Ensuring every child in New Zealand has enough to thrive

A guest post by Susanne Ruthven, our candidate for Rimutaka 2014

Last week was the first week back after the school holidays and what a busy week! It was all about children for me – pre-schoolers, primary kids and college teens. And of course with our newborn Paige, every week is about babies for me.

I begun the week in Parliament attending the launch of our policy on Early Childhood Education, where Metiria Turei gave an inspiring speech about how every child in New Zealand deserves to be healthy, well-fed, clothed, educated and included in society. This policy is the first of a suite of policies that will help tackle child poverty and inequality by ensuring every child in New Zealand has enough to thrive.

thriving kids

Investing in Our Children

The early years of a child’s life are considered the formative years. A child’s learning between birth and 5 years old is crucial to their development. Investing in quality early childhood education for our children will pay dividends later in life, whether it be parent-led centres run by the community for the community, like Playcentre and Kohanga Reo, or teacher-led centres, like Kindergarten.

After the launch, I visited Epuni Kindergarten with Metiria and Catherine Delahunty. Like with all my campaigning, Paige came with me. The children flocked to Paige, stroking her hair, rubbing her back and coo-ing in her ear. The children’s inquisitive minds, all the while learning, had many questions to ask: Can she walk? Why is she asleep? How do you get the milk inside you? Does she bite the milk out?

100% Qualified Teachers

Our ECE Policy will help kindy kids like these to learn by reinstating the requirement to have 100% qualified teachers in teacher-led early childhood centres. The extension to the 20 hours of free early childhood education will also help reduce the cost of attending kindy, providing some immediate financial relief for many families.

Later that week, I took three of my children to our local Playcentre, Maungaraki Playcentre. We’ve been going to Maungaraki Playcentre for over 6 years now, so the children there watched my tummy grow as Paige grew and met her soon after she was born. It’s so delightful to see the children forming a relationship with Paige, discovering who she is and how to engage with her: Does she want one of our dinosaurs? Can I hold her next? Why is she crying, she wants you to read her this book!

Extending the 20 free hours to two-year-olds will provide a much needed boost in funding to Playcentres. For our local Playcentre, it will equate to approximately $2,400 per year. Being a community-based, not-for-profit ECE, any surplus funds are often spent on learning resources for the children.

Metiria Turei speaking at the Kindergarten Association’s conference in Wellington

On Thursday, I spoke to the senior students at St Oran’s College. Many of the girls were deciding what to do when they left school, so I told them about what it was like for me as a former student there, my career as a Human Right Barrister and my transition into politics.

I also took the opportunity to talk to them about how important it is for young people to have their voice heard, particularly by voting. Last election saw the lowest voter turnout since before suffrage. By voting in the election, the girls would be honouring the role Kate Sheppard played in securing the right to vote for women in New Zealand.

While I was speaking Paige woke, so I slipped her out of her sling to feed her. There was a collective “awww” from the students as she emerged. After the class, many of them stayed behind to ask me questions and took turns holding Paige: Does she sleep much at night? How do you know what she wants? When will she start talking? Do you need a babysitter!

It’s can be a stressful, uncertain time growing up. Not only are teenagers learning through school, but they are also discovering who they are and where they fit in the world. Many seemed to have the weight of the world on their shoulders as they are deciding what career paths to take. We know that teenagers have complicated needs. That’s why we’re supporting teenagers by offering free healthcare for all children from birth to 18 years old.

I ended the week by visiting St Michael’s School in Taita with Holly Walker, to tell them about our policy of creating hubs in every low decile school, which will help families by providing health care and social welfare services. St Michael’s is a fascinating school because, although its decile one, unlike the other decile one schools we’ve visited, the children don’t seem to go without basic necessities, like breakfast, lunch, shoes, warm jerseys and raincoats. Being a faith-based school, it is supported by the local church, the local community group, Great Start Taita and local violinists, Arohanui Strings. It’s terrific to see a school already operating as a hub for their community.

While we were there, we took a tour of the school, walking through every classroom. In each class, I had children surround me, pawing at Paige, asking question after question: Was she in your tummy? How did you know how to grow her? Why is she a girl?

It’s wonderful to see how engaged in learning our children are. It doesn’t matter where they live, what school they are at, or what age they are. At every ECE centre and school I visited, the children were intrigued to learn new things, this time the new thing was a baby. These inquisitive minds, offering a fresh perspective on the world, is what I love the most about children.

The Greens hold children at the heart of all our policies. We believe investing in our children’s education is an investment in our future leaders, the young people of New Zealand.


#ThrivingKids #LoveNZ