Save the Children NZ: Children & young people must be at the heart of new mental health legislation

Children and young people ‘must be meaningfully consulted with and their voices included’ in any changes to mental health and wellbeing legislation, says the New Zealand arm of the Save the Children charity.

As part of its oral submission on Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) (Improving Mental Health Outcomes) Amendment Bill, Save the Children New Zealand’s Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey says mental health is a leading issue facing children today, and to create a fit-for-purpose health strategy to support children’s mental health and wellbeing, they need to have their voices heard.

“In a Save the Children-led survey of 250 young people in Aotearoa aged 11 to 19 years in 2023, the message was very clear that youth want a say and to be considered in decision making and policy development,” said Southey.

“Mental Health is an extremely important issue to children and young people. In that same survey, mental health was identified as the most important issue affecting young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Additionally, 28 per cent reported that there is a lack of accessible support to properly manage the worsening mental health crisis. Twenty-two per cent were specifically concerned about the high rates of teen suicide and mortality.

These findings ‘were consistent’ with those of the Auditor General’s report from earlier this year where young people are consistently concerned about and calling for action on mental health.

“According to the Governor General, the mental health services and support currently available to young people is fragmented, and not all young people have timely and barrier-free access to appropriate mental health care. In a country that prides itself on being a good place to bring up children and young people, this is a matter we should all be concerned about.”

Save the Children is asking for:

– A legislative requirement for the Bill to uphold and advance children’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the CRC is explicitly referenced in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

– Children under 18 years and young people aged 18 to 25 years are recognised as key stakeholder groups and that they are consulted in the development of these strategic and guiding documents.

– The life course of children is an important component of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and is explicitly included.

– The Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy should deliver for diverse groups of children, including for Tamariki and rangatahi Māori and uphold their rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi in addition to their rights under other treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Southey continued: “While we support the intention of the Bill to strengthen the mental health system, children must be at the heart of proposed changes. In addition to tamariki and rangatahi Māori, other diverse groups such as migrant, disability, gender, LGBTQI+, rural and urban should be recognised and included.

“Giving consideration to how the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy impacts specific groups of children is essential if it is to effectively deliver for them.”

Click here for more information on this leglislation.

Author: Simon Weedy

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