The Children's Commissioner has called for a review of paid parental leave, suggesting it is time to help parents to stay home for the first year of their children's lives instead of subsidising care elsewhere.
The suggestion, one of several in a report looking into the care of under-2s, has been welcomed by many - especially parents who want to stay at home but are struggling financially.
Commissioner John Angus said an increasing number of under-2s were being enrolled in childcare and for longer periods than before.
While many started between the ages of 12 and 24 months, there were cases of babies less than 10 days old being put into childcare so their parents could return to work.
The commissioner's report found childcare was not bad for very young children as long as the quality of care was high, but there were inconsistencies.
Dr Angus has now suggested the Government look at more flexible parental leave provisions in order to help more parents care for children under the age of 1 at home.
"I think it's time we revisited the mix of parental leave entitlements and subsidised childcare to see how they can be structured to best meet the needs of very young children."
Dr Angus said the subsidy for children under 2 years old to be in care was close to the amount a parent received weekly on paid parental leave, after tax.
"Rather than spend a large amount of taxpayers' money on subsidies for infants to be in childcare, that money might be better put into supporting care at home by the parent."
Other recommendations included strengthening the service for very young children by "reducing the number of under-2s in a group, increasing the ratio of staff per child and placing more emphasis on the specific knowledge and skills needed to work with this age group".
The NZ Educational Institute union welcomed recommendations around improving the quality of care.
Executive member Hayley Whitaker said: "There's no doubt that very young babies and families benefit from having as much time together as possible and parents often face a difficult decision about if, when and how they can return to work.
"Comments in the report that it may be time to revisit the mix of parental leave entitlements and subsidised early childhood education are very timely."
Education Minister Anne Tolley said she welcomed the opportunity to hear from the sector on under-2s, but noted many of the recommendations would involve increasing costs for services, and ultimately for parents.
She said an independent early childhood education taskforce had already been briefed on the report and would consider its suggestions before reporting back to her next month.
Labour's deputy leader, Annette King, said the recommendations were a strong endorsement of Labour's "Children First" policy that would be a key plank of its election campaign.
"The report highlights the importance of making sure young children get the best possible start in life and says many of the things Labour has been saying since our party conference last year."
* Spend money on helping parents stay at home for the first year rather than subsidise for childcare.
* Look at more flexible parental leave provisions for parents.
For children in care
* Reduce the number of under-2s in care groups.
* Increase the ratio of staff per child.
* Place more emphasis on the skills needed to work with this age group.By Elizabeth Binning Email Elizabeth