Head lice, smacking, dirty nappies left unchanged and kids jumping the fence and escaping were among issues at early childcare centres flagged with the Ministry of Education last year.

Complaints against ECEs jumped by nearly a third in 2018, with 430 complaints made to the Ministry of Education compared to 339 in 2017. However half of the complaints were not upheld.

Much of the increase came from parents worrying about teacher-child ratios and inappropriate behaviour management, the ministry said.

Carers withholding food, yelling at kids, and leaving babies in dirty nappies were some of the complaints made to the ministry. The complaints were against only a small group - just over 6 per cent of early childcare providers.

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In 2017 more complaints were being made about health and safety, as well as abuse and neglect, but last year complaints in those areas had fallen, suggesting improvements by ECEs.

ECE services have also been directly reporting more incidents to the ministry, including more than a dozen where kids had escaped over kindy fences, and scores who broke bones falling off play equipment.

In one incident a child fell off a bike and split their tongue, and in another a child hit another on the head with a hammer.

More serious incidents include parents being aggressive toward staff, teachers reportedly smacking or bruising children, and a firearms incident in an ECE carpark.

"It's important that parents and whānau can have confidence that their children are learning in a safe, well-run early childhood service," ministry spokesperson Katrina Casey said.

"It's clear that parents, whānau and caregivers are more aware of the role we play and are more confident about coming to us when they have a concern about their child's education and care or something doesn't seem right," she said.

"We want people to speak up when they're unhappy or unsure of something. It's reassuring to see that is happening. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our children."

Of the complaints, 221 were upheld, meaning that standards had not been met or something at the centre could be improved.

Six services had their licenses suspended and five were cancelled following investigation of complaints. Another 34 were given provisional licenses and must make improvements.