principal told Chapman on Tuesday they were in desperate need of food and shoes for their students, as 50 of the school's 250 students arrived without suitable footwear.

"We are seeing families unable to buy food because of the need to buy uniforms," Chapman said.

"This week staff have made food hampers to help a mother whose children arrived [at school] with nothing. She told [the teachers] they would go home to three tins of fruit."

Chapman said the families seeing such hardships were not doing the "wrong thing" with money, but simply did not have enough income to sustain their family's needs.

"A lot of parents will keep their kids home because they're embarrassed at not being able to provide those basics."

There has also been a rise in health needs, which include feminine hygiene products and head lice treatments.

When a child's basic needs are not met they lose focus in the classroom and cannot participate in school activities, which results in feelings of exclusion, loss of self-esteem and hope, Chapman said.

"The overall impact of that, that persistent poverty, is that it's more likely those children will do worse as adults."

KidsCan, which has operated since 2005, provides food for 30,000 school children a week along with raincoats, shoes and socks. There are 51 schools in the Wellington region that require aid.

It supports 65 per cent of New Zealand's decile 1 to 4 primary, intermediate and high schools.

But the programme was told last year by Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Children, that its $350,000 in government funding would be scrapped.

The Government is still undecided if it will continue funding to KidsCan but a meeting with Children's Minister Tracey Martin is scheduled for February.

Chapman was hopeful that conversation would result in continued funding.

"If we don't get the finding, it puts in jeopardy the amount of items we are able to provide."

KidsCan has asked the public to help with funding and become monthly donors by signing up to support a child here