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Source: Human Rights Commission

Monitoring current strategies to help reduce the impact COVID-19 on children and young people is essential, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says. 

An update released yesterday on the first year of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy shows promising progress in addressing some issues to do with adversity. 

For example, Ms Tesoriero said the extension of the nurses in school programme and Zero Fee GP visits for 13-year-olds would improve access to health services; and families would welcome the extension to lunch programmes and at least some increase in benefits. It was also positive that most of the 623 new Learning Support Coordinator roles in schools had commenced. 

“It’s great to see some progress in tackling poverty but it’s important to get to the root of systemic issues and not rely on band aids for long-term change,” Ms Tesoriero said. 

Impacts from COVID-19 on already disadvantaged families were critical to identify, act on and measure. It was particularly important to show how disabled children and young people are affected. 

“Issues specific to disabled children and young people need to be visible in monitoring,” Ms Tesoriero said. “For example, does the reported growth in public housing stock increase accessible housing for families with disabled children when we know there’s a serious shortage?” 

Ms Tesoriero said she was pleased that the update recognised more work was needed in dealing with discrimination, racism and stigma. 

Disabled young people and rangatahi whaikaha are already often locked out of employment due to discrimination, and the COVID-19 downturn in employment may make this worse.  

“Actions specific to improving disabled young people’s job prospects like those mentioned in the recent Youth Plan are vital.” 

“I would like to see future monitoring and reports show more clearly how the strategy is improving the lives of children and young people with neurodiversity such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and increasing support for parents of all disabled children, and also for disabled parents.” 

Ms Tesoriero said all agencies should be prioritising children’s and whānau rights.  

“Next steps will need to increase the focus on those hit hardest by COVID-19, including ongoing engagement with disabled young people and rangatahi whaikaha.”  

Ms Tesoriero said the Commission wanted the strategy to be part of a commitment to addressing poverty and to implementing the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report rather than just taking them into account in the work programme.