Unicef releases damning child welfare report
New Zealand frequently sits at the top when it comes to international rankings in tourism and economics. A new Unicef report has ranked us number one in another global measure. This is not one to celebrate.
New Zealand has topped the global teen suicide rankings, again.
Our position in the world was cemented on Thursday by a Unicef report that called into question the wellbeing of Kiwi kids.
The Innocenti Report found New Zealand's rate for teen suicides (15-19) was the highest of the 41 OECD and EU countries included. We also came in 38th out of 41 countries when it came to overall health and wellbeing of our young people.
Meanwhile, Portugal topped the list at the right end, with a teen suicide rate of 1.7 per 100,000. Italy and Spain were close behind.
* Unicef report: Wellbeing of Kiwi kids languishes behind other developed countries
* OPINION: NZ is failing its children and we must do better
* New Zealand needs to talk about suicide, bereaved dad says
The report put New Zealand's teen suicide rate of 15.6 people per 100,000, based on data from 2010. The rate had dropped slightly from the previous comparable report that used 2005 data but more recent figures show we were now headed in the other direction.
Provisional suicide statistics released by the Coroner's Office, show 51 (16.02 per 100,000) people in the age group died by suicide in the year to June 2016 and 52 (16.41 per 100,000) the previous year.
In an average week two young people would kill themselves, and about 20 young people would be hospitalised for self-harm, according to Youthline.
'WE'VE CREATED WHAT WE HAVE'
His father David Hurn said a mix of societal factors played a big part in the high teen suicide rate.
A lack of social skills and face-to-face interactions, an ingrained fear of failure, a fear of being different, and bullying all played a part.
Hurn said New Zealand would never completely eradicate teen suicide but the rates could be significantly lowered by teaching children a few fundamental things.
"We need to show our kids it's OK to be different… there's nothing wrong with failing and it's OK to make mistakes."
"It's building up that resilience," Hurn said.
Kiwis needed to look in the mirror and start making changes if they wanted to fix the problem.
"We've created what we have, now it's up to us to create what we want."
Hurn's father died recently and a section of his eulogy resonated: "I didn't grow up to be a rocket scientist; I didn't grow up to be prime minister; I grew up to be me, and I'm the best me that I can be."
Suicide, especially teen suicide, has become a high-profile political issue during the past few months given New Zealand's consistently high rates.
The government is in the midst of writing its new national suicide prevention strategy, which is currently out for public consultation. But the strategy was thrown into the limelight for the wrong reasons after mental health advocate and comedian Mike King quit the consultation panel, calling the draft strategy "deeply flawed".
'A CONSTELLATION OF FACTORS'
Unicef chief executive Vivien Maidaborn said the rate should not be considered in isolation. It was influenced by a constellation of other factors, such as socio-economic background, poverty, cultural influences and inequality.
The Unicef report highlighted other areas where New Zealand was doing terribly, including equality where we ranked 26th.
The report also found 19.8 per cent of Kiwi kids were living in relative income poverty, and the neonatal mortality rate was 3.1 children per 1000 (the same as in 2005), and the teenage birth rate was 23.3 births per 1000 females aged 15-19, a reduction from 28.7 per 1000 in 2005.
Asking why the rate was so high might be the wrong question, Maidaborn said.
Historically, New Zealand governments focused on the economy and an economic approach to policy when there was a need for a "whole-life" approach to welfare.
A more honest conversation about income poverty and inequality was necessary, she said.
"We design our economic policy and then try to fix it if we get it wrong for young children [but] it's like we're designing for the middle and most well-off New Zealanders.
"I feel like we have been talking about the economy as a measure of success in our society in collaboration with individual responsibility now for 25 years. That's resulted in a penal welfare system."
MONEY ON ITS WAY
Acting Minister for Children Amy Adams said government work was underway to support children and young people's wellbeing, especially our most vulnerable.
Both the newly formed Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Social Development were involved in "a range of cross-government projects to improve children and young people's wellbeing", she said.
This included the refreshed suicide prevention strategy, the Mental Health Strategy and implementation of the Youth Mental Health Project, as well as anti-bullying strategies.
She also listed recently announced funding that focussed on at-risk children and families, like $2 billion into Family Income Packages and $28.1 million into Family Start, a home visiting programme that helped the government target support to at-risk children.
Then there's the Child Hardship Package - $790m for up to 100,000 kids in extreme hardship, and increased benefits and tax credits for low-icome families.
"It's important to have child-centred policy," Adams said.
"This is a core focus in the government's four-to-five-year transformation of our care and protection system, and has resulted in a child-centred operating model led by the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki."
Legislation that passed in December 2016 ensured children and young people's views were taken into account in the development of services and policy. And if successful, legislation currently before parliament would establish enhanced complaints processes for children, young people and their families, whānau and caregivers, Adams said.
'WE NEED TO BE ASPIRATIONAL'
Labour deputy leader and spokesperson for children's issues Jacinda Ardern said the report's results were "astounding but not surprising".
New Zealand should be striving to be "world-leading" when it came to child wellbeing.
"This is an area where we need to be aspirational," Ardern said.
New Zealand should be setting goals and reporting on progress when it came to child health and wellbeing.
"We need to be lifting our game on child poverty."
The government had dismissed the idea of setting child poverty measures in the past, saying it wanted to focus on getting on with fixing the problem rather than reporting on goals.
"But they're not doing that either."
Arden said she hoped this report, which included sustainable development goals as set out by the UN, would not be dismissed by the government as had been the case with previous Unicef reports.
CONSTANT EVALUATION AND IMPROVEMENT
The World Health organisation has identified youth suicide as an issue that needs addressing.
For countries like New Zealand that have a national strategy in place, "the emphasis can be on evaluation and improvement", the WHO report said.
"The emphasis for these countries is on the timely inclusion of new data and ensuring that the national response improves in effectiveness and efficiency. Effective suicide prevention will require a continuous cycle of learning and doing."
In New Zealand, the Coroner's Office compiles the provisional suicide statistics, while district health boards across the country keep data on events including completed suicides, and attempts that lead to hospital admissions or interaction with mental health services.
While data is being collected and evaluated, there have been recent, loud calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mental health system, following the publicly organised People's Mental Health Review.
It's important to note people with mental health issues are at higher risk of suicide but many young Kiwis who take their own lives do not have a diagnosed mental illness and never came into contact with mental health services.
'A SENSE OF URGENCY'
Le Va chief executive Monique Faleafa said the teen suicide rate was "unacceptably high".
New Zealand's suicide rate was an anomaly, she said.
While other countries experienced large increases and decreases, our rate remained relatively constant. This made it harder to use the data to figure out what caused and prevented suicide.
What we did know was causal factors were complex, Faleafa said, adding that meant prevention strategies also had to be complex.
Prevention had to happen at all levels: in communities and schools, in legislation and at a societal level.
Faleafa said poverty did not cause suicide but it could be one of the risk factors.
Current initiatives were underway to bring rates down, including the national suicide prevention strategy that was currently under consultations, and a soon-to-be-launched national training programme for those who were likely to come into contact with people at risk of suicide.
Almost 20 years ago, the government released a report on youth suicide, highlighting the high rate in the 15-24 bracket, among males, and among the Maori population.
In 1998, New Zealand had the second highest reported suicide rate for those aged 15-24, the report said. And since then, not much has changed.
Faleafa said while there was good work being done around the country, she hoped the Unicef report would bring "a sense of urgency".
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).