Huge changes are being made to early childhood education under the cover of the earthquake, as the government warms up for welfare reform

I was genuinely shocked to learn yesterday that from July 1 this year early childhood services will be allowed to have up to 150 children and/or 75 under-2s in one centre.

Baby farming, here we come.

These reforms are particularly dangerous at a time when the government has deliberately cut funding to centres in a bid to reduce the percentage of qualified staff.

More children and babies + fewer qualified staff; the equation isn’t rocket science in terms of the outcomes.

Staff:child ratios are already precarious - a centre must have 1 staff member for 5 under-2s, 2 staff for 7-20 2s & over, and 5 staff for 41-49 2s & over.

When I was somewhat younger and closely involved in the early childhood sector I was led to believe that 1:3 was the ideal ratio for under 2 care – that benchmark appears to be long gone.

Yes, a lot more profit may be made, but what about the health, happiness and security of the babies and children concerned?

And what of the wellbeing of the staff attempting to provide care and education in conditions more reminiscent of Eastern Europe than of safe, wholesome little Aotearoa?

Yet another major reform that would normally attract at least some media attention has been snuck in under cover of the Christchurch earthquake.

The Ministry of Education quietly announced its intentions on its website on March 3.

I didn’t hear a peep about it until the NZEI put out a media release yesterday, March 8, and I doubt anyone else did either. Perhaps the announcement was so under the radar that not even the relevant union was aware of it until 5 days later – incredible when given its significance.

This isn’t just by chance – I’ve checked Minister Anne Tolley’s websitefor media releases over the past week, and there’s not a sign nor a skerrick from her of anything to do with this significant change .

I am fearful of what else is happening right now that we out here in the wastelands of public ignorance know nothing about.

What a convenient distraction the Christchurch tragedy has become for a government intent on maximizing what it can achieve of its agenda before November, while minimizing that annoying muss and fuss from the public.

Apart from the danger, the new centre sizes pose to the quality and nature of early childhood education itself, I also believe the amendment of these regulations ties very closely to the reforms John Key and Paula Bennett plan to make to our welfare system.

Key features of the Rebstock Welfare Working Group report released on 22 February includes recommendations that:

  • All women who are dependent on welfare and who have babies while they are on the new Jobseeker Allowance should be required to seek paid work from the time their baby is 14 weeks old (majority opinion of WWG); or 1 year old (minority opinion, and the option I believe Key and Bennett are likely to pick up).
  • All people who are on the Jobseeker Allowance as sole parents or as partners of welfare recipients will be worktested from the time their youngest child is 3 years old.
  • A carefully gradated series of financial and forced work for dole sanctions are proposed for those who fail to comply with these worktesting requirements.

Rebstock’s goal is to move the percentage of beneficiaries and their partners looking for paid employment from 37% to 77%. Access to early childhood education is seen, naturally, as a crucial part of this equation.

The Rebstock report talks a lot about how important it is to promote children’s well-being. Yet when one puts her recommendations for forcing mothers of babies out to work alongside Anne Tolley’s latest regulation changes for childcare centres, I believe the well being of children is the last thing on the minds of any of these women.

Paula Rebstock, Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley are deliberately working on an agenda which – if they succeed – will see mothers forced out into the paid workforce while their babies are compulsorily cared for outside the home, in conditions substantially lower than the high quality to which the early childhood sector in this country has traditionally aspired.

US reforms which force many mothers out to work while placing children in compulsory childcare have not turned out well, for example see this report on welfare-to-work in North America.

I hope that in the slightly longer run, and despite the tragedy of what’s happened in Canterbury, many of us will work together to do everything we can to repel these latest affronts to the welfare of children, childcare workers, mothers and families. 

Comments (9)

by Cushla McKinney on March 09, 2011
Cushla McKinney

The thing that really puzzles me is why being payed to stay home and care for you own child is bludging off the system, but paying people to look after your child is something to be encouraged (not that I'm knocking all those great carers out there, you do a great job, but it seems a major double standard).

I think I have found a solution, however.  I suggest all those Mums and Dads who want to be stay-at-home parents start their own home-based child care services.  It would solve both the child care shortage and the (apparent)  'DPB parent' problem in one stroke.

by Richard Aston on March 09, 2011
Richard Aston

It is truly scary Sue , the industrialisation of child care.

I don't think it's just an welfare issue ie mothers on welfare being forced to send their kids to industrial sized child care.

The issue is being faced by working mothers right now - if you are a professional on good money you can afford quality childcare - and it does exsist - but the average wage earner can only afford the cheaper industrial day care centres.

We know the first 5 years are the crucial ones for child development , those dealing with the mess down the track - adult violence, sexual abuse, addications know the groundwork was laid down in the 0- 5 years.

So what the f..k are we doing here ? When will people get that our babies , our young children are toanga - no amount of govt support is enough to ensure their care,l no amount of cherishing is enough.

I think the measure of a society, of a country is in how it cherishs it's children and its old people.

We are moving to the industrialisation of early child care and have already moved to the industrialistion of aged care.

It shouldn't even be a issue of cost, ratios etc. A decent society would afford its own people the opportunity to care for their own, their own children and their old people.





by william blake on March 10, 2011
william blake

Little babies gaffer taped to their highchairs sitting in a puddle of wee.."that couldn't happen here!"

by Damian on March 10, 2011

I agree with Cushla. We have 3 boys and my wife has been a stay at home mum for 12 years. Now she is studying to be a midwife, but in that time we have made financial sacrifices to make sure our kids are raised in what we reckon was the best way (Playcentre). That is our decision of course and we don't regret it, but why should people who both work get a government handout as well with free child care for 20 hrs? Meanwhile a mother of 3 whose husband leaves or is an alcoholic (both situations have occured to people I know) is a bludger who needs to be driven back to work. One word, Ridiculous. Shame on politicians who utilise this mis-information for vote gathering.

by Todd on March 10, 2011

Seems that the National Government are governing so under the radar with stealth that nobody knows what the hell is going on. What ever happened to our democracy where major changes to the way we run our lives are discussed openly?

by Andrew R on March 10, 2011
Andrew R

Yeah as a nation (and as the government) we care so much about children as most important to look after that we have the highest youh suicide rate in the world.  Looks to me like there is a fair bit of denial happening here.

by Kaila Pettigrove on March 13, 2011
Kaila Pettigrove

So how do we fight this?  With all the stealthy gov moves, what can less politically-savvy, ordinary busy parents do to make a change?

by danniel on November 08, 2012

I have to say that the situation is not unique in this countries, there are a lot of examples around the world about the exact same thing. Perhaps a solution would be to direct the parents that can afford private institutions to go for those. I would personally go for byod in healthcare, it's a popular system and it's trusted, I still don't know if I can afford it though, I'll have to do some research on that.

by rickk on November 19, 2013

This kind of situations are becoming more common these days and I think that the Government should reconsider the welfare reform. There's nothing more important than children's health and safety, that's why the staff cuts is not a good idea. Given this situation a discount Clopidogrel or any other drugs offers can help the parents take care of their family's health.

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