Problems in the early childhood sector run much deeper than official complaint figures indicate, an early childhood researcher says.
Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen
The Education Ministry's latest complaints summary showed it upheld a record 163 complaints about early childhood centres in 2016, about 60 more than in either of the two preceding years.
The ministry found evidence of problems including physical or emotional injuries to children, inappropriate staff behaviour, and centres operating with too few staff.
It said 23 of the complaints resulted in centres losing their licence, and 24 complaints resulted in the ministry placing centres on suspended or provisional licences.
Child Forum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said the figures were worrying.
"It shows that there has not been improvement in the monitoring and the complaints process itself for early childhood services, and it shows there are still problems within the early childhood sector."
Dr Alexander said the fact the ministry had shut down centres when the government at the time wanted to drive up enrolments in early learning indicated there were serious problems.
She said the ministry was aware of shortcomings in the sector only because teachers and parents complained, and it needed to monitor early childhood centres more closely so that it spotted problems itself.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said it was not clear what was behind the increase in the number of complaints it upheld.
She said it was likely to be due to a combination of factors, though the ministry's investigation of complaints had improved.
"We are getting better at investigating complaints. We're getting faster and our staff are a lot clearer about what the outcomes need to be," she said.
Ms Casey said she would not be surprised if the higher number of cases upheld in 2016 had continued in 2017.
Ms Casey said there were 4600 early childhood services and about 20 percent were audited each year, but teachers and parents should report any problems they saw.
"We do rely on people telling us when they see something that is wrong and then we can get in there pretty smartly and have a look."
Parents should be confident that the ministry acted on the complaints it received, she said.
The ministry's report showed it upheld 46 complaints about health and safety, 34 about management and administration problems, 22 concerned the standard of education, 12 related to teachers' behaviour, and 18 to and unsafe premises.
The ministry said 24 of the complaints resulted in staff leaving the early childhood service, 27 involved the police, 14 included the Education Council which investigates complaints against teachers, and two cases were referred to the Serious Fraud Office.
RNZ's Insight programme reported in April that teachers and researchers were worried some early childhood centres provided sub-standard care and education, including operating with fewer teachers than required.