An Auckland childcare centre has kicked out a 2-year-old child because his parents refused to let him attend for a minimum of seven hours a day.
Mighty Minds Educare in Penrose told parents Vinaya Ravi and Ravi Balasubramanian that their son Ani must attend for at least seven hours "due to strict laws with Ministry of Education".
But the only relevant law is that childcare centres must tell the ministry what hours each child attends for funding purposes.
The centre's policy is to offer only two options: either seven hours a day from 8.30am until 3.30pm, or nine hours at any time between 7.30am and 6pm.
Despite this policy, the centre allowed Ani to attend for only four hours a day, 8.30am to 12.30pm, for three days a week from July until he became sick in September.
The family agreed to pay the full seven-hour charge of $180 for three days.
Centre manager Cheryl Cheng said she advised the family to withdraw Ani while he was sick so they could stop paying the fees.
But when the parents tried to re-enrol him on October 3, centre administrator Lily Schubert told them by email: "Due to strict laws with Ministry of Education, we do require Ani to start attending the full (part-time 7 hours). Unfortunately we are unable to allow him to continue coming in from 8.30-12.30. This is a legal requirement we have to meet."
Ani, who turns 3 next month, is intolerant to multiple foods and gets bad eczema. His mother said he needed medication, including a twice-daily ayurvedic medicine which the family bought from India but which Mighty Minds would not give him.
"They wouldn't administer the natural medicine because it was not from New Zealand, it was not approved," she said.
He was also unable to eat the lunch provided at the centre, so his parents sent him with a lunch from home, but felt it would be unsafe for him to stay more than four hours.
They looked at 10 or 12 other centres but chose Mighty Minds because it was close to the family home and was clean and welcoming. Cheng accepted his enrolment for four hours a day in July on the basis that he would move to seven hours when he was ready.
"We were very, very satisfied with the place. To be honest the staff are really, really good," Vinaya Ravi said.
"It was going good for like two months, but they kept on saying whenever they saw me trying to push him for seven hours."
Cheng, who co-owns the centre which opened in 2015, said she was worried that the Ministry of Education might not approve of the arrangement she made with the family for them to pay the full seven-hour fee for only four hours' care.
"When we were going through licensing, the ministry said they needed to look through our fee structure to make sure we are not over-charging the family," she said.
"We only have two sessions, and that's why I tried very hard to say kindy has shorter hours, all these other options have shorter hours. At the moment we cannot create separate sessions for every child who has different needs."
In addition, by the time the family wanted to bring Ani back after his illness in October, another child was about to turn 2 and there was no space left in the 2-year-olds' room.
But Ravi said the centre had enrolled Ani in July for four hours a day and should have looked after him.
"They should say a child is a child and not like a kind of business," she said. "That's just a money-making attitude."
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the ministry was investigating the family's complaint against the early childhood education (ECE) service.
"Our investigation so far has not identified any breaches with funding rules or regulatory requirements," she said.
"While ECE's themselves are responsible for decision making on enrolments and cancellations, cancellation should always be seen as a last option.
"We do not have any requirements or laws that require a child to attend their ECE for seven or more hours. The only requirements we have relate to funding. For example the 20 hours ECE provides for up to 20 hours subsidised hours per week for a maximum of 6 hours per day per child.
"Early childhood education is not compulsory and is provided by a mix of community-owned and private organisations. Services must make all reasonable efforts to collaborate with parents and, where appropriate, family or whānau of enrolled children in relation to the learning and development of, and decision making about those children."