Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that 54% of all Kiwi families with children will now be eligible for early childhood education assistance (ECE), with another 10,000 additional children eligible for support, along with an increase in family tax credits. The policy reverses a freeze on the income threshold for childcare eligibility that National put in place in 2010.

The policy change received mixed reviews. A local HB provider welcomed the news.

Napier Kindergarten Association general manager, Helen McNaughten said lifting the income rates for the childcare subsidy would mean more Hawke’s Bay families could access the support, and this was great news.

For Kindergartens this will primarily apply only to the two-year-olds enrolled in its services. The majority of families with children aged three-to-five were invited to contribute $10 a week, rather than pay fees.

“We have yet to fully assess the financial impact of the new rates for our association. Like most services we face increasing costs. However, as a community-based not-for-profit organisation we do our best not to pass costs on to parents.”

She had concerns that parents would find the process of applying for the subsidy daunting and in some cases this was an “absolute barrier”. Because of this, the association’s teachers often assisted with the paperwork

“An increase in the number of families receiving the subsidy will also increase our administrative costs and interactions with Work and Income.”

She was more positive that the situation might generate employment opportunities for teachers and new graduates, or those contemplating a teaching career.

“While there are teacher shortages evident across the sector we well placed in our Association to attract and retain qualified teachers.” 

This is partly because in Hawke’s Bay, EIT is training early childhood teachers, which means many are placed in practicums at kindergartens or are student teachers mentored by kindergarten teachers.

“However, I think the biggest contributor would be the terms and conditions of employment offered at kindergarten,” McNaughten said.

But national early childhood trainers and advocacy groups are warning that while subsidies are good news for families, they won’t fix the ECE workforce crisis, teacher pay or the struggles of many community-based centres to stay afloat.

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ chief executive Kathy Wolfe said its members were questioning what the Government was doing to fix longer-term problems facing the sector.

“Progress on the Government’s promises has been painfully slow to improve things for early childhood education,” she said.

“Pay parity remains a half-kept promise. A dysfunctional funding model means many centres in less wealthy communities are struggling and some are forced to close. And there has been little to no movement on key quality issues such as teacher-child ratios – which currently allow for just one teacher to five infants or toddlers under two years old.”

Wolfe called for urgent action and a more strategic view of the costs and benefits.

Similarly, the Early Childhood Council was underwhelmed. Funding was always welcomed but the sector needed healthy providers too, and a new approach to solving cost pressures was an urgent matter, council chief executive Simon Laube said.

“Seventy percent of providers we surveyed aren’t confident they can recruit teachers now – services are down-sizing and closing, we expect the immediate impact for parents will be longer waiting lists for places in centres.”

Their resilience will continue to be severely tested between now and April 2023 when the subsidy comes into effect, he said.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


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