ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
National membership 

Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal


What Government Should do for Children and ECE, 2011 Report

© ChildForum


Results of a Nationwide Survey (October 2011)

The lives of young children in NZ in one or two year’s time could be very different from today. Two government departments, Social Development and Education, are preparing for major policy changes.

The Green Paper released by Hon Paula Bennett says “vulnerable children will have their needs best served when policies and practices across government sectors have common goals, are child-focused and are well aligned with one another”.  However, decisions around a children’s action plan may or may not turn out to be consistent with major structural and funding changes ahead for early childhood education.

The early years are recognised as a particularly vulnerable time in a child’s life. It’s important to get both education and social policies right for children. Early childhood education provides for children from birth to 6 years of age and for 8 or more hours a day. Twenty hours of childcare a week is promoted in early childhood education policy as the optimal minimum for children from 3 years of age. New Zealand has an internationally high rate of child abuse and a growing number of very young children living in poverty. Early childhood education may help to ameliorate disadvantage, support families under stress, and raise children’s life chances but may also increase social problems. 

Over the past two decades early childhood education in New Zealand has changed from being primarily a social service to being an industry. For every policy change in early childhood education there is usually sector group lobbying to ensure it’s consistent with business or employment interests and the business interests of the sector are not always consistent with the interests of children. However many who are involved in early childhood education are in the sector because they care about young children. 

So given that Government, through two major departments, is keen to better address the needs of young and vulnerable children, ChildForum asked those who are involved or have experience in childcare and early childhood education what they most wanted government to do for children and early childhood education.

The ChildForum survey canvassed the views of 300 people. It asked them two key questions: what would be the one thing they would like the government to do for young children and what would be the one thing they would like the government to do for early childhood education.

Respondents included those from the early childhood education sector, both workers and ECE service managers and owners; parents, community members, teacher educators, child and family professionals and academics

With regards to the needs of young children, the top three wishes were for government to:

  • Make sure a place is available for every child, regardless of family income, at a regulated ECE service
  • Value parents and parenting as central to children’s early education, care, and wellbeing
  • Do more to prevent child abuse and keep children safe

For early childhood education the top three wishes were that government would:

  • Restore previous funding for, and the target of, 100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services
  • Focus ECE Policy not on saving costs or benefiting ECE providers but on ensuring the best standards for children alongside bringing in regular inspection
  • Provide certainty and consistency in funding and support for all ECE service types, thereby taking stress off the sector and retaining choices for parents

The report below details some of the reasons behind these choices and includes ideas from respondents as to how these wishes could be achieved.

The results provide the government with clear directions as to the priorities for meeting the needs of young children and ECE, and will be useful for any political party as we enter the 2011 general election. 


Young Children

Make sure a place is available for every child, regardless of family income, at a regulated ECE service


  • Middle income people who may otherwise struggle to pay for ECE may otherwise not enrol their children in an ECE service. (Parent)
  • Lots of parents cannot afford to pay for fees especially when one parent is unemployed or has lost their job; they are not entitled to any subsidy from WINZ. (ECE worker)
  • It is their right to have access to a free education, I feel. (Parent)
  • Parents need to be given the freedom to make decisions regarding the best type of care for their children without the added pressure of financial considerations. (ECE owner or manager)
  • Many families with Under 3 yr olds are unable to access over 9 hrs subsidised ECE. (ECE owner or manager)
  • For the best educational start, and early intervention on all levels for those that require it. (ECE owner or manager)
  • Because children are the victims when they are moved from their centre because parents can’t pay. (ECE worker)
  • Need to increase Maori participation fully without the restriction of government departments stop-gaping applications. (ECE worker)
  • Because studies show that children who attend ECE do better, they encourage community which is valuable for parents and society in return. (ECE worker)

How might government achieve this?

  • Make early childhood education free. (ECE worker)
  • Make it affordable. (Parent)
  • Finance all children to early education for 30 hours a week regardless of their age. (ECE worker).
  • Pay all costs related to childcare for foster children in care. (ECE owner or manager)
  • Provide more money either to the centres or to parents. (ECE owner or manger)
  • Put more money into ECE, by at the least reinstating what was lost in the budget cuts. (ECE worker)
  • Not cut funding for parents, e.g. WINZ subsidies and 20 hours. (ECE owner or manager)

Value parents and parenting as central to children’s early education, care, and wellbeing


  • To support family/whanau with their children and parenting skills, and give children the best start to life. (ECE worker)
  • For various reasons. Parents are placing younger infants/ toddlers/ children in care facilities. Regardless of the quality of centres (and I do work at an amazing centre) parents and families if possible have so much more to offer their own children especially babies and toddlers. (ECE manager)
  • We have a crisis in parenting in NZ – just look at our abuse stats. The money we’re wasting so that providers of all day ECE can build a big pink castle with a plastic playground outside, and then condemn a whole bunch of kids to long, traumatic days without their parents there, would be far better spent on day to day, wrap around support to at risk parents to help them be the best parents they can be.. an ‘Aunty’ coming in to help make sure dinner gets on the table; to help a young Mum learn to cuddle her baby; to be a shoulder to cry on when the Mum has lost the plot. That’s what we need to make sure we have a generation of ‘amazing’ children. (Parent)
  • Early childhood services are working hard to improve quality services for under 2's taking away the responsibility from the parents - with parents assuming their role is inadequate as there are professionals working that could be looking after their babies. (Other child/family professional)
  • It would take the pressure off families of having to juggle. It would add life to communities again – with more adults and children being around during the day time. It would add people to the volunteer/social world (where there used to be many), children would be enrolled in ECE services for fewer hours per day/week, and the selection of where they went would be different to now. The new ‘baby factories' would not be as necessary and young children could learn what it means to be a part of our society, by being in it. (ECE manager)
  • I would like to see under 1's at home with their family. (ECE manager or owner)
  • The improvement in health and social issues would pay for itself down the line - mothers & babies need to be nurtured not stressed, hurried and worried about paying the rent. (ECE employer and manager)
  • There is such an emphasis currently from the Govt to promote the importance of having children in ECE rather than valuing Parenting and supporting Parents to make this choice. (ECE worker).
  • There is so much research about the importance of babies getting that time with their primary caregiver, but for a lot of people this just isn't a financial possibility. Yet the government has money to throw at ECE instead (an under-2 child attending 30 hours a week is funded up to $357 a week). (ECE worker)
  • I feel that providing only 20 hours free ECE encourages parents who would rather educate their children at home, to put their children in ECE; an option which many parents do not want to have to take. (ECE worker)
  • Children learn how to love by the experience of being loved as babies and toddlers. Parents are best able to provide this loving experience when they in turn feel nurtured and supported to be the best parents they can be to their young children. (Other child/family professional).
  • We’re running a huge social experiment now with so many pre-schoolers in non-parental care - totally counter to a huge body of international evidence about the very real risks of this. What's worse is that good research, such as the High Scope Perry study from the USA is being mis-used by those with a vested interest in seeing lots more big flashy daycares and women literally 'pushed' back to work: The ECE Taskforce report, for example, talked about kids needing 'at least' 15 hours a week 'ECE' - yet the Perry study showed results in 3-4 year olds only, and they had 2.5 hour sessions a day, with their parents provided with a home visit every week for 1.5 hours, at which the parents were trained to observe their children, and extend their learning. On top of that, these kids were at the extreme disadvantage end to start with. And the ratios in their centre were 1:5, and the centres ran on a 'child-led' learning philosophy. This type of study is used as the justification to push for more and more taxpayer funding, and more and more encouragement of ALL preschoolers (including really young ones) to 'have early childhood education in a teacher-led centre.' (Parent)

How might government achieve this?

  • Voucher to access pre-school services of own choosing. (Parent)
  • Stop subsidising childcare centres and start supporting parents to do the job. (Parent)
  • Provide funding to support parents, rather than just caregivers. (ECE worker)
  • Instigate payments for parents who either choose to stay home, or who are forced to due to low skill set, lack of employment, and who chose to attend a Playcentre or other ECE service with their child. Contribute to education of their children, while educating themselves. (ECE employer or manager).
  • Give parents the option of choosing between 20 hours free ECE or the equivalent in financial assistance to raise their children at home. (ECE worker)
  • Enable more parents to stay at home with their young children, and provide more education for parents. (Parent)
  • Fund parents to stay at home with their young child, supporting highly educational playgroups and parenting programmes. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Paid parental leave for at least one year. (Parent)
  • Legislate that after the paid parental leave expires employees can return to work for 20 hours a week and still receive half the paid parental leave payment they were getting. (e.g. in first 12 weeks). (ECE employer or manager)
  • Help develop support structures for solo non-working parents. (Community member)
  • Fund home-based ECE services to work directly with parents as well as with caregivers/ECE educators. (ECE worker)
  • Increase support available for mothers from -1/2 to + 5 years.  Plunket, Corps of Grandmothers, Whanau Ora etc. (Academic/tertiary educator)
  • Ensure all parents are involved alongside childcare experts and services to give kids full love, caring, education in these formative years. (Other child/family professional)

Do more to prevent child abuse and keep children safe


  • Early support solves later problems. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Children have rights to the best life we can give them. Anything less is deplorable. (ECE worker)
  • NZ child abuse statistics are an appalling disgrace and reflects on the wider community. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Due to the changes in law re smacking etc, no education was received by families, lots of families still smack as they do not have any alternate behaviour management. (ECE worker)
  • Dysfunctional families more likely to raise disadvantaged children. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Children who are most at risk are those who live with adults who do not care about them- a non family. (Community member)

How might government achieve this?

  • Put more money into services like CYFS and Foster Caregivers. They are under staffed, over worked and do not get the support and resources they need in order to do a good job. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Compulsory 6 month full medical checkups. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Ensure all children have access to healthy food. (ECE employer or manager)
  • Give out stricter punishments for child abusers. (ECE worker)
  • Stop those who clearly have no ability to give their children a decent upbringing from having children. (Parent)
  • Intervention to avoid child abuse that includes greater parent education. (ECE worker)
  • Make sure everyone that works with children under the age of 6yr has had child protection training. (Other child/family professional)

Other actions

Respondents listed some other actions they would like government to take for children and out of these the main ones are to:

  • Regulate for and/or Fund the Employment of 100% registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services.
  • Address issues of child poverty and associated poor health outcomes in the early years. In particular, through: free transport to ECE services for children and families, free food, easy access to free medical checkups, increasing the minimum wage in NZ, and ensuring all families had sufficient income to provide the basics for children.
  • Retain and not reduce choice of ECE options available for parents and children. This was mainly about the need for government to disregard its ECE Taskforce report and instead continue to support Playcentre and home-based services, and also recognise that choice was important for families in order to access a service that best suited them.


Early Childhood Education

Restore previous funding for, and the target of, 100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services


  • An incentive for high quality teachers to enter the profession and stay. (Parent)
  • By removing the money we had to lower the level of qualified teachers from 100% to 80% as we have no other way of getting income. (ECE owner or manager)
  • So we can afford to pay for 100% trained teachers. (ECE owner or manager)
  • To ensure strong curriculum delivery, strongly collaborative team work and reflective practice within the teaching team. (ECE owner or manager)
  • All the training, expertise and input that has been afforded recently to this sector will be lost if not recognised and retained. (ECE worker)
  • For the last 10 years we have supported at least 2 teachers in training every year, and have received no recognition for this. Now we cannot afford to employ the latest graduates we have helped as our funding has been cut as have many other centres. (ECE owner or manger)
  • A skilled workforce encourages a higher level of competence across the country. (ECE owner or manager)
  • At the moment there is talk about having only 50% qualified teachers which is taking the sector backwards to becoming only a babysitting service. (ECE worker)
  • Because our young children are just as entitled to qualified teachers as our older children. (ECE worker)
  • Unqualified teachers just do not have the knowledge/skills required. (ECE worker)
  • Our new graduates cannot find work. When they graduate, they are being replaced by cheaper unqualified staff. (Teacher educator)

How might government achieve this?

  • Restore funding to centres with 100% qualified or in training staff. (Tertiary educator/researcher)
  • Reinstate the quality bands of funding for centres as previously we all aspired to and give us back 20% funding withdrawn. (ECE owner or manager)
  • Reset our sights on 100% qualified teachers and reward those centres who achieve it by supporting teachers in training. (ECE owner or manager)
  • Ensure EC is funded sufficiently, with a requirement that services employ trained teachers. (ECE worker)
  • Set a timeline for all teachers working in ECE to be fully qualified and registered. (ECE worker)

Focus ECE Policy not on saving costs or benefiting ECE providers but on ensuring the best standards for children alongside bringing in regular inspection


  • Quality suffers when the aim is to please the accountants and make a profit instead of being there for children and families. (ECE worker)
  • With government increasing licence size to 150 children, it really worries me that there is no legislation on group sizes!! (ECE worker)
  • With the focus on achieving desired national standards for young children in schools, I think it is important that the pressure to teach to a formal learning curriculum does not creep into ECE. (Other child/family professional)
  • Ratios are too high and not beneficial in regards to the children's well-being and learning. (ECE worker)
  • There is a wealth of research being produced with regards to best practises for early childhood and our infants which our govt seems to be ignoring at every turn .(Other child/family professional)
  • There are many providers which profess of offering high quality but in fact children are not learning. (ECE worker)
  • There are very scary discrepancies in the standard of care offered between ECE providers. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Many ECE settings wing it, and ERO doesn't have the teeth to bring them up to standard. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Sick of seeing and hearing accounts of poor services and the lack of action taken. E.g. at one centre ERO review in 2008 identified numerous issues and returned in 12 months to review progress. In 2009 ERO noted little progress, offers of post-review help were rejected, further review in 12 months. In 2010 ERO note that significant changes have been implemented by a new manager, but no evidence of these being established and still significant improvement needed. ERO to visit again in 2011. I am waiting to see the latest report on the website - but the new manager appointed in 2010 left after 6 months. Why is this acceptable for our precious children? To knowingly let a service offer a sub-standard environment for over 3 years and no real action. Why can they refuse post-review help and support? Why 12 months before the service is re-visited? Why are they allowed to continue to operate and receive funding? (ECE manager or owner)

How might government achieve this?

  • More accountability through more ERO visits and Ministry of Education licensing checks to help managers keep standards up. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Make ECE service providers more accountable for children's actual learning outcomes not perceived learning outcomes. (ECE worker)
  • Allow ECE services to maintain a holistic approach to learning and development for children. (Other child/family professional)
  • Introduce an amendment to the license size requirement to limit the number of children especially under 2s in each group. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Immediately reduce the number of children allowed in ECE Centres down to 35 maximum. (Other child/family professional)
  • Increase the ratio of teachers to children, especially under-2s. (ECE worker)
  • Look at where the money is being spent - on advertising, travel etc for top management of commercially operated ECE services while children are missing out. (Tertiary educator or researcher)
  • Ensure all early childhood centres are not for profit, community and education based.(ECE worker)
  • Consult with the sector about how things are for them. Ask whether changes are needed and why. Ask how much money has to be put into compliance. (ECE manager or owner)

Provide certainty and consistency in funding and support for all ECE service types, thereby taking stress off the sector and retaining choices for parents


  • Enable services to focus on ECE delivery to children/families, rather than uncertainties of income. (ECE manager or owner)
  • So centres can be sure when they budget. (ECE manager or owner)
  • So we as teachers could focus totally on the children and not about our jobs and business and how to make ourselves be heard. (ECE worker)
  • Because we are expected to plan but we can’t as the goal posts keep changing. (ECE worker)
  • The ECE Strategic Plan was sector driven and agreed upon - it aimed for quality and partnership and qualified teachers - it is not a document the government should pull apart and not recognise for their own political agenda. (ECE manager or owner)
  • The ECE sector continuously has to justify the investment by government. (ECE manager or owner)
  • The ECE Taskforce looks to support only centre based teacher-led services. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Kohanga, Playcentre and Homebased offer incredibly valuable services to the community, parents need to retain choices for their children. We are not a country that should dictate. It feels that the ECE Taskforce submissions would be dictating where children should go; I don’t want my children to be one of 150 children in a centre. (Parent)
  • Reduction in funding may well see valuable resources in the community disappear. In many areas these may be the only ECE services available to people. (Parent)
  • The recreation of a divide between private sector and kindergartens will recreate the Labour market stresses of the last 10 years. (ECE service manger or owner)

How might government achieve this?  

  • Put children first in any decision making. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Provide a cross party agreement on funding. (ECE worker)
  • Go back to the ECE strategic plan and finish it so every child gets quality early childhood education. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Stop mucking around with the system that is in place already. (ECE worker)
  • Allow all services access to funding for 100% registered teachers [i.e. not only sessional free kindergartens]. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Put the funding back to prior the National government changes so centres are not increasing fees and make 20 hours ECE – free. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Throw out the ECE Taskforce report and start again. (ECE manager or owner)

Other actions

Other actions respondents would like Government to do for ECE include some of those also stated as being important for children. This highlights that concerns for children and concerns for ECE are not mutually exclusive. It suggests that the Ministry of Social Development action plan for children should not neglect to consider ECE policy impacts on children and families; and Government should have the social, emotional and financial wellbeing of children and families as a key focus in ECE policy alongside the business and industrial interests of the ECE sector and national educational priorities.  The main 'other' actions respondents thought government should take for ECE are:

  • Provide more of an emphasis on parents educating their child through increased parental leave provisions and ECE services that support parenting through flexible hours, part-time sessions, and parenting education.
  • Use early childhood education better to provide an intervention for children with high social and learning needs. A community member for example suggested, “In my city the very needy children don’t even attend early childhood education / I would love to have a mobile early childhood programme to take to them”.
  • Treat ECE teachers and ECE as important as school teachers and schools (namely, pay parity for teachers across education sectors). A parent made an interesting additional point “ensure they work within school terms only/act like school rather than just 'daycare'. And an ECE service manger suggested that government should pay the wages of ECE teachers and make sure all are paid on the same scale.
  • Restore and increase funding and raise requirements around the professional learning needs of provisionally registered teachers, teachers, and teacher quality, e.g.
    • Make child protection training for all ECE staff compulsory. Bring back the All About Me - Keeping Ourselves Safe Programme for pre-schools. This has the potential to help children protect themselves and teach parents how they can help also. (ECE manager or owner).
    • Restore the Provisionally Registered Teacher support grant. It is inequitable to have it taken off 80+% centres, decile 10 schools get it! (ECE manager or owner)
    • Teachers need Professional Development to maintain high quality ECE. This includes funding for registering teachers. (ECE worker)
  • Provide free no-cost ECE or make ECE compulsory for children. “Treat ECE as it does other state education, making it free for all children”. (ECE worker)
  • Tweak funding allocations in areas such as resources for special needs children, language support, and non-contact time.
  • Pay funding to allow for more non-contact time for registered teachers. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Extra money for Maori Immersion ECE teachers and centres as in Primary Schools. (ECE manager or owner)
  • Review whole special needs assistance allocation to cater for children and teachers who need the extra assistance. To date an autistic child automatically gets 0.2 assistance so are they not autistic the rest of the day. (ECE worker)


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