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Children pay for short-cuts in early childhood care

Children pay for short-cuts in early childhood care and education

Child Poverty Action Group says it is essential that the push to increase participation in early childhood services is matched by a focus on high quality, culturally responsive services.

In a new policy report on early childhood care and education (ECCE), CPAG looks carefully at the quality of education and care in New Zealand, particularly for the poorest children.

Early Childhood Care and Education, and Child Poverty is the second in a series of CPAG policy papers, called Our Children, Our Choice, to be released in the lead up to the 2014 election with recommendations for policy change to alleviate child poverty.

Co-author Dr Jenny Ritchie said, "The first years of life are when the foundations are laid for lifelong wellbeing and learning. It is critical that we as families, communities and as a society get this right. We know children really benefit from taking part in high quality ECCE, especially children who are already disadvantaged. Sadly, we also know that poor quality care is not great for children. Disadvantaged children are the most vulnerable to potential harm so it's vital that policies to increase participation are matched with a focus on making sure all children have access to high quality, culturally responsive services."

Recent policy changes have failed to ensure that ECCE centres are fully staffed by qualified, registered teachers. Ministry of Education regulations require only 50% of caregivers to be qualified, registered teachers, although many teacher-led centres have higher coverage. Qualified teachers have the skills needed for appropriate care of infants and toddlers and to cater to the growing diversity in our communities.

Dr Ritchie said, "We are also very concerned by the rapid increase in children enrolled in home-based care or playgroup services, with minimal contact with qualified teachers. Many parents have no choice, as there are just not enough services in poorer areas. Quality services are especially important when welfare reforms force parents on benefits to enrol their children into ECCE from the age of three or face sanctions including losing half their benefit."

In Early Childhood Care and Education, and Child Poverty, CPAG makes ten recommendations which would significantly improve long term educational outcomes for children in poverty, starting from their earliest experiences.

Dr Ritchie said, "How we care for and educate our youngest, most vulnerable citizens lies at the heart of our society. We call on all political parties to enter into a cross-party agreement to provide high quality, culturally responsive early childhood care and education for all children."

The full report is available to download here.

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