© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

The answer to child poverty may be in getting to know your neighbours

Rachel Das
Picnic table
The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, says no proud New Zealander wants to see children living in poverty.   Rachel Das

With one in seven children in poverty, the Children's Commissioner says it's up to all of us to change those statistics.

He lived at his friends' houses.

His dad lived in the car.

They were isolated,

Without any one to advocate for them

Until someone did just that.

Now father and son live in their own house,

Their own walls, a safe space.

Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, says if the solution to getting rid of child poverty was simple, we would have eliminated it a long time ago.

But the reality is, it's a little more complicated.

Thousands of Kiwi children aren't simply going without healthy food or having shoes that fit, they're missing out on healthy family and community relationships and growing up in generational poverty.

And Becroft is concerned.

"We could almost have pockets of entrenched disadvantage in our country – second generation, maybe third now that are disconnected and dislocated from the community and are becoming marginalised. We don't want that in NZ," Becroft says. 

Bella Aitken of the Kiwi Family Trust says the families she works with in Christchurch are isolated, without the support of family, church groups or friends.

In contrast, she observes that in overseas third world countries, people have community and are happy.

"It's about support. People are looking for someone to not judge them, looking for a friend in a system where it's systemised."

Aitken says this need for wider community has a flow on effect on children. The children she works with count her as their family, wanting her input in their lives – and she's not the only person to say this.

Aitken believes families are needing the connection, friendship and input of the wider community - and that it's all of our job to give this.

"In the 50's and 60's neighbours were family, they didn't lock house – they looked after neighbour," she describes. 

While Aitken understands it can be easier said than done, she says it's as simple as starting by saying hello to your neighbours.

"Who's noticing the people in our community? Who's got the time and charity? Who's looking out for each other?"

A community in action: Aranui celebrate life together, as they welcome the Scottish rugby league team.

Child psychologist Jo Doyle believes it takes a "community to raise a child" and that it's a key element for a child to be safe.

"Community gives a sense of belonging and is a buffer if things going wrong in a child's own family," Doyle says.

Rachel Trengrove doesn’t know how solo parents get by without community.

As a mother to three children and solo parent, she says the importance of community about her and her family is number twelve on a scale of one to ten.

"I have amazing community, they all provide something different for my children and I and that's the diversity of people."

Trengrove says community are there to give wise counsel, listen when you need to share life issues and just have a laugh with.

"It's ok to need help… That's how you get through the really, really difficult times, you can't do it on your own, it's too hard."

She believes society is becoming more and more impoverished as people push for their own independence. 

"People have real difficulty in admitting they don't have it all together and actually need help."

Without community, Trengrove thinks her children would have suffered.

"It's hard to ask for help, but so important for the health of your children and your own health as well."

While sometimes you have to be proactive in finding community, Trengrove says it's there to be found – whether that be a cup of tea with your neighbours, a church group or youth club.  

"People love to help, if you reach out and ask for help it's actually giving someone the opportunity to feel like they're contributing to community and society."

Painted stones
“We all have different things to offer, we can all support each other in different ways," Trengrove says. Rachel Das

Cathy Richardson, the Pastoral Care Co-ordinator at Grace Vineyard Church, says there's been a break down in neighbourhood community, but believes it's the answer to child poverty. 

"Community cannot be underestimated in its ability to bring healing to people."

She saw a father who had been an alcoholic go dry for three months, just on the basis of feeling accepted and welcomed by the church community.

"Creating a community like a church community where they can belong is important, where it's free. Belonging is huge."

Richardson is quick to remind people to respect each other and not judge, also saying it takes time to change.

"There's no magic pill, there's no quick fix. You change (broken families) slowly. Because poverty is generational, it will take a generation or two to change."

While the need can be overwhelming and people need to understand they can’t do everything, Richardson encourages people to start with just one small thing.

"When we make it too big, we don't do anything - so we end up doing nothing," Richardson says. 

Social workers believe getting to know our neighbours may be the part of the answer. Rachel Das

Anne Addei had no idea of just how rampant child poverty was before she began working for the Compassion Trust, giving budget help.

"I think if people are educated about what is happening on their doorstep, the average person would have no idea," Addei says.

She believes raising awareness and realising poverty is most likely in your own neighbourhood is key.

In addition, Addei advocates for all of us to build community in our neighbourhoods and get to know each other.

"You just don't know what’s going on in families at all, what goes on behind closed doors until someone comes and talks about it."

And that doesn't happen without community, something each of us can choose to be part of, even if it's taking some of your extra veggies to the next door neighbour.

It may be simple, but perhaps introducing yourself to your neighbour and getting to know them is a first step to being a participant rather than an observer in changing the numbers of child poverty.

Those numbers that show one out of seven children are living without.

Numbers of children who have faces and voices.  

Voices that say: we must stem the tide of child poverty.

It starts on our doorstep.

That father and son?

The boy's no longer unkempt,

No longer in trouble.

They're looking ahead,

Planning the boy's future. 

It just took one person,

For their story to be different.