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Insights into how mothers choose early childhood education and care: Ministry of Social Development Report

boy girl blue pink genderDr Sarah Alexander
© ChildForum

A new report considers just mothers’ intentions for early childhood education use during the first two years -  through children have fathers and other important adults in their lives and the use of ECE is a family decision.

The report confirms what is widely known from research over several decades on the relationships between childcare and maternal employment.

Such as that mother’s use of non-parental care for their child increases with the hours a mother works and with the age of the child. The more hours a mother is in paid employment the greater the likelihood she will use a childcare service.

And, that barriers to using childcare include, cost, location and hours a service is available. 

Mothers receiving childcare subsidies are more than twice as likely not to take parental leave compared with mothers who are not eligible for subsidies due to higher household income.

So then if parenting is to be supported especially in the first year of a child’s life, then should not childcare subsidies paid to ECE providers be paid idirectly to mothers (fathers/ parents) who choose not to use childcare? This does not seem to be discussed in the report.

Of the mothers who agreed during pregnancy that they would use an ECE service, after the birth 84 percent instead opted for informal care, usually with someone they knew such as their partner or a relative. Only after children turned two were mothers more likely to use a childcare/formal early childhood service.

This finding is no surprise. Previous research in Australia by Dr Wendy Boyd and reported to the NZ Early Childhood Research Conference in 2014 looked more closely into the phenomena of mothers returning to paid work preferring for their child to be cared for by a known person. Interviews with mothers revealed that they felt care in the home offered emotional security as the caregiver was known and ensured the child would have adequate attention.

Also there were concerns about infant vulnerability when the ECE environment was not of high quality:   

“Parents did not always feel supported when using early childhood education centres and expressed concern over the staffing levels, the group sizes and the constant ill-health of their child,” said Dr Boyd.

The Ministry of Social Development report found that a mother’s choice to use a Māori or Pasifika immersion and bilingual centre-based service was related to learning reasons, including for their child to learn their language and culture. It would be interesting to know if services selected for this reason met mothers’ expectations.

The study noted that people using Māori or Pasifika early childhood services lived often in areas with the highest area-level deprivation. Use of “these services may therefore reflect their relatively higher availability in low socio-economic areas.”

The report drew on anonymised data from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study.


Boyd, W. (2014).  Parents’ choices of child care in Australia.  NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal. Special Issue: Early Childhood Policy, 17, 51 - 70

Meissel, K., Peterson, E., Thomas, S. & Murray, S. (2019).  Intentions and decisions about early childhood education: Understanding the determinants and dynamics of households’ early intentions and decisions about ECE and childcare from birth to age two.  Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.

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