Clothing and wellbeing of children and young people

Published: March 29, 2021

Qualitative research on clothing and the wellbeing of children, and an accompanying evidence brief.


Oranga Tamariki caregivers who care for children in state care receive the Foster Care Allowance (FCA), while the Orphan’s Benefit (OB) and Unsupported Child’s Benefit (UCB) are for eligible caregivers outside of the statutory care system and are administered by the Ministry of Social Development.

In July 2018, Oranga Tamariki introduced a Clothing Allowance as part of its support for caregivers receiving the OB and UCB. This support aligned these caregivers with caregivers who receive a clothing allowance for children living with foster caregivers (and receive FCA). 

This research consisted of 36 individual and paired in-depth qualitative interviews with caregivers receiving either the OB, UCB, or FCA. Its purpose was to provide further understanding of the role of clothing on children in care for these caregivers.

The purpose of the accompanying evidence brief is to provide an up-to-date summary of literature on the link between clothing and the wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi. In total, 55 sources were included in the brief. This included a mix of academic literature, grey literature, and contextual literature from targeted searches for information.

Key findings

Research report:

  • Caregivers told us clothing provides for children’s physical wellbeing. However, it also contributes to psychological needs, firstly as a tangible expression of love/aroha.
  • It is also important for tamariki and rangatahi to enable them to connect with their peer group and develop a sense of belonging within whānau networks. It helps form and convey their identity.
  • Caregivers’ perspective is that clothing creates a first impression and affects how children are viewed and received by others. How they are clothed communicates how well they are cared for and reflects caregivers’ performance in their parenting role. I
  • For some, it offers a bonding or educational opportunity for family members to participate in together.
  • Caregivers typically access a mix of new and second-hand clothing from a range of sources.
  • Planning and budgeting for clothing differs by income level, and the age of the child.
  • Given financial constraints, those on lower incomes tend to undertake more planning and forethought when it comes to clothing.
  • Those with a higher level of disposable income are more able to engage in ad hoc clothing purchases; these are often additional outfits bought as one-off ‘treats’ and therefore not necessarily addressing a physical need.
  • The key barrier for lower income families to providing clothing is financial. Other families find this less of a challenge; moreover, they do not experience as many barriers overall.
  • At a basic level, having more funds available for clothing gives caregivers the ability to better meet the child/ren’s clothing needs.
  • The findings from this study with 36 caregivers, support the previous survey of caregivers which identified that many are unaware of the Clothing Allowance.

Evidence brief:

  • The overarching theme of the evidence sourced for this brief is that clothing is substantially important to children and young people’s physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, but access to clothing, and therefore wellbeing, is dependent on financial resources.
  • Lack of access to clothing means children and young people in impoverished or low-income households face barriers to participation in important aspects of their lives, and puts them at risk of social exclusion, teasing and bullying within social, educational, and extracurricular spheres.
  • Barriers to accessing clothing therefore need to be addressed.