A petition calling on the government to restore critical funding to the Growing Up in New Zealand study has gathered thousands of signatures within days of being launched. Organisers believe funding the study should be a priority for the next Government. Labour finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson, has committed to restoring full funding, if a Labour government is elected.
Growing Up in NZ (GUiNZ) is Aotearoa’s largest contemporary study of children and families. Tracking the health and development of over 6000 children since before they were born in 2009 and 2010, GUiNZ was designed to follow the children until age 21. The study provides rich information on the drivers of child health and wellbeing for the public, practitioners, and policy makers, aimed at improving interventions.
Where previous research conducted in Aotearoa/New Zealand had much narrower frames of reference, GUiNZ is the first study specifically designed to look at outcomes for Māori, Pasifika, and Asian children.
However, just ahead of the study’s eight-year data collection wave, researchers and the families involved learned that the government had cut funding to the study. Only 2000 of the study’s 6853 children would be included and followed from now on.
“It was so disappointing,” says Dr Katie Tuck, the Auckland based paediatrician who organised the petition, “We have invested so much time in this study over the past eight years and for the government to cut funding when the children are so young seems so short sighted.” Dr Tuck, whose daughter is in the study, says that study families have still not been told why the government has decided to not fund the full cohort.
The eight-year data collection wave is especially significant because the children have started school and this is the first time children will answer the questionnaires for themselves.
“The 8 year old survey is the first time the child’s voice is heard,” says Dr Mae David, a Māori GP in Auckland whose 8 year old daughter is in the study. “[The children are] asked about their favourite foods and activities and most importantly about their mood.”
Questions about children’s mood are particularly important given UNICEF’s recent finding that New Zealand has by far the highest rates of youth suicide in the OECD. “Growing Up is a once in a generation opportunity for us to find out what is driving these terrible statistics” says Dr Tuck.
Dr Tuck is concerned that the government’s new social investment approach means that child health studies like GUiNZ aren’t seen to be as important. “You can’t get the same sort of rich information from administrative datasets which don’t include people’s voices, let alone children’s voices. [These datasets] don’t have the biological samples that allow genetic studies either.”
NZD$1.4 million is urgently needed to ensure that all the children and families are included in this data wave. Dr Tuck says this is a very small sum when compared to the tens of millions of dollars that has already been invested in the study, and the value that will be created from the data’s insights.
Along with public interest in saving the study, there is also much-needed political will. When reached for comment via Twitter, Member of Parliament Grant Robertson confirmed that a Labour-led Government would restore funding to the full cohort, stating that GUiNZ was “important work if we are to have true evidence based policy.” The Green Party’s Marama Davidson also tweeted
“We need to save it. Particularly for its Māori, Pacific and Asian sampling work. Groundbreaking and otherwise scarce in other research.”
GROWING UP IN NEW ZEALAND – AT A GLANCE
- Largest and most diverse study ever conducted about growing up in New Zealand
- Represents the lives and stories of over 6000 children and their families from before birth until early adulthood
- Provides unique insight into what shapes children’s development and how interventions might be targeted at the earliest opportunity to give every kiwi child the best start in life.
- Previous research, while important, is out of date. The famous “Dunedin Study” is 45 years old, and New Zealand is a different place now. GUiNZ is the first study specifically designed to look at outcomes for Māori, Pasifika, and Asian children.
- To date the study has published more than 90 scientific papers, and several hundred policy-relevant outputs. Several hundred requests for access to the study’s data have been approved for use by researchers across policy, academia and the community.
- Is multidisciplinary with researchers from health, education, psychology, sociology, genetics, speech and language, nutrition, Asian health, Māori health, and Pacific health, all working with the data.
- The initial cohort size was chosen to ensure statistical representation of children born in contemporary New Zealand.
- The study design and sample size for the study was agreed by all parties including the Health Research Council and Ministry of Social Development (on behalf of 16 government agencies) during a two-year development phase (2005-2007) and included cross-party agreement on the projected study costs.
- The 8 year data wave includes children’s questionnaires, accelerometers to measure the children’s physical activity and sleep, and measures of material hardship.
- The dots need to stay connected, any holes in the data means it becomes harder to determine when things become significant and risks losing touch with whānau.
A message from Dr Katie Tuck, petition organiser
Behind the petition to save GUiNZ, is a passionate group of families and professionals who want the study to be fully funded. We’ve been amazed by the response to the petition. We know there are a lot of people who care about this study.
We believe the funding of this critical research should be a priority for the next government of New Zealand. If you think this is important, too:
Sign and share the petition
Watch Dr Katie Tuck talk about the Growing Up in New Zealand petition on The Project
For media enquiries: contact Dr Katie Tuck 021 388380