The report explores what family and environmental characteristics are associated with transitions in exposure to vulnerability over time. It considers ‘sets of risk factors’ or ‘clusters’, and the way in which exposure to risk factors change over time.
The report identified that only 1 in 5 of children in the ‘high risk’ group had access to social services. “It is a real concern to see that the majority of families who are potentially most in need of support during their children’s early years are not connected to social service providers” says Growing Up in New Zealand Director, Associate Professor Susan Morton from the University of Auckland.
The study adds real value to the current debate on child vulnerability, and supports what NZCCSS social services providers have long seen in their communities and reported in research and advocacy work.
Overview of key results:
Only 1 in 5 families with children in the high risk group for vulnerability accessed social support services in the child’s first 1000 days of life
Early life vulnerability is resulting in poor health and behavioural outcomes for the children within their first 1000 days
Health impacts: Children who were exposed to persistently high vulnerability (children in the high risk group at all three time points – antenatal, 9-month and 2-years) were more likely to have experienced chest infections, and to have incomplete immunisations by the age of two years.
Behavioural impacts: Children who experienced a persistently high or an increase in vulnerability risk were more likely to show behavioural and emotional problems (measured using the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)) when compared to those who were in the stably low vulnerability risk group
The most common risk factors were families living in an area of high deprivation, and having a mother who experienced regular financial stress or is on an income tested benefit.
Traditional approaches of providing support by deprivation area to reduce downstream effects of vulnerability may not be accurately targeted. While living in a high deprivation area was one of the most common risk factors in early life for children, it was also the most likely risk factor to occur as a single risk.
Some family and environmental characteristics are more likely to be associated with persistence of hardship; these include having an unplanned pregnancy, less family and neighbourhood support, more relationship stress and being born outside of New Zealand.
Teenage motherhood often occurs together with other risk factors such as having no partner, living in a public rental and having incomplete secondary school education. This makes children of teenage mums likely to be at high risk of vulnerability.