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Poipoia te kākano kia puawai: Family structure, change and the wellbeing of tamariki Māori

International evidence suggests family context shapes children’s health and wellbeing. In Aotearoa NZ, initiatives such as the Wellbeing Budget, Child Poverty Reduction Act, and the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy underscore the wellbeing of children as a policy priority. These initiatives are particularly important for tamariki Māori; in 2018, 38 percent of the Māori population was under 18, compared to 24 percent of the total NZ population.

In Poipoia te kākano kia puawai, the authors used data from the NZ Longitudinal Census (2001, 2006 and 2013) and Growing Up in New Zealand to explore changes in family structure in the first four and a half years of life (a critical period of development in children’s lives); and potential links with cognitive development, socio-emotional outcomes, and cultural connectedness.

Key Findings

  • A stable two-parent family is the primary experience, and sole parenthood is transitory: tamariki Māori are more likely to spend some time in a sole parent household than other children in Aotearoa NZ, however a stable two-parent family is their primary experience.
  • Diverse family trajectories are linked to poorer cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes of tamariki Māori, but they are not the main driver.
  • The most important predictors of cognitive development [vocabulary, numeracy, and literacy] that also indicate school readiness, are mothers’ education and age, material hardship, and neighbourhood deprivation.
  • Cultural connectedness promotes socio-emotional development. Diverse family trajectories are associated with higher levels of cultural connectedness among tamariki Māori. Had diverse family experiences not also been associated with greater cultural connectedness, the socio-emotional development gap may have been wider.

The authors of the study say it suggests the value of researching and differentiating the links to family and child wellbeing experienced by tamariki Māori, since there are potentially unique dimensions of wellbeing that are more important to Māori which may be overlooked when we do not create Māori-led and Māori-centred policy.

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