Watchdogs are calling for tougher action after revelations that 26 day-care services have broken the rules repeatedly in the past three years.
The repeat offenders include 10 centres owned by Discoveries Educare, which has undergone multiple Ministry of Education interventions since a falling tree injured four children at its centre in Gillies Ave, Newmarket, in 2016.
Only one of its 14 centres listed on its website earlier this week now has a full operating licence, but the website gives no indication that 12 others have been downgraded to provisional licences and one has lost its licence completely.
Dr Sarah Alexander of the sector group Child Forum, which used the Official Information Act to find the services that broke the rules in 2016-17 and in 2018, said repeat offences showed the system was not tough enough.
"Discoveries Educare's full licence was taken off them, it was allowed back, then it was put back on a provisional licence again," she said.
"How many times can this happen before the service is closed down or the ministry says someone else has to hold the licence?"
Alexander and National Party early childhood spokeswoman Nicola Willis said the Ministry should tell parents as soon as it found breaches.
"Writing would be a good step, it would ensure that parents are able to make decisions about their children and get care based on the best information available," Willis said.
The data shows that 119 early childhood services had their licences downgraded to "provisional" last year because of breaches in the Early Childhood Services Regulations.
That was 2.6 per cent of the country's 4532 early childhood services, including 3.7 per cent of education and care centres, 3.5 per cent of home-based services, 1 per cent of playcentres, 0.7 per cent of kōhanga reo, and just one public kindergarten - the Papatoetoe North Kindergarten, where breaches were found in health and safety, premises and management rules last March.
The list of centres which have been downgraded more than once in the past three years includes Discoveries Educare centres in Newmarket, Albany, Browns Bay, Glenfield, Kelston, Te Atatū, New Lynn, Māngere, Papatoetoe and Manurewa.
All those centres were placed on provisional licences for various periods in 2017 after the tree accident at Gillies Ave.
They were restored to full licences, but the Ministry then put them back on provisional licences between February and May last year for multiple regulation breaches.
They were restored to full licences again on May 17. But the Ministry told the Weekend Herald that all 10 centres, plus two other Discoveries Educare centres in Lincoln Rd (Henderson) and Mt Wellington Highway, are now back on provisional licences this year.
Only one centre is still on a full licence, in Prictor St, Papakura.
One other centre that was still listed on the website earlier this week, at Walters Rd, Takanini, now has no licence at all.
WorkSafe is still prosecuting Discoveries Educare and the owner of its Gillies Ave site, Heng Tong Investment, over the tree accident in November 2016. The next court hearing is due on May 30.
Discoveries Educare director Rippan Sandhu said she removed the Takanini centre from the website after the Weekend Herald sought comment.
"Our Takanini centre is closed, although we are currently going through a relicensing process with the Ministry of Education," she said.
"We were not aware that the Takanini centre was currently listed on our website. We have removed reference to it now as it is not currently operating.
"Discoveries is committed to providing quality education, care and comfort to children in our care and to attend to their health and safety. Our prime focus is to provide good education and a safe and healthy environment."
Alexander said a disturbing element in the data, which she has analysed on her website MyECE.org.nz, was that 109 of the services where regulatory breaches were found last year had been given ratings of "well placed" or "very well placed" in their last Education Review Office (ERO) reviews.
ERO methodology manager Sandra Collins said that was because many reports were written well before breaches occurred.
She said only 35 of the 109 services where breaches were found were actually reviewed by ERO in 2018, and that ERO itself found breaches in 28 of those.
"We notify the Ministry when we identify non-compliance with the regulations," she said.
Chief Review Officer Nicholas Pole said ERO changed its review system last week to stop telling centres rated "well placed" or "very well placed" that they would only be reviewed every three or four years respectively.
"Should a centre's circumstances change, ERO is likely to review more regularly," he said.
"We are also working to reduce the average time between reviews, which presently sits at 3.6 years. ERO's expectation is that all centres should be in a position to be reviewed by ERO at any time."