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Proposal to Track Child Attendance in ECE and Integrate with Health Data

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The Government has said in its 2011 budget last year that it will spend $12.8 million operating and $18 million capital expenditure on creating an information system at the Ministry of Education which would "improve information about participation and system performance" for early childhood education.  It is intended that every child enrolled in centre and home-based early childhood education will be given an identification number and this will be used to track their attendance.  

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills is reported by the NZ Herald newspaper this week as suggesting that this could be linked to health information to track vulnerable children.  It could be used to track children's attendance in early childhood education, so when a child leaves the service would follow up on the reasons for leaving and submit this information. This would mean that children who stopped attending and did not enrol at another service could be easily identified - but it is not clear who would do this and where the money will come from to chase 'truants' and highly mobile families and encourage families to access an early childhood service again.

At many early childhood services families are asked when they withdraw their child, why they are leaving. This is a routine practice for gaining insight into what families think about the quality of service and as part of saying goodbye to families whom staff and educators have built up a relationship with. Also when families disappear owing money for optional charges and fees some services try to trace families to recover the debt.  

If the Ministry of Education's ECE data information system can be integrated with health information, this would have the potential to enable children to be tracked to make sure they were not only attending an early childhood education facility but were also receiving health immunisations, dental care, etc.  It could also be used to help to identify issues in the performance quality of services, such as early childhood centres that might have a much higher rate of child sickness requiring antibiotics compared to the national average for children in centres.

The main purpose of private childcare centres which subscribe to employers' lobby group, the Early Childhood Council, may be business (revenue generation) and not social work as stated by CEO Peter Reynolds but this seems to be a minority view. Early childhood education services, private and community operated, see themselves as having a major and very central role in caring for the wellbeing of children. This was something that came up at the Every Child Counts forum in Wellington recently on the role of business in ensuring the wellbeing of children.


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