By Dr Sarah Alexander
Check out offers and specials
We are seeing the emergence of some quite aggressive marketing by early childhood services.
Services with places to fill are offering specials like "the first two months at 50% fees".
Some services, including many kindergartens offer free 20-Hours ECE for 2 year-olds who are not eligible for the 20-Hours ECE for 3, 4 and 5 year-olds provided by the government.
Newly established services often offer deals and specials to fill spaces.
There is an oversupply of services in many areas of NZ and the government is continuing to support even more services to open and existing services to increase their size.
In areas where there are many services and services have spare capacity, services are more wiling to negotiate prices or hours or provide a special 'deal'.
A rough guide to fees charges
Home-based education fees vary from agency to agency from as little as $4 an hour and up to $10 or more. Some agencies set a standard fee for children under all its educators and nannies, while others let individual nannies and educators decide what their charge will be.
Playcentres set their own fees but are generally based on what parents in the area can afford with some charging as little as a few dollars for a 3 hour session. Adult to child ratios are often high with 5 or fewer children per adult compared with up to 10 children per adult in kindergartens and other early childhood centres.
Kindergartens receive a slightly higher public subsidy per hour per child than childcare centres and the fact that kindergartens are not-for-profit organisations can see parents asked to pay no more than around $2.50 to $3.00 per hour for any hours above their entitlement to 20-Hours free. However, some kindergarten associations operate centres that directly compete with childcare centres and fee charges may be at a similar level of $5 - $7 an hour
At other centres the hourly charge for children not receiving 20-Hours ECE is around $4.50 to $6.50 an hour. Charges for under-two-year-olds are usually at the higher end because services are required to have at least 1 adult to every 5 children under 2 years compared to a minimum of 1 adult to 10 children over 2 years.
All services may charge what they want, the government does not set early childhood education fees. Services in higher socio-economic areas tend to charge higher fees, reflecting possibly increased rent or rate costs plus what parents can afford to pay and are willing to pay.
A childcare subsidy is available depending upon the level of family income. The WINZ Childcare Subsidy can help to partially or fully cover fees up to 9 hours a week where the parent/ caregiver is not working and extends up to 50 hours a week where the parent/caregiver is working or in training.
The subsidy is only available for children up to 5 years of age (or 6 years if your child receives a Child Disability Allowance) who attend a licensed early childhood programme for 3 or more hours a week. But, it may be extended beyond the 5th birthday if the school has advised that it will not allow the child to start until the beginning of the term straight after the 5th birthday.
Hidden charges and other charges
Parents can be caught out by additional charges and not factor these in when choosing an early childhood service. So its a good idea to ask and clarify what extra charges there might be before enrolment.
- some services require parents to pay for hours they do not use or don't need including statutory holidays, absences, and when the service may have a forced shut down due to something like a prolonged power cut or to contain the spread of an infectious disease (e.g. measles or swine flu).
- some services may charge a levy in lieu of fundraising and add a charge for compulsory membership to associations the service belongs to.
- services may ask parents to provide or pay for things like tissue boxes, outings and excursions, lunches and snacks, nappy washing etc.
- some services charge an enrolment fee which may not be refundable if parents change their mind.
Indirect costs families can experience
Apart from fees, parents have the cost of travel to and from the service - and possibly parking charges too!.
Other costs may include buying a lunch-box and drink bottle and school bag, clothing and sunhats as might be stipulated by the service.
Providing extra bits of money for whatever might be organised by the service e.g. gold coin charges for dress-up days, raffle tickets, paying a charge for visiting artists or shows the children may be taken to.
When parents donate their time - this can cost in lost wages and in lost time that could be spent doing other things. Voluntary contributions may include mowing the lawn, taking the aprons home to wash, participating in and organising fund-raisers, participating in parent committees or giving time in consultation meetings or filling out questionnaires.
A significant cost for many parents especially during the first year of care is the cost of sickness and staying at home and taking time off from work to care for their sick child.