Nearly 16,000 children seek emergency aid over Christmas

By Jessica Tyson

A total of 15,795 New Zealand children received emergency aid including, food, clothing and shelter, from The Salvation Army this Christmas.

Volunteers and staff spent the festive season packing and handing out 14,394 food parcels, organising counselling sessions and providing housing for 400 families.

Head of welfare services Pam Waugh says 2019 will remain an uphill battle for these families as they prepare for the school year, expected to bring even more strain with stationery, uniforms and transport costs.   

“Extra expenses over the holiday period with kids home from school are an added cost to families living on low incomes," says Waugh.

Waitakere Foodbank. Source: The Salvation Army

Child Poverty Monitor

The Child Poverty Monitor report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner released this month also found that one in five children under the age of 15 experience moderate-to-severe food insecurity.

Those figures are upsetting, but not surprising, Waugh says.

“That’s between 161,000 and 188,000 New Zealand children who can’t count on having regular nutritious meals. It’s incredibly heartbreaking to hear children take on the pressure of financial hardship and say they need to find ways to get money to help Mum and Dad."

Pam Waugh says 2019 will remain an uphill battle. Source; The Salvation Army.

Mental health

Waugh says The Salvation Army is facing unprecedented demand for its counselling services from both families and individuals.

"The organisation’s counsellors see daily the stress of poverty leading to poor mental health, family violence and behavioural problems in children."

Registered clinical psychologist at Victoria University Dr Dougal Sutherland says the struggle extends beyond physical needs for children living in poverty.

“Children are the victims of circumstance and can’t escape the weight of poverty. Stress on the developing brain can have a major effect on mental health.”

Sutherland says parents who experience depression as a result of poverty tend to have poorer emotional relationships with their children and that parental depression is a major predictor of child depression.

“Most of us will have experienced stress in our lives but that stress is usually short-lived and we can recover afterwards. Thousands of children are sadly living in environments where hope doesn’t exist,” he says.

The Salvation Army is seeking support from the public to continue helping vulnerable families into the New Year.