by Catherine Delahunty
The 60,000 strong early childhood education (ECE) petition presented to Parliament this week represents a heartfelt message to the Government to invest in the best for our youngest citizens.
I signed the petitions ages ago and I have been attending events around the ECE cuts for some months. There is a lot the Government should be doing to make ECE better for our kids, but the most disturbing experience I have had was on a trip to Christchurch this week when I visited two ECE centres.
Both centres were struggling with the double blow of earthquake stress and funding cuts. They are both not for profit centres which means they are not eligible for the business recovery grants the Government is providing, even though they lost fees from having to close for several months and from families leaving Christchurch. No matter how often Anne Tolley says ECE centres are businesses many are not and are not eligible for the support businesses get.
The stories I was told were of centres using up all their contingency money, of being forced to increase fees with heavy hearts, some are refusing to cut qualified staff but that means being unable to fulfil existing commitments to wages increases.
Parents need an assurance that ECE centres will be stable and will be able to look after their children in this shaky city. Staff are dealing with their own household issues and traumas while still putting the care and education of children first. Some centres have had $70,000 cut since the earthquake. Unlike primary schools, their operational funding has not been rolled over to the end of the year but was reduced the day they re-opened.
People I met who were my age (50’s) and had dedicated their lives to ECE were exhausted and emotional about the potential closure of their centres and the impact on families and staff alike. Christchurch is still a bloody tough place to live and it seems the Government are treating ECE centres, especially not for profits, as if they were baby-sitting services that can be run on the cheap.
I felt deeply frustrated on behalf of ECE workers because the 60,000 signatories on the ECE petition are right. The early years are a critical time in a child’s life and we need great ECE so that every child gets the educational start they deserve. Universal provision and targeted programmes should be an essential, not a “nice to have”.