Canterbury health and wellbeing experts, educationalists, tangata whenua and Pacific Island health and community groups have come together in a ground-breaking collaboration to improve outcomes for the region’s youngest and most vulnerable.

Research for Children Aotearoa is a collaboration led by Te Papa Hauora Health Precinct. It includes researchers from the Universities of Canterbury and Otago, and the Pasifika Medical Association, and Ngāi Tūāhuriri.
The collaboration’s first project was a hui where whānau living with diabetes, community groups, and health experts met to discuss what research is needed to fill crucial information gaps and, ultimatley, improve outcomes for young people with diabetes.

Te Papa Hauora independent chair Peter Townsend says its focus is bringing people and organisations together to ‘supercharge’ health research, education and innovation opportunities in the region. In this instance, world-class university researchers are working with Māori and Pasifika organisations to improve outcomes for children.

“To make the biggest difference, you bring people with complemetary but different skills, expertise and world views together. Research for Children Aotearoa is being more strategic about the work that needs to be done for the next generation.”

Townsend says Research for Children Aotearoa spans children’s health, wellbeing and educational achievement. Educational experts, speech-language therapists and psychologists, for example, will work on projects with child medical specialists. The involvement of Ngāi Tūāhuriri and The Pacific Medical Association ensures the group’s mahi helps improve equity and meets the needs of our diverse community, he says.

Professor Gail Gillon (Ngāi Tahu iwi) heads the University of Canterbury’s Child Well-Being Research Institute and is deputy-director of a government-funded research programme focused on ensuring all young children have a successful start to life.

“Aotearoa New Zealand has a strategy to make it the best place in the world for children to live. That’s a challenging task involving complex issues so we need a trans-disciplinary response. Canterbury has collaborations in health research and education through Te Papa Hauora. Research for Children Aotearoa further extends this mahi to support tamariki and their whanau.”

Paediatrician Associate Professor Tony Walls heads the University of Otago, Christchurch’s paediatric research department, and is a specialist in infectious diseases.

“As clinicians, we see a lot of particularly young children and infants coming to the hospital from communities that are disadvantaged. That’s an area those of us involved in Research for Children Aotearoa would really like to make improvements on.”

Kiki Maoate is a paediatric surgeon, Associate Dean of Pacific at the University of Otago, Christchurch, and president of the Pasifika Medical Association which provides, among other services, health and social support to the Pacific community.

“Research for Children Aotearoa brings a new form of energy into being advocates for children. To ensure our families are treated well, our children are treated well. Getting our workforce to line up and mentor our young researchers. We want to create a longevity of change so we can impact the health and wellbeing outcomes for our families and children 10, 20 years into the future.”

Amber Clarke represents Ngāi Tūāhuriri as part of the Research for Children Aotearoa collaborative and the Te Papa Hauora council.

She says Research for Children Aotearoa aims to ground research in the communities it is seeking to serve.

“We have the opportunity to really transform the lives of tamariki and their whānau. How do we do that? We start to listen. We allow communities, whānau and tamariki to define what their aspirations and needs are. We then draw on collaborations such as Research for Children Aotearoa to shape research and innovation and contribute to something greater to what we could have done as individuals, communities or institutions.”

For more information or to interview those involved in Research for Children Aotearoa contact Kim Thomas on 027 222 6016.