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More than a quarter of childcare centre workers say they would not place their own children in the centres they work in, with some calling them "akin to factory farming of children".
A new survey of 900 early childhood teachers by the lobby group Child Forum shows 27% would not enrol their own children at the service they work in.
One teacher wrote in: "Hell no! I want my children alive and I want the people educating my child to be resourced, respected, valued, qualified and experienced."
Another said: "After only three years teaching, I have just resigned from the centre. My conscience would not let me stay part of a system that is akin to factory farming for children."
The survey shows no improvement from a similar survey with 600 responses in 2014 in which 25% of early childhood educators said they would not enrol their own children at the places they worked at.
Child Forum has expressed longstanding concerns about commercial pressures affecting the standards of care in early childhood education (ECE), but chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said the survey was open to anyone working in the sector, not just Child Forum members.
"We put it out through ECE networks, newsletters and social media," she said.
The survey appears to have drawn a representative sample from the main parts of the sector, with 76% of respondents working in childcare centres, 16% in kindergartens, 6% in home-based childcare and 1% in playcentres.
Auckland was slightly under-represented (27%) compared with a third of the population), but responses were widely spread around the country and no region was grossly over-represented.
Respondents were asked: "Hypothetically, if you have or had your own children, would you be happy to enrol them at the service where you work or at a comparable one (i.e. At any service of similar quality)?"
Three-quarters (73%) said they would. One said: "I am due to have a child soon and will return to work after six months. I am more than happy to have my 6-month-old in care with my colleagues due to excellent ratios, trained staff and the high involvement of the owner with the nursery and babies."
Those who would not be happy to place their own children at the centres they worked in were concerned about children's safety, staff stress, bullying, lack of staff time to develop relationships with the children, and minimal hours of non-contact time to record children's development and plan activities.
Only 58% of the respondents had no concerns about child safety; 34% had minor concerns and 8 %serious concerns.
Only 54% said they did not feel stressed at work, and another 5% were stressed "not at all often". But 32% were stressed "moderately often" and 9% "extremely often".
Only 52% said they had not seen any bullying, but 33 %said they had been personally bullied.
Three-quarters (74%) said they had time to develop personal relationships with children, but 26% did not.
Almost all (91%) had some non-contact time, but only 26% had at least four hours a week of non-contact time.
Staff in larger centres were much less likely to be willing to place their own children in the centres they worked in - only 41% of people working in centres with more than 100 children, compared with 86% of those working in centres with below 30 children.
Alexander said maximum early childhood rolls were lifted from 50 to 150 in 2011.
"The research shows that the smaller you are, the more likely you are to have interactions flowing between teachers and children, and children forming friendships," she said.
She said the Ministry of Education should "actively support centres to have optimal instead of maximum numbers of children".
She also recommended that parents should spend time in several centres before deciding where to send their children.
"They should see if they themselves are comfortable to stay there for the length of time that they would like their child to stay," she said.
"How do they find the noise level? The busyness? Do they feel relaxed? Are they seeing any issues or problems that concern them?"
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said NZ early childhood education standards were "among the highest in the world" and centres were monitored "regularly".
National Party early childhood spokeswoman Sarah Dowie said the feedback she had received was that "our focus needs to continue to lift the quality of ECE".
- By Simon Collins