Dr Sarah Alexander
A far reaching and gutsy inquiry into childcare ECE for infants and toddlers has been completed by the Office of the Children's Commissioner.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner advocates for the best interests of all children. And the Commissioner, Dr John Angus, along with Dr Janis Carroll-Lind have kept the interests of children at the forefront of the inquiry. A central part of this is what seems to be a fairly honest (politically unbiased) and thorough appraisal of the empirical evidence around infant-toddler care and the effects of non-parental ECE.
A summary of the Office's report was presented to representatives from the ECE sector, child advocates and other stakeholders in advance of the release of the full report. It is made available on the ChildForum website for members. Click here to view and read more.
Our ChildForum analysis
Here is some general further information and analysis on infant ECE in NZ that we think you might find useful when considering the Children's Commission report.
While there has been growth in the number of under-two-year-olds enrolled in formal early childhood education over recent years, to some extent this has been due to factors such as a higher birth rate, more mothers working, and other family members e.g. grandparents not living in the same city or not being able to assist with childcare for other reasons. Another reason is the promotion in our society of non-parental early education as a means of helping children to get ahead - to get a head start academically. It's promoted that participation in non-parental ECE benefits all children equally but this can be questioned on a number of fronts (e.g. is the quality of ECE better than the quality of the home-learning environment and other environments the young child would otherwise participate in? do the cognitive benefits of not being cared for/taught by family outweigh any health, emotional and and social behaviour problem outcomes for the very young child?)
Let's look now at the number of under-one's (babies) in non-parental v parental ECE and the time that babies spend in non-parental care.
Under-1 yr Enrolments in Parental and Non-Parental ECE
The graph below shows that across the ECE sector, non-parental ECE services cater for the highest percentage of babies, and this percentage is growing - while the percentage share of baby enrolments is dropping in parent ECE licensed services. This trend is very concerning.
The data shows that even though the majority of babies are concentrated in non-parental ECE licensed services, Playcentre remains the preferred ECE service for families with babies. In 2010 this speciality continues to be evident with 14.6% of the playcentre roll for all enrollments (0 - 6 years) being under-1s enrolments. In non-parental ECE services (kindergartens, childcare, and home-based) the figure was 5.56% of all enrollments (0 - 6 years). The question may be asked then as to why so many babies are concentrated in non-parental ECE and why parental ECE is not politically prioritised for children under 1 years to give more families access to parental ECE?
The Average Length of time that Babies Spend Weekly in Non-Parental ECE
The graph below shows two things that are really important to note in any discussions about ECE and babies:
- Babies are spending more time in non-parental ECE (kindergartens, childcare centres, and home-based/family daycare homes) as opposed to playcentre where parents learn alongside their baby. This leads to a question of whether more should be done to make known the advantages of parental ECE for babies and for the development of parenting confidence and learning?
- The average number of hours babies spend weekly in non-parental ECE has increased quite a bit over the past 10 years. This leads to a question of why? Is it that mothers/fathers are working longer hours and therefore need longer hours of childcare? or is it more to do with what choices parents have around hours of enrolment and what hours they must enrol in as centre enrolment policies are more likely to be influenced by government funding rules today than they were 10 years ago.
In childcare centres (also called education and care centres) in 2010 the average number of hours a baby attended was 26.7 hours a week. This is the average number - meaning a good proportion of the 4,205 babies enrolled were in centres for more than 30 hours a week. The average number of hours weekly for home-based is high also. Some of the babies enrolled with licensed home-based agencies (1,693 in 2010) may be cared for in their own home, but the majority are more likely to be cared for in the home of someone else with that person's child or other children. In free kindergartens the number of babies (under 1s) is very small still. We are talking about only 19 babies in 2000 and 24 babies in 2010 across all kindergartens, however, note that the average number of hours of enrolment for babies has also increased dramatically in kindergartens.
Is this really a bad thing? It is not if for example:
- there is good parenting already in place and the use of childcare does not mean less opportunity for parents to develop skills and knowledge in parenting.
- the childcare centre environment and experiences provided is of a higher quality than the child would receive at home and with family (though no one can really replace belonging in a family and parental love).
- the centre encourages mums to continue with breastfeeding and provides supports in every way e.g. using the type of nappies that the family uses at home, providing comfy places in the centre for parents to stay with their baby, taking baby to mum at work for feeding, helping with baby bathing, taking baby for walks, letting baby kick around without a nappy on for fresh air when baby has nappy rash, etc, etc.
- the centre does not require a family to enrol for more hours of childcare than they need and do not charge for unused childcare.
Factors such as these above are commonly not included in lists of what defines quality ECE for infants. But if you look at ECE from the perspective of infant needs then these factors make the difference between whether the use of ECE is beneficial or harmful.