A Pukekohe childcare centre that had animal faeces in its sandpit has had its licence downgraded after a Ministry of Education investigation.
Kids Count Pukekohe, one of a chain of seven Kids Count centres in Auckland, Rotorua and Wellington, has been found to have breached regulations on health and safety, premises and facilities, curriculum, and governance, management and administration.
Its licence has been downgraded to "provisional" until the breaches are rectified.
But company owner Mary McLeod said the complaint was "vindictive" and she planned to complain to the ministry about the way it recorded alleged breaches without asking staff about what they found.
"We refute all the alleged breaches. They were not breaches," she said.
"They were things that happen in the everyday activities of a childcare centre and could so easily have been explained if the ministry personnel had asked."
The complainant, who asked to remain anonymous, complained about "unhygienic" food practices including leaving meat on the bench all day, defrosting meat in the microwave, loading plates on top of each other in the steriliser and not changing the water in the steriliser regularly.
In an email to the ministry, the complainant said: "Yesterday a man came in with a large bag [over 60 litres] of bread buns that he supposedly collects from supermarkets. The buns were unlabelled... this is a common occurrence.
"The cook used the buns to feed the children."
The complainant said dog faeces were found in the sandpit, and the centre manager was a former human resources manager who did not hold an early childhood qualification.
The ministry did not confirm any of the specific complaints about food, but it did find that baby bottles "were not appropriately named, covered or stored in the fridge".
It was concerned that the sandpit "had gaps that would allow entry of small animals, rodents, faeces and foreign objects".
Ministry education manager Ted Benton told the complainant on September 20 that the centre had been placed on a provisional licence which "states the breaches that have been identified and must be displayed at the centre where it is visible for parents, whānau and visitors".
But the complainant said only the centre's previous full licence was on display today.
However, McLeod said she only received the ministry's notice in writing this week and would now put it on display.
She said cat faeces were found in the sandpit once, and that staff then realised that the sandpit was not properly covered. A second tarpaulin had been installed to fully cover the pit.
She said the local Countdown supermarket gave the centre bread left over from the day before because the centre served mainly lower socio-economic families.
"If we don't use it, it is given out bundled up in bags to the families at night," she said.
She said the water in the steriliser did not need to be replaced because it was connected to the main water supply, meat was only defrosted in the microwave "on a very rare occasion", and any food left on the bench was always covered.
She said all bottles being used by babies were labelled with the babies' names, and the bottles that were unlabelled were spare bottles that were not being used.
She acknowledged that the centre manager did not have an early childhood qualification, but said she was employed because she was a good manager and the centre had eight qualified teachers for a current roll of 60 children.
McLeod told Benton, in an email also sent on September 20, that the decision to downgrade the centre's licence without discussing the issues first meant Kids Count "has effectively been found guilty without having had the right to be heard". She said the result was "a miscarriage of justice".
"We will be laying a formal complaint because the cost to us and our reputation of this is enormous."
Ministry of Education's Katrina Casey said every complaint is treated seriously and investigated.
"It's important that parents and caregivers can have confidence that their children are learning in a safe, well-run early childhood service," she said.
"In this situation breaches were identified to licensing requirements and the service was issued a provisional licence.
"The breaches were not sufficiently serious to warrant suspending the service immediately.
"We have also provided the service with additional funding for professional development."