By Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
OPINION: Last Sunday was Children’s Day – a day to celebrate the special children in our lives.
Amid the hustle and bustle of getting set up for the week ahead, I spent time doing one of my favourite things – reading some of the letters sent to me by children.
As Prime Minister, I receive a lot of letters from kids. Some of these come with drawings and paintings and some with lovely poems and songs. One I received recently was an almost-life-size rendering of a beautiful unicorn, complete with stick-on eye.
These letters aren’t just a break from formal briefings and papers – although they certainly are that! They also help me understand what really matters to our kids.
Children write to me on the most topical of issues. In fact, a lot of the time our children’s concerns echo the conversations we’re having with communities across New Zealand.
The Coalition Government’s decision to phase out single-use plastic bags had the support of hundreds of children who wrote to me directly urging the Coalition Government to clean up our oceans and save our marine life. We’re harnessing their energy and progressing our plans to transition to a clean, green, carbon-neutral economy, because we want our country to be in great shape for the next generation of New Zealanders.
One of our goals and aspirations as a Government is to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child. We always hear about New Zealand being a great place to raise a family – and that’s certainly true. But we can always do more.
The way we treat children, the way we look after their wellbeing, and the way we ensure the lives they lead are full of opportunity says so much about what kind of country we are.
That’s why so many of this Government’s policy priorities focus on improving the lives of Kiwi kids.
We have extended paid parental leave. We brought in the Families Package which lifted the rates of the Families Tax Credit, boosting incomes and making life just that bit easier for 384,000 families.
We also added the Best Start Payment, so you get an extra $60 a week for the first year of a child’s life after paid parental leave (if you don’t get paid parental leave you get it for the entire year).
That was just a way of acknowledging the cost that comes with having a wonderful new little one, and also a nod to just how vital the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are to their development and wellbeing.
For older children, we’ve extended free GP visits to 14 year olds, we’ve extended nurses in schools, and we’ve introduced Mana Ake – a programme in Canterbury and Kaikoura that provides mental health support and counselling in primary schools to help those kids affected by the earthquakes.
And, of course, we’ve introduced Child Poverty legislation, which won support from every Member of Parliament bar one. This legislation holds us to account on the progress we make in reducing child poverty.
These are just some of the things we’ve done to support our kids and our families – and to tackle some of the big issues we’re facing.
We also know that for our kids to learn and reach their full potential, they need access to a good education.
We’ve introduced extra support in schools, like Learning Support Coordinators to help those with additional learning needs, and we’ve put additional funding into early childhood education.
That’s in addition to the hundreds of new and upgraded schools, classrooms, and facilities we’ve been building around the country to make sure every child has the best possible start in school and in life.
But we know there’s a lot more work to do.
In just over a year in office, we have made a real difference to the lives of kiwi kids. Investing in future generations makes economic sense – and it’s just the right thing to do.
So – I hope everyone enjoyed Children’s Day! And I encourage all Kiwi kids – little and not-so-little – to write in and let me know how we can make New Zealand a better place for you to grow up.
Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister of New Zealand and leader of the Labour Party.