What is child wellbeing, how do we measure it, and how can we improve it in New Zealand?

Those were the key questions posed at the E Tipu e Rea Child Wellbeing Workshop, hosted by A Better Start in Wellington earlier this month.

The Challenge’s Science Leadership Team gathered with experts from government agencies, NGOs and the wider health and education sector to explore what child wellbeing means in the context of A Better Start’s mission – and, most importantly, how we can effectively measure and enhance it.

“We want to better develop ways that our research can contribute to the government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, and create real impact for communities,” says A Better Start Director, Professor Wayne Cutfield.

The shared knowledge and ideas that came out of the Workshop presentations and discussion will help guide A Better Start for the final two years of its mission to create practical, evidence-based solutions that make a measurable difference for tamariki.

In summarising the day, Professor Cutfield said the bringing together of experts, researchers and organisations was invaluable. It provided an opportunity to create significant connections, which will hopefully lead to ongoing relationships between Government ministries and A Better Start researchers, collectively working to improve child wellbeing in New Zealand.

Valuable insight into different areas of child wellbeing came from the Workshop’s five guest speakers, including Maree Brown (Director of the Child Wellbeing Unit at Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), Debra Small (Social Wellbeing Agency), Arthur Grimes (Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research) and Max Kelly and Linc Gasking (businessmen and entrepreneurs now focused on child wellbeing and poverty).

Read more below about our renowned guest speakers and what they have to say about child wellbeing in New Zealand:



UK-based Max Kelly and ex-pat Linc Gasking are businessmen and entrepreneurs who are now focused on a new passion: child wellbeing.

The pair have spent the past couple of months talking to leading experts around the world – such as UNICEF, Harvard University’s Centre on the Developing Child, and the End Child Poverty Global Coalition – with a desire  to “distill what good practice is” and develop ways to improve outcomes for children.

They say there are four key takeaway messages from their work with global institutions:

  • Children live in environments of adults and are collateral to intergenerational trauma around them
  • Solutions need to help adults to help children, without shame
  • The problem exists in a complex situation so there may be many steps to improvement to get to “what good looks like”
  • Communication messaging structure is vital to good outcomes

The pair believe that New Zealand has a unique opportunity to create significant change.

“Globally, there is a wealth of accessible, duplicated research – generated at the highest levels of academia, science and social intervention.

“Because of its size, present political will, and its versatile and flexible style of government, New Zealand has an opportunity to capture and apply some of the best knowledge in the world. [It] has the opportunity to trial solutions on behalf of the world community… to be a world leader and pioneer by grasping the solutions that sit with individual research centres, with organisations, with individuals, and put the very best of them into practice.”

View Max Kelly and Linc Gasking’s presentation here (PDF)



Maree Brown, Director of the Child Wellbeing Unit of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, outlined New Zealand’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy – talking about how it was developed, mobilising collective action and measuring progress.

The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, launched in August 2019, sets out a shared understanding of what is important for child and youth wellbeing, what government is doing, and how others can help.

Maree Brown says there needs to be a cross-agency focus on the areas of highest impact, including:

  • early years support
  • reducing child poverty
  • a shared language for talking about and measuring wellbeing
  • fostering whānau-centred, iwi, Māori and community-led actions
  • sharing knowledge, ideas and resources

View Maree Brown’s Child and Youth Wellbeing presentation here (PDF)



The Social Wellbeing Agency’s Debra Small outlined the opportunities and challenges of measuring child wellbeing in Aotearoa, focusing on what is possible with the administrative data we have as well as the limitations and the considerable data gaps in key areas of children’s wellbeing.

The SWA’s analysis of the existing data landscape against the Child & Youth Strategy outcomes shows that while we do have a lot of data about children in Aotearoa, much of it is largely administrative, there are no areas of child wellbeing which have comprehensive data coverage and there are significant gaps for early age groups.

Most of the data does not include the voices of children, young people or their whanau.

Debra Small acknowledged that New Zealand is not alone in the challenges we face in measuring children’s wellbeing, as illustrated by the recent mahi the Social Wellbeing Agency undertook to support the OECD in the development of an international child wellbeing framework.

View Debra Small’s Social Wellbeing Agency presentation here (PDF)



Multiple countries have used wellbeing as a guide to policymaking, but there has been one main problem for many – a lack of accountability, says Arthur Grimes, a Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

He cites Wales, which introduced the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015, as an example of getting it right. “They have to put out targets and every agency in government has to say how their policies are promoting wellbeing and sustainability; they have a sustainability commissioner who audits this, and the equivalent of the Audit Office audits it as well … I think it’s a good approach; it’s one where they have tried to get some accountabilities in place.”

He says there are three key areas where New Zealand can improve on wellbeing measurements for children:

  • Ensuring consistent measures across New Zealand surveys. “If we’re going to ask questions, make sure they’re existing questions already being asked [elsewhere] – so that we can compare.”
  • Ensure New Zealand fully participates in international child wellbeing surveys, such as the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Assessment).
  • Survey younger children’s wellbeing through the international Children’s World questionnaires.

View Arthur Grimes’ Children’s Wellbeing Measurement presentation here (PDF)

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