A child at an early childhood centre was left in a swing to go to sleep and ended up with rope burn and bruising to the forehead.
This was just one complaint among more than 200, many of them serious, made against early childhood education (ECE) services last year, according to records received by national early childhood network ChildForum.
Among other serious complaints were:
- A parent complained that “her child had been bitten and had her hands and arms twisted by the teacher at the service and that she has been verbally abused”.
- A student on teaching practice observed two staff at a centre smacking children and the person in charge dragging children by the arm.
- A parent was concerned about a sexual act happening at her son’s service with her son being involved.
A record of the complaints requested by ChildForum under the Official Information Act showed that some of the complaints were referred to outside agencies such as Child, Youth and Family.
However, in many cases it appears the Ministry of Education simply contacted the service provider and asked them about the matter or referred the complainant directly back to the service. In some of the more serious cases, the service in question had its licence temporarily restricted or an action plan was put in place until the Ministry was confident the service was no longer breaching regulations. Services continued to care for children in most cases and licences were not suspended.
With children attending ECE from as young as six weeks and for as many as 6 to 10 hours a day, children’s vulnerability to being affected by poor care is especially high.
“It can be difficult for any parent to make a complaint and especially hard for working parents because they are dependent on that care and they can be frightened of losing their place if they complain. If the Ministry refers complainants back to their ECE service they may not continue with the complaint which will not result in any improvement”, says ChildForum national director Dr Sarah Farquhar.
“There needs to be a change to unscheduled onsite inspections and not relying primarily on a service’s written records or on the word of the service provider especially when complaints involve child abuse, health, safety, and standard of education.”
The Ministry refers parents to the Education Review Office website which carries reports on early childhood education services. However, many of the services complained about last year have satisfactory ERO reports and are on a three or four yearly review schedule.
Dr Farquhar says that currently complaints are not public record, making it difficult for parents to know whether the service their child is attending has ever had any issues.
In response to this problem a new My ECE website (www.myece.org.nz) was launched last month for parents to rate and give feedback on their child’s ECE service. It gives parents information on children’s rights in ECE services, regulations, and an ECE industry code of conduct. Resources have also been developed to support parents who feel they need to make a complaint against their child’s ECE service, including a Complaints Form and a Feedback Form they can use with their child.
“Choosing an early childhood service and deciding to stay with it is like planning a holiday, buying a car, or choosing what restaurant to go to”, says Dr Farquhar, founder of the My ECE website. “Your decisions are better if you have heard what other people’s experiences have been, you know something of the history of the place and what risks you might have to plan for.”
Dr Farquhar says it is important for parents to have accurate and detailed information about early childhood education services, including when they do and do not meet required standards. The Ministry of Education should routinely make publicly available full reports into ECE services where complaints were of a serious nature.