Latest child health report reveals 'dire' situation for New Zealand's children - Cure Kids

Warning: This story discusses mental health, self-harm, and suicide.

The latest State of Child Health report makes for uncomfortable reading, with a lot more work needed to be done for our most vulnerable children to grow and thrive.

The just-released report from Cure Kids shines a spotlight on unacceptably high numbers of children and adolescents who live with health issues, many of them preventable.

Hailey Smith was just 13 years old when she started self-harming. At 14, she tried to take her life and over the next few years, fuelled by depression, anxiety and anorexia, she made a further 15 attempts.

"I wholeheartedly believed the world was a better place without me. And there was just no way I could continue to fight with the pain that I was dealing with and it was the only way I could see out of the hole I was in," Smith, who is now a mental health advocate, told Newshub.

She was counselled weekly and "in and out" of mental health facilities and hospital medical wards. A psychiatrist once told her mum, her biggest supporter, to prepare for her funeral.

"I would be discharged on a Friday, then readmitted on a Monday. I had become a revolving door patient. Everyone was lost with what to do with me."

The State of Child Health report released on Tuesday revealed the rate of people aged under 19 admitted to hospital due to mental health has doubled in the past 15 years. But adolescent girls are nearly five times more likely to be admitted than boys.

In the five years to the end of 2021, more than 3200 children and adolescents were hospitalised for self-harm every year - that's five times the average number between 2000 and 2004.

Smith said sometimes medical staff called her an attention seeker and would send her home without treatment. So what needs to be done to better look after our young children with mental health issues?

"There needs to be an attitude change around the way we look at mental health. And then also the training and the resources provided to mental health professionals working on the frontline," she said.

Respiratory conditions, rheumatic fever and skin infections are - according to the report - also hugely problematic for Kiwi kids, especially for Māori and Pasifika and those from poorer areas.

Te Aho-mairangi Marsh-Hokianga has rheumatic fever. She was diagnosed out of the blue in December.

Being Māori, she's 40 times more likely to be hospitalised with the disease than a European child. She's already endured 10 weeks in hospital this year.

"She's not out of the woods yet, as she still has regurgitation in the heart. She needs to go for another echo scan to determine how her heart valves are doing," said her nana, Kelly Mihaka.

She'll need monthly injections for the next 10 years just like her dad, who also had it as a child.

"I was paralysed from the waist down, eight years old. I had to get my injections every month - every 28 days - until I was 21," said dad Te Ra Hokianga.

The report also states that 35 percent of all acute hospitalisations for children are due to respiratory conditions - most of them are under five. It's a situation that was summed up in one word by Cure Kids CEO Frances Soutter: "Dire."

"If we don't do something now this problem is just going to escalate. We have children going to hospital for preventable illnesses. We know the trauma on families alone," Soutter said.

Pediatric specialist Professor Stuart Dalziel urged the Government to prioritise children's health.

"What we need is better political investment in pediatric health in this country."

But there is hope on the horizon. Smith is now involved in Mike King's mental health initiative Gumboot Friday and plans to study nursing in July. She wants to specialise in paediatrics so she can help the next generation of New Zealand children. 

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