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Early Childhood Council welcomes requirement for parents

Early Childhood Council welcomes requirement for parents on benefits to ensure their children attend early childhood education 15 hours a week from the age of three

New Zealand’s largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres has welcomed a government decision that requires parents on benefits to ensure their children attend early childhood education 15 hours a week from the age of three.

Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds said today (12 September) that educational underachievement had many complex causes. But access to high-quality early childhood education was ‘without doubt, an essential part of the solution’.

It was a fact that children living on benefits and not attending early childhood education were amongst the most likely to arrive at school unprepared to learn, and to stay behind for the rest of their lives, Mr Reynolds said.

‘From this point of view early childhood education can be viewed as an inoculation for multiple diseases, with these diseases including low achievement at school, criminality, unemployment, and poverty as an adult.’

The requirement to ensure children attend early childhood education had the potential to rescue hundreds of thousands of children from educational underachievement, ‘and the nightmare that could follow from that’.

It was, said Mr Reynolds, ‘one of the most important welfare reforms in recent years’, and was likely to start changing lives the week it was implemented.

Mr Reynolds said he hoped many beneficiary families would find their way to
‘community hubs’ that offered both education and care for children, and support for families.

The positive impact of early childhood education would be limited if children went home to families struggling for want of a bit of help, he said.

‘The need therefore is to use early childhood education to not only educate at-risk children, but to educate and support their families as well.’

Early childhood education centres were the logical place to establish a range of family services, because many parents trusted their early childhood centres, and saw them as a natural part of their lives, Mr Reynolds said.

The Early Childhood Council had two reservations about the policy, he said. ‘We are not completely comfortable with the idea of compelling parents to put their children into early childhood education, but believe the benefits too compelling to resist.

‘And we have concerns regarding beneficiaries who might have difficulties with transport and no access to early childhood education in their neighbourhood. It would be unfair to cut benefits for such people. And we would be amongst the first to speak out should this occur.’

The Early Childhood Council has more than 1100 member centres, about 30% of which are community-owned and about 70% of which are commercially owned. Its members employ more than 7000 staff, and care for tens of thousands of children.

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