Hour of childcare can cost $70
20 hours free policy blamed for charges

By AMANDA FISHER - The Dominion Post Last updated 05:00 09/08/2010

Upper Hutt mother Rebecca Armstrong is upset she was quoted $126 to put her daughter in care for 21 hours, even with cover under the Government's ECE policy which offers 20 hours' free education for three and four-year-olds.

Upper Hutt's Premium Preschool stipulates children must attend a minimum seven-hour day each week. However, the Government's policy covers up to six hours a day for up to 20 hours a week.

The extra hour, not covered by the policy, would cost $70 on the first day, with a reducing fee on each subsequent day. The additional charge for the seventh hour on three days would total $126.

Mrs Armstrong wanted to put her daughter in care for several hours over three days, but found she would have to place her for 21 hours.

She had wanted seven hours a week so she could have a break, go to the gym, and do some accounting.

Parents were "over a barrel" as they often had no choice if both worked, as waiting lists at many providers were so long, she said.

Mrs Armstrong instead placed her daughter with a private provider "up the road" for seven hours a week, at no charge.

She wants to see the Education Ministry to check that the policy is being administered as intended and whether costs charged by some providers are justified.

Premium Preschool did not want to comment over the phone.

Newtown's Kidzone supervisor, Karen Lawrence, said enrolled children had to attend for a minimum nine hours on a minimum two days which meant parents had to cover six hours themselves.

This was done to avoid complications in payment as well as to cover the cost of recent renovations.

If the centre did not enforce the payment it would be under financial pressure. "When the 20 free hours came in, we worked out we were losing something like $20,000 a year [as a result]."

Wellington Community Child Care Association general manager Helen Baxter said the policy was "a bit of a fiction". "Centres find that the free subsidies from the ministry is not equivalent to cover the costs of running the centre, so they have to charge for other aspects of running the centre."

The situation would worsen early next year when current funding for centres with more than 80 per cent qualified staff was cut, she said.

New Zealand Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said she wanted Government funding to cover the actual cost of childcare to providers, as current subsidies did not reflect many providers' true costs.

Providers were forced to cover costs for their full opening hours, though parents may only want to use 20 hours at select times.

Providers currently had to "fill the gap" for staying open.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the policy was economically viable though improvements could be made. The subsidies met the average cost of providing ECE and those offering extra services could ask for payment with services refused to children whose parents did not pay.

"Twenty hours free ECE was set up by the previous government, but it's clear it has never been free, which is why we removed all mention of the word," Mrs Tolley said in reference to National's change of the policy name.

ECE services decide their own operating hours and fees, except for the 20 hours which were free of compulsory charges, she said.

From here.