By: Simon Collins

An early childhood advocacy group says the Ministry of Education is “putting commercial interests first” by delaying a report on complaints against early childhood services.

Child Forum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander says the ministry’s annual report on complaints in early childhood education (ECE), last published in December 2016 with 2015 data, was overdue.

“A fortnight ago the ministry stated it would release the information that week which should have been released over a year ago, but it is yet to do so,” she said.

“It continues to put commercial interests first and deny parents their right to know and be informed of any serious incident or problem that has occurred at their child’s service or one they may consider enrolling at.”

But ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the report on complaints in 2016 would be published this week with “additional information for the first time on how complaints have been actioned”.

“We absolutely refute Ms Alexander’s claim that we put commercial interests first,” she said.

“We take our role in early childhood learning seriously and every day our staff do the very best they can in the interests of each child. Where we need to we make improvements.”

Child Forum campaigned for information on complaints to be made public for years before the ministry published the first of what were promised to be annual summaries of complaints in June 2014, with data for 2013.

The ministry’s second report, with 2014 data, appeared in October 2015, and the third, with 2015 data, came out in December 2016.

The reports recorded 246 complaints in 2013, 360 in 2014 and 342 in 2015.

The numbers of complaints in various categories are reported, but the reports do not name any early childhood services or provide details of any individual complaints.

Sarah Alexander says the Education Ministry is putting commercial interests of childcare centres ahead of parents’ right to know. File photo

“The highly summarised complaint information released by the ministry for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 years, masked details and did little to give parents and the early childhood sector confidence that it welcomed and was responsive to complaints and was transparent in its handling and reporting,” Alexander said.

“The reports need to include details of each complaint, the actions the ministry took in response, and the names of services at which complaints of a serious nature were upheld.”

However, Casey said this week’s report on 2016 complaints “will provide parents with transparency around the number and nature of the complaints we have received”.

“Each year we receive a number of complaints – every one of these is treated seriously,” she said.

“Where a service falls short of the standards required of them we immediately impose conditions for improvement and where necessary will shut a service down.”

Source: NZ Herald

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