Article in the New Zealand Herald, published at 5:30 AM Sunday Jun 26, 2011
A centre in Petone run by Paradise Childcare Centres hopes to lift capacity to 100 children
Childcare centre operators are rushing to open so-called "megacentres" containing up to 150 children. A regulation coming into force this week allows childcare centres to triple in size. Even before the July 1 change, three companies have signalled to the Education Ministry they're keen to boost their centre sizes three-fold.
But critics are dubbing the big centres "child farms", as a survey finds 9 out of 10 parents and teachers oppose them.
The Education Ministry will allow centres to increase their rolls from 50 to 150, including 75 children aged under 2 years.
It says this will reduce red tape, by acknowledging big child centres are already disguising their existence by operating under multiple licences.
Education Minister Anne Tolley has said parents will not allow centres to get too big. The Education Ministry's acting early childhood education head, Karin Dalgleish, said she had received three "expressions of interest" from centres that intended to increase their size.She promised nothing would change for the children: their quality of care and education would remain unchanged.There were about 460 services that catered for more than 50 children under multiple licences, Dalgleish said.
Auckland developer Mac Manson said he had been approached by three childcare companies about renting his Newmarket building, which has been a gym and a church. He said the roof of one area could be removed to get past regulations that there must be an "outdoor area" for children.
And Paradise Childcare Centres general manager Brian Hogg said the chain had revamped an old Valentines Restaurant in Petone, reopening this week with a licence to care for 50 children. From next week, he hoped to increase capacity to 100. The children would be split into four groups, in separate areas. He would never go to the full legal capacity of 150 kids.
"It's just inappropriate to pack too many children into that space," he said. Parents would never leave their kids in a "warehouse environment", he said.
But Dr Sarah-Eve Farquhar, from the ChildForum website, said an online survey of 450 people had revealed that 91 per cent opposed the change, voicing concerns about "crowd control" and children being "just a number". "There was a general disbelief at the claim on the Ministry of Education website that the quality of early childhood care and education would not be affected by an increase in the permissible number of children," Farquhar said. The regulation change would probably result in more commercial and large-scale services dominating the sector, she warned. Lower socio-economic families would be forced into the big centres, while those on higher incomes would seek out smaller "boutique operations".
"People who responded to the survey used terms like battery-farming kids, cattle-herding children, Kentucky Fried daycares, child farms and child warehouses," she said. "There's a lot of people in the field that fear what these potentially dangerous changes could mean for children." She urged the ministry to stop the change in guidelines until it had fully investigated the potential effect on children.
* 50: Number of children allowed now at early childhood centres
* 150: Number of children allowed from July 1
* 460: Existing number of big childcare centres