Rotorua Lakes District Council has been working hard to address equity issues in their region, particularly in relation to children.
The Council’s child equity pilot project, designed to support tamariki living in deprivation, recently won the Minister for Local Government’s Award for Innovation in council/community relations.
“49% of our 0-9 year olds live in the highest level of deprivation. Just that statistic itself gave momentum for us to change the way we were approaching things. We thought to ourselves, ‘what can we do to interrupt the poverty cycle and help our kids dream big?’” says Jill Campbell, advisor in the Council’s Strategy and Partnership Team.
The team initially focussed on access to public facilities for lower socio-economic communities.
“We have these existing, wonderful free services for our children. The library, the aquatic centre, the museum… but we knew that not all children in our community were accessing or using them equally. So we looked at all of this with an equity lens and started figuring out how we could change things, without reinventing the wheel.”
Addressing the barriers
The first things to be assessed were the barriers. While the aquatic centre had partnered with a local swim school to deliver some free swim safety lessons and arranged transport for local children in years 4-6 to make use of, the reality is that lower decile schools weren’t taking up this opportunity. The reason was simple – many tamariki didn’t have togs.
What came next was a conversation with the newly appointed principal of a local decile 1 school – Sunset Primary in Fordlands, Rotorua.
“While we had some ideas, we first talked with the principal to get his thinking on needs, gaps and possible solutions.”
Jill then approached the aquatic centre, who agreed to gather and wash all of the kids’ lost swimwear that had been left at the pool. Jill then delivered the togs to the school, so that the children were finally able to make use of the free swim school service.
“We know that kids’ exposure to positive experiences and existing opportunities in our community is often lacking, and that’s an area that we could help make a difference.”
They also identified that the school was in need of some better recreational facilities for their students.
“There was only a very limited playground for the younger kids, and there was a lack of financial resources to address this. The reality is that generating an extra $20,000 through a gala day to help fund a new playground just isn’t possible for every school.”
Bringing others on board
“We (the Council) approached our local funder – Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust, to ask if they would partner with us to fund a child equity programme for the school. They were interested and supportive, but wanted the application to come from the school. That was a good lesson; we (Council) could assist them with the application. but it should be led by the school.
By May 2019, just four months after those initial talks, things had quickly moved forward. The primary school was awarded funding to not only support a ‘Bikes in Schools’ programme, with an accompanying bike track on the school grounds, but also a substantial playground. All of which would be open to the public outside of school hours.
Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust also funded a salary for a part-time support person who could drive tamariki to and from the aquatic centre, sport and various clubs so that local children were able to participate.
At a school whānau day, students and whanau took part in the selection process for their new playground equipment, and gave input into the development of the bike track. It was important that everyone was involved and able to have their say.
Impact on children’s wellbeing
Having taken a chance on a different collaborative approach, the school’s principal was thrilled to see a new energy among the tamariki.
“I have kids showing up at 7am each morning because they’re so excited to get to school.”
Children, Jill reminds us, spend as much time at school as they do with their whānau at home.
“You want school to be a safe place for kids to learn. When you look at wellbeing, there are some basic needs that every person requires before we can learn.”
With the government’s school lunch programme already in place, and with the addition of new recreational facilities at the school, the start of the new school year for 2020 saw a record turnout on day one.
“I’m really proud of the progress that we have made to better support children in this community. We have to move fast here. This is children. It’s their education and their wellbeing. It’s urgent.” Read more about the impact on children’s wellbeing
The programme has since grown into a collective group of organisations targeting services to make opportunities available to children who need them most.
“Strong community connections only come about by showing up and doing the mahi. Showing that you mean what you say by following through on what you say you’ll do. Ultimately it’s about finding new ways to support children in the early stages of their lives. To inspire and instil hope and aspirations so that all tamariki can dream big… and so we can break the cycle.”
Story courtesy of Inspiring Communities https://inspiringcommunities.org.nz/stories/