'It's an embarrassment' there are so many vulnerable children in NZ, says Sir Graham Henry as Plunket gala aims to raise $500k

Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry says it's an embarrassment that a great country like New Zealand has 300,000 young people who are vulnerable.

The former All Blacks coach passionately explains why he's backing Plunket's bid to raise $500k. Source: Seven Sharp

Sir Graham is one of the organisers of the first Plunket celebrity gala in Auckland today, which aims to raise around $500,000 to support Plunket's work with children and families most in need.  

The 2015 Child Poverty Monitor found that around 300,000 under-18-year-olds are living in poverty and Sir Graham told Seven Sharp he's a proud New Zealander but that statistic is an embarrassment.

"I think the Government's refocusing in this area, as you probably know. They need to. It's our embarrassment. This country is a great country," he said.

Sir Graham is a trustee of the Plunket Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society which has the ability to help those statistics, with access to 90 per cent of our new babies.

"I wouldn't get involved unless we thought we can change it. That's why I'm involved to try and help these vulnerable kids," he said. 

"[Plunket] need the money to support the Plunket community staff who have got access to these kids, with the nurses. And they can make a difference. So obviously, they need to be trained, they need to have special skills to make a difference.”

"The foundation’s job is to raise money for the Plunket community staff who do not get funded by Government," Sir Graham said.

Today the likes of sports stars Richie McCaw, Brendon McCullum, Gemma Flynn and Lisa Carrington will  join business and entertainment figures for the Plunket celebrity gala at Sky City.

Co-chair of the foundation is Professor Richie Poulton, the director of the Dunedin Study that follows the lives of over 1000 people born in the early 1970s and has influenced policy making around the world. 

Professor Poulton told Seven Sharp if the foundation raises sufficient funds Plunket will be able to "innovate and do things differently" because at the moment it’s hamstrung by limitations on its budget.

Plunket is very keen to broaden its focus beyond services like weighing babies to things that can make a huge difference in later life such as instilling self control skills, via the parents or directly with the children themselves, Professor Poulton said.

The Dunedin Study has shown the importance of "the ability to keep a lid on strong emotions and focus on tasks and persevere" and this has been picked up all around the world, he said.