UNICEF NZ (The UN Children’s Fund)
NZ scores 6 out of 10 in OECD early child care education league table
Wellington, 11 December 2008. – New Zealand has received six out of 10 in a UNICEF report card on early childhood
education and care in 25 wealthy countries.
NZ placed seventh equal on a set of 10 benchmarks that outline basic minimum standards for the care and protection of
young children. The Nordic countries along with France topped the list.
Although NZ beat out all the other English-speaking countries -- the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland -- the
report highlights serious deficiencies in NZ’s early childhood services.
Titled “The child care transition” the UNICEF report prepared by the Innocenti Research Centre in Italy compares 24 OECD
countries plus Slovenia on 10 benchmark indicators.
NZ was marked down for insufficient parental leave, low public spending on early childhood services, a high child
poverty rate, and disparity of access to essential child health services.
NZ scored 23rd on “effective parental leave”, a measure of leave duration multiplied by per cent of salary paid. Only
Australia and the United States did worse.
With public expenditure on child care and pre-school education services at just 0.4 per cent of GDP, NZ placed 19th and
well below the OECD average. NZ trailed countries such as Mexico, Portugal and Hungary on public spending.
NZ’s child poverty rate was more than double the minimum standard. NZ also scored generally poorly on a measure of
near-universal outreach of essential child health services. This measure included infant mortality rates, low
birthweight, and immunization coverage for children aged 12-33 months. NZ was 19th on infant mortality, 10th on low
birthweight, and 24th in terms of immunization coverage.
The report also pointed to a significant trend in wealthy countries for very young children to be cared for outside the
home. Approximately 80 per cent of the rich world’s three to six year-olds are now in some form of early childhood
education and care. For those under the age of three, about one quarter across the OECD as a whole use childcare.
UNICEF NZ Domestic Advocacy Manager, Barbara Lambourn, says the report sounds a clear warning about the need for New
Zealand to improve its performance for young children.
“It is a major cause for concern that NZ fails to meet four of the basic minimum standards set out in the report,
placing at risk positive outcomes for future generations.
“NZ spends, for example, just 0.4 per cent of GDP on early childhood care and education – well below the recommended 1.0
per cent level of expenditure.
“The average duration of paid parental leave entitlement in OECD countries now approaches one year, but NZ lags well
behind with an entitlement of just 14 weeks.
“While the trend towards early childhood education and care can help give older children the best possible start in life
and boost educational achievement, it is worrying to see increasing numbers of children under three years of age being
cared for in groups outside the home.
“The economic pressures to return to work early are felt most by the poorest families, who have the least resources
available to secure high-quality childcare.”
“Although it should be acknowledged that NZ has achieved much over recent years in terms of quality and access, more
attention needs to be paid to turning around our performance where it fails to meet international standards. Taking no
action puts at risk the future of NZ’s most vulnerable children.”
“If we are to avoid remedial spending and a host of social, health and behavioural issues as children of this generation
grow older, we must invest more to ensure high quality, universal and inclusive early childhood services and support for
parents through increased parental leave.”
The report points to evidence from neuroscience that shows what social science and common experience have long held
true, that loving, stable, secure, stimulating and rewarding relationships with family and caregivers in the earliest
days, months and years of life are critical for children’s wellbeing and development.
“The quality and stability of the relationship of the carer to the child, in or out of home, is as vital as the quality
of the service, particularly in the first three years of a child’s life.”
Ms Lambourn says the argument that we can not afford to invest more in child care and parent support is countered by
cost benefit analyses showing that returns can be as high as $8 for every $1 invested in early child care education.
“Getting this wrong is not an option. We will pay in the future if we neglect to devote attention and resources today to
the needs of young children.”
The full report and comments from sector experts are available at www.unicef.org.nz