Annemarie Quill explains why the Budget is bad news for parents who want the best for their children.
Love babies? Become an early-childhood teacher. When applying for the job, leave out your degree.
A qualification will no longer be of value to centre owners if they already have their quota of 80 per cent of qualified staff. Last week's Budget cancelled the financial incentive to centres to employ 100 per cent qualified teachers.
The Government argues that 80 per cent is enough. There are unqualified childcare workers who have extensive experience. Many are mothers or grandmothers.
I am mum to a 6-year-old. I can't teach her primary school class to read. Sometimes I cut my daughter's fringe. It doesn't make me a hairdresser.
A piece of paper alone does not make a great teacher. But it should be a minimum benchmark for someone to whom we entrust our babies.
In other professional arenas we do not tolerate half-measures. We demand rigorous standards, which include both qualifications and experience.
We would decline an operation from a surgeon who learned his trade from Shortland Street. We wouldn't choose a lawyer's practice where one in five doesn't have a law degree.
So why accept this dumbing down of standards for our youngest children?
With the number of New Zealand children in childcare mushrooming, particularly babies as young as 3 months, these children deserve care that is richly resourced.
The most valuable resources are professional staff. All the wooden blocks in the world cannot replicate teacher interactions.
The first five years of life are crucial for brain development. Poor early relationships cause devastation later in life.
While New Zealand's older children terrorise each other on the playground, drink themselves to death or stab their teachers, this Government is now committed to spending more on prisons than on quality care for babies.
The childcare sector has fought hard to be recognised as part of the education curve. Labour's funding policy was based on extensive research that children in care outside the home thrive with qualified teachers. The benefits last throughout school and beyond.
True, the Budget needed to address the spiralling cost to the taxpayer of childcare funding. But last week's cuts hurt the kids, not the industry.
The huge financial investment in the sector has not always filtered down to those it was meant for - the children.
Childcare is big business. Government funding, plus high parental fees, has made childcare the cash cow of the noughties - like retirement villages and rental property of previous years.
Witness the number of investors - many from overseas - who piled into the sector for financial motives. Their love of the alphabet is limited to the logos on shiny new Hiluxes.
These business owners will not take the Budget's hit on their bottom line. Instead, they will pass on the cost to parents in fees or "donations".
Centres may opt to focus on 3- or 4-year-olds to benefit from the continuing 20 "free" hours subsidies.
This potentially leaves the growing number of under-2s in childcare with the least-qualified staff. Yes, some loving and attentive. Others just cheap labour on minimum wage.
Centres who retain 100 per cent qualified teachers are likely to be unaffordable for many families. Most of our kids will be left 20 per cent of the time with the "love babies" brigade.
For those who doubt the dire human and economic consequences of poor quality childcare, a reminder of another booming industry sector which a previous National government deregulated in the 90s.
Similar funding cuts, a downgrade of the apprenticeship system, and relaxed regulations for 100 per cent qualified and registered professionals.
Love building, anyone?
* Annemarie Quill is a Tauranga writer, early childhood teacher and mother of three.