A 3-year-old boy came back to his preschool after the holidays talking about relatives who were in jail.
"My uncle is inside, eh, he said," says Leanne Martin-Hopkins, family liaison worker at Kids Count in Takanini.
"That was the news he had to share with his friends. And, 'Yeah, man, and my nana was angry with him coz he was teasing me. If I get angry I'm going to smash him!"'
Kids Count takes children like him that no other preschool will take, as well as others referred by Plunket and other agencies.
"The first thing you have to learn is to be non-judgmental, because the parents of these children were these children 15 years ago," says owner Mary McLeod of Takapuna, who bought the centre two years ago as an investor and "took about two minutes to be infected" by the children.
Kids Count caters for struggling families such as Carla and Craig Bradley, whose fees for 3-year-old son Cane are paid by Work and Income because Carla has suffered from depression since her second son Jayden was born 15 months ago.
Eighty per cent of the 92 children on the roll are from sole-parent families. About 85 per cent of the budget comes from state early childhood funding, including "20 hours free" for 3- and 4-year-olds. Fourteen per cent comes from the Work and Income subsidy to low-income families, and parents pay only 1 per cent.
The centre runs two vans to collect children from parents who can't afford to drive them in, and pays Ms Martin-Hopkins to work with the families.
"We have lovely parents," she says. "They say, 'Tell me a better way.'
"We had one child who was playing up and hitting everyone. I talked to mum - she was stressing out because she was not getting the childcare funding, she was trying to get to work on time. She works at Griffin's, where if you're late, you're in trouble."
This is a common story at the centre. The mother's work at the Griffin's biscuit factory is only casual, and the childcare subsidy isn't set up for parents on unpredictable incomes.
"I said to her, 'Bring him in and we'll work out the money later'," Ms Martin-Hopkins says.
It all sounds like a different world from St Heliers, where Anita Smith home-educates her two sons Ben, 13, and Louis, 10.
Ben and Louis have had their own traumas. Despite the best efforts of nearby Churchill Park School, neither Ben, a gifted learner, nor Louis, who has special needs, enjoyed school. Ben left in 2008 and Louis two years later.
"It's harder to teach someone who's gifted," Ben says. "Certain things such as reading I'm particularly good at, whilst I found maths difficult.
"When I struggled with certain subjects I would fall behind and there was next to no amount of time spent going over previous subjects, as everyone was ahead of me."
The difference from South Auckland is that Anita can afford to stay at home with the boys and buy whatever resources they need. She follows a "natural learning" philosophy, letting them learn about whatever interests them, but encourages them with educational games, books, DVDs and travel.
The family belong to Auckland Home Educators, whose members organise activities and trips.
But early childhood centres like Kids Count are helping close the gap. It will open two new centres this year in Papakura and Weymouth.
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