Complaints about early learning services jumped almost 50 percent in a year, with children's health and safety the leading cause for concern.

Understaffing issues almost tripled, justified behavioural complaints more than doubled and there was an 80 percent jump in fraud cases according to the Ministry of Education's annual complaints summary.

Education officials put the spike down to increased efforts in encouraging families to raise concerns, however Labour says it believes the figures should ring alarm bells.

"These complaints are symptomatic of a sector under increasing strain from underfunding," said the party's education spokesman Chris Hipkins.

Advertisement

"Centres seem to be living hand-to-mouth. While there are still a small number of complaints it seems things are getting worse and we should take that seriously."

The ministry's annual early childhood education (ECE) complaints summary said there were 360 complaints last year, up from 246 in 2013. It does not give details of the complaints or which services they stem from.

It follws numerous reports raising concerns about quality in the sector, including papers to minister Hekia Parata from the ministry, the Education Review Office and advisory groups, all which urged the government to raise standards.

A separate ERO report also found half of under-threes were not receiving a curriculum that supported "communicating and exploring", while an independent group, Child Forum, found a quarter of ECE teachers would not be happy to have their own child enrolled where they work.

The ministry of education's head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the number of complaints remained small in proportion to the number services and enrolments.

She said many of the complaints about over-charging related to the complexity of the funding system. Where fraud complaints were upheld, no services were prosecuted, although one provider had closed. Figures previously supplied to the Herald showed around five services had been closed in the past year, with approximately 30 on a provisional licence at any one time.

Ms Casey said in terms of understaffing, child-teacher ratios were a critical part of running an ECE service.

"We regularly monitor services to ensure they are complying with [the] regulations and investigate any complaint about staff ratios."

Advertisement

Head of the Early Childhood Council, Peter Reynolds, said many of the concerns arose from misunderstandings between services and parents, hence the difference in the complaints laid and those upheld.

He said the sector itself had called for the ministry to be more assertive in closing centres down. "It's unfortunate and I feel for the parents and children but if a service is not able to deliver a result it needs to be called into question."

Mr Hipkins said he believed to address the issues, the government needed to look at the sufficiency of funding and to ensure they were funding quality services. He said quality requirements such as having fully-trained teachers, needed to be re-introduced.

Police and social services were called to a Kohanga Reo after a staff member allegedly abducted a group of children, documents show.

A staff member from Te Kohanga Reo o Te Huinga o Te Ao was suspended after a complaint that they had taken the children on an "unauthorised excursion" - which the Herald understands was to the staff member's home, in a van.

The matter was originally referred to police and Child, Youth and Family and the kohanga put on a provisional licence however because management acted quickly, the Ministry of Education was confident there was no risk to the children.

It is understood the staff member was not formally charged.

Early Childhood Education complaints 2014

Complaints against ECE services have jumped 46 percent in 2014
The number of complaints upheld was 106, up from 79 in 2013.

In 2014 there were 4,000 licensed services and 200,000 enrolments.
There were:

• 26 complaints for abuse or neglect (3 upheld)
• 30 complaints for accidents (14 upheld)
• 53 for behaviour management (13 upheld)
• 19 for poor curriculum quality (5 upheld)
• 56 for allegations of overcharging or other fee related issues (3 upheld)
• 17 for fraud (7 upheld)
• 58 for health and safety (19 upheld)
• 34 for not enough staff present (13 upheld)
• 15 for special education (4 upheld)