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The New Zealand Educational Institute says the "alarming rise" highlights under-resourcing of the sector, but the Ministry of Education believes it is due to better reporting and recording of complaints and incident notifications.
In 2017, nine complaints were received about nine Otago-Southland ECEs, and two were upheld.
In 2018, 11 complaints were received about 10 Otago-Southland ECEs, five of which were upheld.
In 2019, the numbers more than doubled. There were 25 complaints about 21 ECEs, and 13 were upheld.
The 2019 complaints related to 7.3% of Otago and Southland services.
Nationally, the number of complaints between 2013 and 2019 increased 69% (246 in 2013 to 415 in 2019) and while 32% of complaints were upheld in 2013, 51% were upheld in 2019.
NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford said the sharp increase in upheld complaints was "alarming".
"The previous National government cut funding to services fully staffed by qualified teachers, and loosened regulations on child-to-adult ratios and group sizes, while freezing per-child funding over that period.
"We're seeing the results of that, and while the current Government has made some improvements already, many of their plans to improve the quality of ECE for children are too far in the future."
He said many of the complaints were about accidents resulting from poor supervision, which showed teachers were "overstretched".
Complaints about below-standard facilities and inadequate maintenance also showed the "financial tightrope" that services were walking.
However, Ministry of Education sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the ministry had been working with the sector and licensing staff in recent years to improve reporting and recording of incidents and complaints.
"We believe the increase in incidents and complaints is predominantly due to better reporting and recording of complaints and incident notifications, rather than a significant increase in notifiable events or in cause for complaint at early learning services.”
Dunedin Kindergarten Association general manager Christine Kerr believed it was a bit of both.
"With internet access, it’s very easy for families to make complaints, which is their right.
"But also, the pressures of funding means that some services aren’t as well supported as they could be.
"It’s great to see that the ministry is putting things in place to address some of those issues."