Just under 10 years ago, a Rotorua early childhood centre opened its doors. Running as part of the education strategy for Ngāti Whakaue, it was driven by a philosophy that iwi have an obligation to meet the needs of whānau, hapū and marae. The belief was that this was vital to children's wellbeing and belonging, with dreams of providing a rich learning environment. But earlier this month, those dreams were slammed when the Ministry of Education found 47 breaches of compliance and the licence of the puna was suspended.
Safety checking and child protection issues were some of the 47 breaches which has suspended the licence of a Rotorua early childhood centre.
Te Puna Akoranga, a Māori total immersion early childhood education provider, was established in 2009 by Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust as part of the education strategy for Ngāti Whakaue.
The trust was established in 2005 and built on the basis of understanding the significant role iwi played to achieve the aspirations of iwi in areas such as education, te reo and wellbeing.
Te Puna Akoranga o Ngāti Whakaue's licence was suspended after 47 breaches were found on licensing categories, the Ministry of Education has confirmed.
These breaches focused on safety checking, child protection, mandatory reporting, adult-child ratios, supervision, management practices and information to whānau.
The trust has told the Rotorua Daily Post the shortcomings were partly due to not being able to keep pace with the centre's growth. A spokeswoman said the centre was well supported and it hoped to have its licence reinstated, allowing it to reopen within six months.
The ministry found the breaches while performing routine checks on the trust's most recent early childhood centre, Te Puna Manawa o Whakaue - which was established a year ago.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the ministry put Te Puna Akoranga on a provisional licence.
The ministry then did an assessment on the service on March 29 and identified 47 breaches across health and safety, curriculum and governance, she said.
But sufficient progress had not been made and new incidents were raised which resulted in the suspension of the licence on June 21.
Casey said the new incidents "raised serious questions about whether the service can appropriately provide a safe environment for the children".
"Nothing is more important than the safety of children," she said.
"The service will not be able to operate again until we are satisfied that it has addressed the concerns we've raised and children can be well cared for."
Whanāu had been given contacts for other services they could take their children.
Te Puna Akoranga has had other run-ins with compliance, and a 2015 Education Review Office (ERO) report found the physical safety of children was not assured and the management needed to be improved.
This resulted in the centre graded in the report as not well placed and required further development.
It also found that while there was a strong emphasis on nurturing values and tikanga associated with Ngāti Whakauetanga, there was:
• No strategic plan
• Strained relationships among managers and staff
• Unclear roles and responsibilities of staff
• No staff appraisal
• Inadequate hazard checking systems
• Numerous hazards
• Lack of detail in programme planning
ERO also identified areas of non-compliance relating to the under 2-year-olds' outdoor environment and pouako appraisals.
The next review in 2018 found an improvement in their hazard checking systems and the centre's evaluation of the quality of teaching practices.
But there was still no appraisal process in place to support managers in their professional growth and little focus on the impact of the programme on children's learning.
The ministry is now working with the centre to amend the breaches.
Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust board chair Marg Maniapoto said the board's immediate focus was to rectify the ministry's concerns and reopen the centre as soon as possible.
"We are taking expert advice, including from ministry staff, to ensure we get it right."
She said wider Ngāti Whakaue entities and iwi leaders were also helping and continued to support the kaupapa.
"We are confident that our licence will be reinstated, and that we will be able to re-open within the next six months. Te Taumata has grown exponentially since this puna was established, and we acknowledge that some of systems, processes, policies and governance structures may not have kept pace with this growth, which has partially led to these shortcomings."
She said: "Ensuring the safety, wellbeing and education of tamariki at Puna Akoranga – and all of our centres – remains our top priority."
The centre is working with the whānau of tamariki who were attending to address their concerns and ensure they have alternative arrangements.
"They will have a voice in planning for the reopening. We will be fully reviewing the circumstances that have led to this situation."
She said there was no indication the issues that affected Te Puna Akoranga were impacting Te Puna Manawa, and that would be covered in the review.
"We remain firmly committed to the iwi-centric pathway of learning that we have created and we are determined to learn from this setback."
A mother of a child who went to Te Puna Akoranga, who didn't want to be identified, said they found out on Tuesday June 18 it would close on Friday June 21.
"The whole situation is pouri (sad), pouri for babies, pouri for staff and pouri for Ngāti Whakaue. It's also frustrating."
She said a hui was held with the board where management faced questions from parents.
"The reasons for temporary closure I feel could have been prevented which is the frustrating part, but this also can be fixed and that's why I believe they will be back."
She said she loved sending her child and described the kaiako (carers) as "amazing", "loving" and "friendly".
"The main worry I had was finding another centre to trust my child with. Management were working with staff and whānau to make sure they all had somewhere to go, most of the tamariki and pepi followed their kaiako."
She said she hoped they reopened as her child would return.
"I feel sad about it. The closing karakia was heartbreaking. There was support there from other centres which was cool to see that they are willing to work together to help."
Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey said these policies were in place to make sure everyone was safe, "especially the children".
"Nobody wants their kids to be going into an unsafe learning environment ... it's a good thing we've identified [the breaches] and haven't let it go on further," he said.
Te Puna Manawa had made progress while on its provisional licence and the ministry will continue to monitor it to ensure progress is made.
Centres are licensed based on the Education Act 1989 under the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008.
- It's not in the interest of children for the service to stay on a full or provisional licence
- A child has been physically ill-treated
- A child has been subject to solitary confinement.
- A child has been deprived of food, warmth, shelter, mobility or protection.
- Adults have failed to prevent ill-treatment of a child.
- Someone reasonably suspected of physically ill-treating a child continues having contact with the children
- The service has failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent children from coming into contact with staff having a contagious condition and likely to have a detrimental effect.
How does a full or probationary licence become provisional?
- If a service has not complied with written direction/s given by the secretary of the MoE within a reasonable time
- The service does not comply with the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations.
- The service does not comply with all the conditions given when its licence was issued.
- A complaint is lodged which the secretary of the Ministry of Education considers the warrants investigation.