Children exposed to more safety risks if they live in rental homes, Auckland Uni study shows
Children living in rental housing are exposed to greater safety risks than those whose families own their home, a study has shown.
Auckland University's Growing up in New Zealand Now We Are Four report found private rental homes have significantly fewer home safety features than family-owned, or state-owned homes.
The research, published on Friday in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, was based on data collected from 6000 families who participated in the longitudinal study.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Berry said New Zealand had a poor record of children being injured from falls, scalds and poisonings in the home.
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Unintentional injuries were a leading cause of childhood hospitalisation and death in New Zealand.
That rate was highest for children under 5, with the most common injuries relating to burns, poisoning and ingestions, typically of laundry powder and batteries, Berry said.
"These injuries often have long-lasting impacts for the children and their families".
When the children were 2, between 2011-2012, their mothers were interviewed about what features they had in their homes to prevent injury.
Those features included storing poisonous substances safely, knowing what to do if a child accidentally ate or drank something harmful, storing matches and lighters out of reach, having working smoke alarms, having hot water set at a temperature safe for children, having locked doors or gates at stairs, covering electrical outlets within reach, and having fully-fenced driveways and play areas.
The study showed, on average, there were six of the nine measured safety features in each child's household.
Fewer than five per cent of families reported having all nine safety features.
About 40 per cent of participating families were living in rental homes during their child's preschool years.
The study found no association between socioeconomic status and the number of safety features present in homes, but Berry said inequity "certainly" played a role.
"In particular, fewer of these homes had working smoke alarms, fenced driveways or fenced play areas."
Berry said the research pointed to opportunities to protect vulnerable young children by developing new policies aimed at making rental homes safer.
The home is the location where a child is most likely to be injured during their preschool years, so measures focused on improving household safety were an "important place to start", she said.
"Anyone renting a home should be safe and healthy."
The evidence suggested there was also a gap between private rental homes and state-owned homes, which measured "very high levels of safety features".
Household safety features were also less likely to be present in the homes of children who had moved house at least once since birth, compared with those who had not moved at all.
The recent review of the New Zealand Residential Tenancies Act now ensures working smoke alarms will be present in all rental homes.
The policy change followed an earlier release of household safety findings from the Growing Up in New Zealand study, Berry said.