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|News for Early Childhood Education|
If waiting times for places in early childhood education services were increasing, as reported in a recent newspaper article, it would be a source of concern because young children would be missing out on getting a valuable head start for school and employed parents could be left without childcare support.
However, the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Education in its Annual ECE Census Report for 2011 show the length of time parents wait to get their child into childcare has been steadily decreasing since 2007.
The majority of childcare centres, playcentres, and home-based services had waiting times of one month or less for children of any age last year. Kindergartens tend to give priority to older children in their allocation of places, and once enrolled few 4-year-olds had to wait more than three months to get in (less than 10% of kindergartens).
The drop in waiting times suggests that either there is decreasing demand for early childhood education by parents and/or an increasing supply of places. The number of kindergartens grew by 2% whereas the number of enrolments dropped by 15% between 2007 and 2011. Childcare centres have grown in number (31%) whilst enrolments have gone up at a slower rate of 24%. The situation is different with home-based care agencies which grew by 38% and the number of enrolments increased 62%. The situation is also different for Playcentre with slightly fewer playcentres (a drop of 1.5%) but an increase in enrolment demand (3%).
A large part of the drop in kindergarten enrolments is explained by the shift from sessional to all-day services (click here to go to more statistics). As a result, there has been a corresponding increase in average hours per week.
Waiting times tend to be short for playcentres and home-based agencies, with very few of these services having waiting times of more than three months for children of any age (between 1% – 7% of services depending on child age). This suggests that these service types, and home-based in particular, respond quickly to demand and have greater capacity than childcare centres and kindergartens to find or make available a place for a child upon request.
It could be said that kindergarten and childcare centres are like potatoes, and if people want more potatoes the farmers will plant more but you will have to wait a few months or a year before they can be grown ready to eat. But home-based care are more like pancakes because if people want more you can easily make more and if you can do this then there is little waiting time. When demand for childcare increases, supply is able to come forward suddenly from home-based agencies whereas for kindergartens and childcare centres it can take longer to build new centres, employ staff and be open and ready to take children.
The proportion of kindergartens with long waiting times for children under 2 years has increased. In 2011 87% of kindergartens had children less than one year of age on their waiting list compared to 77% in 2010. This change should not be read as indicating a crisis, with kindergartens struggling to accept babies and toddlers.
The increase in kindergarten waiting times for under-2s could be a measure of parents’ unsatisfied demand for the traditional kindergarten, as they become aware of the drop in capacity of their local kindergarten to accept enrolments due to changing from a sessional educational centre to an all-day service and want to get their child’s name on the waiting list earlier. Or it may be a sign of more informed parents getting their child’s name on the waiting list as early as possible, knowing in any case that their child is unlikely to get a place until 3 or 4 years old. It may also be that because kindergarten has good branding ‘kindy’ is the default and the catch-all for parents who don’t know in the first one to two years what early childhood education service to use.
It is not possible to tell from the Ministry of Education’s data on waiting times how long a parent has waited if she/he wants childcare, needs childcare now and is available to take up a place within a few weeks, and the child meets the age or any other criteria (e.g. to be toilet trained) for a place at the service chosen.
A difficulty with looking at the length of time children are on the waiting lists of early childhood services and using this as a measure of whether the supply of places is keeping up with parent demand is that when a child’s name is placed on a waiting list a parent may or may not at that time be actively seeking a place for his or her child as opposed to planning ahead. Furthermore, children’s names may be placed on waiting lists before children are old enough to be permitted to attend a chosen service.
Empirical Research on the Impacts of a New Policy Giving Parents a Childcare Subsidy NOT to Use a Publicly Subsidised Early Childhood Education Centre (1 match)
2011 ECE Statistics on Children, Staffing, Services, Quality, Spending & Cost (1 match)
Licence Size Increases and Larger Group Sizes in Early Childhood Centres: A Regulation Change (2 matches)
Demand for ECE Teachers Drops (1 match)
How Many Kids Waiting for Affordable Childcare in Hamilton is Too Many? (1 match)