The Ministry of Education says it intends to release information about complaints brought against early childhood education services to the public, but this is just a small step in the right direction, says early childhood network ChildForum.
ChildForum, last year, requested information under the Official Information Act about complaints laid against ECE services during 2012, and the action taken. Some of the information requested was provided by the Ministry and formed the basis of a report, which can be read on the My ECE website, as well as being widely reported in the media.
This year, ChildForum requested the same information for complaints laid in 2013.
However, the Ministry declined the request because, it says, the information will soon be publicly available.
The Ministry’s response states that it has decided to publish details about complaints received in 2013 on its website and the information is scheduled for release in May. This is the first time that such information has been made publicly available in this manner; however, it will only be in summarised form.
ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Farquhar said the release of information was a small step in the right direction, but did not necessarily go far enough.
“I am pleased that the Ministry is finally acknowledging public interest in problems in ECE services and how they have been dealt with,” she said.
“However this acknowledgement is only coming after pressure has been applied and is, in my opinion, insufficient.”
The Ministry has stated that the information will be summarised and listed under categories such as behaviour management, accidents, and general governance. It has also said it will not include details of the services against which the complaint was made. This is to protect privacy and, under Section 9(2)(b)(ii) of the Official Information Act, to protect information where making that information available “would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information”.
Dr Farquhar said not naming individual services meant parents could not be fully informed about the service they may choose for their child. She challenged the Ministry to be more transparent saying that showing that an ECE service has responded positively to a problem could actually enhance its reputation and therefore its commercial position, while the public also deserved to know if individual services were not improving.
“The Ministry should be supporting parents and family members to be fully informed about an early childhood education service, particularly if complaints of a serious nature have been laid,” she said.
“Greater transparency would allow families and the public to know what has happened at a service and assess whether sufficient changes have occurred that a similar problem may not happen again. Without such transparency, gossip can do more harm to an ECE service’s reputation than keeping the name of the service secret.
“It is also unfair on services against whom no serious complaints have been reported because many are tarnished by the few bad ones.”
Dr Farquhar said she would watch with interest to see how much detail was included by the Ministry when the information was published.
ChildForum requested information under the Official Information Act about every complaint laid against an ECE service in 2013. Details requested included the name of the service involved, the nature of the complaint, whether the complaint was upheld, what action was taken, and whether the issue is ongoing or considered resolved. The request was made on February 21st. A response was received from the Ministry of Education on May 2nd, outside the 20 working day period in which requests should be answered.
The report based on information about complaints laid in 2012 can be found here www.myece.org.nz/inside-news/169-nz-ece-complaints