Beneficiary education move shocks childhood experts

Early childhood experts are in shock after a government decision to make education compulsory from the age of 3 for children of welfare beneficiaries.

The decision, announced by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday, will apply from July to 31,500 children, aged 3 and 4, whose parents are either on sole parent or couple benefits.

Parents will have their benefits halved if they fail to take "all reasonable steps" to keep their children in licensed or certificated early education for at least 15 hours a week from the time they turn 3 until they go to school.

A Cabinet paper estimates that about 2200 beneficiary families might fail the test each year, of which 1300 might fail to comply immediately and have their benefits halved.

Dr Sarah Farquhar of the Child Forum early childhood support network said the decision amounted to "a revolution in our social policy".

"It would be a complete u-turn in New Zealand's tradition of valuing families and the family's role in the child's early learning and care.

"It's basically saying there is a certain proportion of the population who are not capable of providing early childhood education to their children."

The Plunket Society was alarmed at the move. "Plunket's approach is to always look at legislative changes like this through the eyes of the child," said its general manager of service development Helen Connors. "I think that undoubtedly having a 50 per cent cut in income is going to have a direct impact on children."

New obligations

Beneficiary parents must ensure their children:

Attend early childhood education 15 hours a week from age 3.

Attend school from age 5 or 6.

Enrol with a general practitioner.

Complete Well Child checks.

- Simon Collins, NZ Herald

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