As women increasingly become career focused, and as dual income living becomes the new reality, our children are spending more time in childcare.
During 2014, 20 percent of New Zealand children attending early childhood education (ECE) were enrolled for 30 hours or more per week, with 8.5 percent attending for 42 hours or more. This is a marked increase from 14 years earlier, where just 11 percent were enrolled for 30 hours or more, and 2.8 percent for 42 hours or more.
During this time, the overall participation rates have risen by 23 percent – from 154,000 children in 2000 to 200,000 children in 2014.
Little information exists on why these trends are emerging.
It is logical to assume that population growth, a greater focus by women on their careers, and increasing financial demands for dual income families, is driving an increase in enrolment numbers.
But why are we seeing a strong trend of children spending more time in ECE? Is this also due to increased focus by women on their careers (and the lack of subsequent flexibility offered to mums and dads to offset this), and/or is it due to increasing financial pressures on families – perhaps amid a strong property market?
Could it be that our childcare infrastructure is inadequate for modern women? Or the perception that enrolling children in full time childcare is the only way to maintain a career alongside a young family?
A better understanding of the drivers to this growing trend is crucial to achieving insight on how we address it.
In March 2016 the Brainwave Trust released a report about the effects of early childhood education and care on a child’s development. It found that children who were enrolled in full-time childcare were far more likely to suffer behavioural and health problems such as aggression and respiratory illnesses. The younger the child when they started attending, and the longer they attended for, the higher the risk was of seeing these effects.
Of course such research comes with the caveat that childcare is a “multi-faceted phenomenon.” Many variables come into play such as the age of the child when they started attending, the duration they attend for, the type of childcare they are enrolled in (home-based / au pair / daycare centre, etc), and the quality of care the child is receiving.
This research, however, alongside the ECE enrolment statistics for New Zealand, point to a strong need to invest in further research. We must understand why our children are spending more time in childcare, what the impacts of this are, and what can be done – by government and businesses – to support an improvement in how New Zealand’s future generation is raised.
Manaaki Whenua, Manaaki Tangata, Haere whakamua
Care for the land, Care for the people, Go forward
Note: This commentary does not set out to criticise the childcare choices made by parents, but seeks to draw attention to the emerging trend, and to ask, what more should the government be doing to ensure our children get off to a great start in life, and what can businesses be doing to support the flexible working needs of parents (both mums and dads) in an era where dual career families are increasingly the norm.
 The method for collecting data was changed in 2014 to reflect actual attendance instead of hours enrolled. Hours enrolled was collected prior to 2014. This change means that the difference between 2000 and 2014 is likely to be under-reported, as the figures for 2000-2013 are likely to be inflated.
Participation statistics are taken from the Ministry of Education: https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/early-childhood-education/participation
Recommended reading: The truth about employee well-being – research shows what really works