A Hawke's Bay early childhood centre has permanently closed amid a shortage of staff – giving less than 24 hours notice to parents.
The decision to close Lollipops Hastings was announced on Thursday, with the finger pointed at a shortage of early childhood education (ECE) staff in the region.
An email sent to parents at 6pm by Evolve Education Group Hawke's Bay area manager Hayley Whitaker said the centre would permanently close "from the end of the day".
A parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said no prior phone calls, letters of explanation or help was offered.
"There was no opportunity for children to say goodbye to their friends or teachers," she said. "It raises the question whether this group really has our tamariki's best interest at heart.
"It's an absolute nightmare for most parents who work and now have no other option but to let their employers know they have to stay home to look after their children.
"Not to mention we now have to scramble to find a new daycare with no notice."
Another parent said 100 families have been left "stranded without care" for their children.
"We are absolutely dumbfounded, and their pitiful excuse for closure was lack of staff," she said. "I think they are hiding something and we as parents deserve to know."
Lollipops Hastings offered a child-led learning environment for children aged under 5.
Whitaker said while the centre closed due to lack of ECE staff, Evolve Education remains committed to ensuring children continue to receive early childhood education.
"I know this decision to close the centre will have a big impact on your child and your family," she said.
"We sincerely regret having had to take this decision and the inconvenience that will result for you. Your child's wellbeing, health, and safety is however our highest priority."
According to ECE union NZEI Te Riu Roa, ECE teachers are paid almost $17,000 less on annual average than their counterparts in kindergarten and schools.
NZEI Te Riu Roa national executive Virginia Oakly said the driving factor behind the ECE teacher shortage is poor pay.
"We've heard countless stories of teachers leaving the sector because they feel their qualifications and experience just aren't being valued," she said.
"It's shocking to hear about decisions like this being made so suddenly, when they have such serious impacts for tamariki, their families, and centre staff."
A survey conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa in March 2021 found that over 70 per cent of ECE teacher have seen their centre struggle to fill a vacancy in the past year and over 85 per cent believe the shortages affects the children they teach.
Oakly said it's not fair to tamariki to lose access to education because of "business failures".
"The closure of private centres like this shows the current model clearly isn't working and isn't sustainable," she said.
"It's not fair on teachers that their work should be so poorly paid, and so precarious. We need to value early childhood education as a public good, just like primary and secondary education."
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said ECE services must maintain the correct adult-to-child ratio to operate.
For example, if between 11 and 15 children under the age of 2 are attending a centre, there must be at least three staff, while 10 staff would be needed for between 136 and 150 children aged over 2.
"The ratio means that there can be quality teaching and that the children are safe," Casey said.
According to the Ministry of Education, the number of ECE teaching staff has grown by 52 per cent between 2011 (20,117) and 2020 (30,476).
Despite the increase, Casey said, the ministry has a range of new targeted initiatives to help centres with their recruitment, including dedicated recruitment support.
"We have also been encouraging people into early learning teaching, particularly those already certified to return to the workforce."
Napier Port Lollipops remain unaffected by the closure.