© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Not all Kiwi children get the chance to belong

Rachel Das
Kids and balloons
Children off to a birthday party: a familiar sight.   Rachel Das

While some may take their childhood experiences for granted, not every child gets that privilege.

We could talk about housing.

Or lack of food.

Of children not having the essentials… no heating in winter or even shoes.

But there's something arguably even more fundamental our children our missing out on.

A place to belong.

Balloons popping, children racing around, bowls of cheerios with tomato sauce, lollies and cake weighing the table down, high pitched voices, a donkey with it's tail pinned on in all sorts of places and a pile of brightly wrapped presents. 

Children's birthday parties may seem like a fairly ordinary childhood experience. 

But it's missing out on these sorts of birthday party experiences that adds to "experiential poverty".

Bella Aitken from the Kiwi Family Trust defines experiential poverty as children going without normal experiences that most of us would take for granted.

Children discuss what they love about birthday parties... and why they're important.

It's often money that holds children back from being part of sports clubs, Scouts or learning to play an instrument.

Youth Alive Trust manager, James Ridpath, says there are many alternatives for children from families with higher disposable incomes to belong, but it's a big deal for those on lower incomes.

At $2 per session, places like Youth Alive Trust try to make after school activities affordable.

But MaryAnn Bell of the Phillipstown Community Centre says the families of children in the deepest poverty can't afford even hugely subsidised rates to activities.

"The parents who are really struggling, their kids don't come to programs," Bell says. 

graph 3
Data sourced from various Christchurch lesson providers. Sports prices are for a season, other lessons are for a term.

Dr Stephanie Moor, child and adolescent psychiatrist, says having a place to belong is an important part of a child's development.

She stresses that for a child to truly belong, they must feel safe, as that is the place from which they can explore the world, learn and fully develop.

"Children who don't feel safe and belong will feel worried and anxious about things."

Moor says this anxiety can then present itself in behavioural problems. 

Haeata Community Campus in Aranui aren't just helping provide the basics of extra food for children. They're making sure their children on the margins are getting a full experience of life at school. 

Last month, Haeata's navigator and communicator Jeremy Faumuina spent a week driving students to and from the mall, getting them kitted out for the school ball. 

He believes they're just doing their bit to help out their young people and families. 

"It was awesome seeing kids who normally wouldn't dress up –  it always make you feel really good."

Even up to two hours before the ball, Faumuina was busy getting guys sorted with suits and shoes and girls with their dresses. 

While one mum was totally overwhelmed, students couldn't get over what the school was doing for them.

"It was a stressful time for us with no finance to pay for outfits. The staff made it so easy and took all that stress away from me with helping out with a formal dress, make-up etc. They were awesome," says one student.

All the guys were given free haircuts from a barber, while the girls could book their slot for a free hair, make up and nail treatment from a team of volunteering professionals.

"The way they sorted a lot of us with clothing and hairs cuts was out of it! That was so nice of them - I wouldn't have been able to go (to the formal) if the school didn't help out," another student says. 

actual final mountain bike
Quote sourced from Office of the Children's Commissioner website, #stateofcarenz Pixabay, Creative Commons Licence

One of the reasons a lot of children aren’t getting the chance to belong to different groups and discover if they're gifted in music, sports or dance etc, is parents' debt.

Anne Addei from Compassion Trust works with a team giving budget advice and support, helping get families out of debt.

She sees hundreds of people in debt walk through the doors every year. 

The consequence of this debt is felt in numerous ways, but the reality for children is that they miss out.

"If there's no money, kids can't do stuff – sports stuff let alone birthday parties or normal, everyday things," Addei says. 

One of Addei’s initial goals for getting parents out of debt is to help them set an achievable goal, like saving a few dollars to take their kid to the movies for their birthday.

"If we can get one client to set one goal and they achieve it, then they start to think ‘Man, I can do this’!"

One goal, that may result in another child getting the chance to enjoy being an everyday child, a chance to belong.