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The Inspection and Licencing System

The Ministry of Education is the regulatory authority.  It is responsible for licensing and ensuring all early childhood services are fit for purpose and continue to meet regulatory standards.

The Ministry does not however do annual inspections. Unannounced spot checks are rare. Often the Ministry will not know a service is breaching health and safety or other requirements until there is a serious incident or it receives complaints from parents, prompting an investigation and/or a compliance check.

Depending on what it finds, the Ministry may downgrade the service’s licence from a full to a provisional or a suspended licence until improvements are made. Services must prominently display a copy of their licence to show parents and visitors what licence is held and any conditions placed on the licence. You may like to check which services have had a licence change due to breaches – go to the annual lists published online at Early Childhood Education Services Breaching Minimum Licensing Standards


Issues with Openness and Transparency

ECE services operate in a competitive environment, creating a risk that some providers and owners will choose to put reputation and business first. To get answers when something has happened, parents sometimes find the only options available to them are to: engage a lawyer to represent them, make requests to the Ministry of Education or other agencies such as WorkSafe for information under the Official Information Act (1982), or go to the media.

Sometimes, teaching staff want to tell a child’s parent the truth or share a concern that affects their child, but are constrained by a confidentiality agreement with their employer. To be employed at the service, they may have been asked to agree to promote and extend the employer’s business interests and not say or report anything that might hurt the reputation of the service.


What Goes on When You are Not at the Service

Do you know what really goes on when you are not there?  Everything might seem fine, but should any of the following happen then definitely look more closely into what is happening:

  • There is a serious incident at the service but you are told little or nothing other than that everything is okay and it is business as usual.
  • Your child has unexplained injuries or frequent injuries.
  • Your child’s behaviour changes, or your child no longer wants to go to the service or be around certain adults or children.
  • The teachers are looking stressed, over-worked, or have lost energy and enthusiasm for their work.
  • You hear uncaring, mocking, or angry voices.
  • Children and parents are prevented from saying goodbye when their teacher leaves.
  • Staff keep changing – there is high staff turnover.
  • A mistake is made more than once, such as forgetting to give a child their prescribed medicine - this is a sign that other things could be going wrong too.

Some ways to get insight into practices at the service are to:

  • Vary your drop-off and pick-up times, and visit during the day, to see the service in its natural state when it is not expecting you.
  • Make time to chat with other parents and discuss your experiences.
  • Listen to your child and notice any changes in your child’s mood and responses to people at the service.
  • Review the service’s policies and procedures for anything that sounds odd or concerns you (e.g., it may allow marshmallows to be eaten but it should not as marshmallows are a high choking risk for infants and toddlers).