Tough times for ECE services revealed in new figures from Ministry of Education

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Figures from the Department of Education show a dramatic drop in the number of new early childhood services.

Photo: RNZ Insight / John Gerritsen

Only 109 new services were rolled out in the 12 months leading up to the end of June last year, one of the lowest numbers in the past 20 years and a sharp drop from recent annual totals of around 140 to 160.

On the other side of the ledger, 88 services were closed, continuing a spike in service closures that has resulted in the closure of 359 services in the past four years.

From 2000 to 2016, the average number of closures per year was 55, but the average for the past four years was 90.

Almost half of the services closed last year were home services and two-thirds were privately owned.

Figures show that an increasing number of community centers have closed in the past three years – 30 in the 12 months until the end of June last year, 40 in the previous period and 35 before that.

Childcare center owner Maria Johnson said it was becoming increasingly difficult to run a center.

“There is a lot of pressure on the center owners and I think that normally, when there are a lot of open centers, as there have been in the last few years, it is normally the people who have more than three or four centers and they are booming and I think now because of the shortage of teachers in the country and of course with Covid at the top, they are re-evaluating their business decisions, ”she said.

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Johnson said the market might not be big enough for more services.

“I think there is saturation in the market right now. It’s definitely the parents’ field of choice as to where they can go and where they want to go, which is great for parents,” a- she declared.

“I really think the level of quality we have in our industry has deteriorated over the years and that needs to be addressed by the ministry.”

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said weak government funding would have contributed to many closures in previous years, but the pandemic would have affected last year’s numbers.

“To be fair it still hasn’t gone away, but definitely over the last year the financial pressures and stress that Covid has placed on some centers would have intensified and it would have had an impact on the centers that have closed, ”she said.

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Wolfe said some of the closures are also believed to be due to the Education Department having canceled licenses for services that did not meet minimum standards.

Early Years Council Executive Director Peter Reynolds said some early childhood services have been struggling for some time and the pandemic has made matters worse.

“Some services have been really pushed to the wall because of Covid and changes to the rules around things like wage subsidies, so some of these services reportedly said it was all getting too difficult and they had no support insurance, or what are you and they ended up shutting down as a result, ”he said.

Reynolds said the relatively high number of home care closings is likely to continue as some would not want to comply with new rules requiring caregivers to have at least a degree.

“While it’s not mandatory from the start, a lot of it is looking at it and saying we have to get to a point where people have qualifications in place, so some educators are looking at that and saying that it all just does take it a little bit. too hard and some network providers are also looking at it and saying it’s easier to shut down and move on. “

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He said the pandemic probably did not affect the number of new services opened last year.

Home Base Childcare Association president Erin Maloney said the association supported the shift to a skilled workforce, but some departments had decided that training their educators was too difficult and were shutting down.

“The government has charted a direction in which it wants to go over the next 10 years and the suppliers that are part of it have had to choose to participate or to opt out,” she said.

Maloney said home services have coped relatively well with the pandemic because they were able to provide care for essential workers’ children during lockdowns last year.

“We had a lot of nannies and educators who visited family homes during the lockdown when other early learning services like center services and the broader group care options were no longer in operation. able to operate safely.

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