Almost three weeks after schools and childcare centres theoretically returned to normal, Auckland toddler Emrys Frost is still at home with his parents.

His Welsh-born dad Jonathan Frost, 35, has lost his job as a chef at SkyCity and is now at home all the time to look after 15-month-old Emrys.

Emrys's mum Lauren Frost, who works for Watercare, is also working from home most days and has been into the office only one day this week.

So with the family income halved and both parents at home, it was a no-brainer to keep Emrys at home too and save the $365 a week the family was paying for fulltime childcare at BestStart in Remuera before the lockdown.

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"We have always been quite careful," Jonathan said.

"The things you worry about are rent and daycare, because daycare is obviously expensive - although I don't think it's expensive now that I've looked after him for a few weeks!"

Emrys Frost, aged 1, hasn't gone back to daycare yet because both his parents are still at home. Photo / Supplied
Emrys Frost, aged 1, hasn't gone back to daycare yet because both his parents are still at home. Photo / Supplied

Ministry of Education data shows school attendance has recovered from 79 per cent on May 18, when schools and childcare centres reopened for all children, to 88.6 per cent on Wednesday and Thursday last week - exactly the same as the 88.6 per cent average daily school attendance in term two last year.

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But the daily attendance rate in early childhood education (ECE) was only 51.3 per cent on Tuesday last week and below 50 per cent on all other days of the week.

The difference is mainly because many preschoolers attend ECE for less than five days a week in normal times.

But even allowing for this, ECE leaders say many children like Emrys who were in childcare before the lockdown have not yet returned.

"We always knew that parents would be apprehensive about returning their child to ECE after the lockdown and are nervous about it," said Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds.

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Peter Reynolds:
Peter Reynolds: "We always knew that parents would be apprehensive about returning their child to ECE after the lockdown." Photo / Supplied

"The other group affected are those parents who have lost their jobs or are working from home.

"We are expecting under level 1 to have another surge of kids coming back, but there will still be a large group at home because the parents are out of work and it's easier to look after the kids at home."

BestStart deputy chief executive Fiona Hughes, whose company is the country's biggest private ECE operator, said BestStart attendance rates were "significantly higher" than the ministry data, but still not back to normal.

"We have families who have lost jobs, and now can't afford fees," she said.

Fiona Hughes:
Fiona Hughes: "We have families who have lost jobs, and now can't afford fees." Photo / Supplied

"We also have families that are too worried about Covid-19 to come back just now. Many say they'll wait until level 1."

Michelle Pratt, who runs the New Shoots chain, said her attendance rates are about 90 per cent of pre-lockdown levels but she is braced for more children possibly being withdrawn when the Covid-19 wage subsidies end.

"There are going to be more redundancies over June and July, so that's where we are being cautious," she said.

Auckland Kindergarten Association general manager of education and innovation Bram Kukler said kindergarten attendance was also 90 per cent of pre-lockdown levels, and was actually above normal in some places where children had been unable to start school as soon as they turned 5.

He said attendance was lower for some ethnic groups that are more anxious about infection.

Bram Kukler:
Bram Kukler: "I think Pacific people are scared because of the measles stuff." Photo / Supplied

"I think Pacific people are scared because of the measles stuff," he said. Last year's measles epidemic killed 83 people in Samoa.

The ministry data shows that attendance is also lower in regions with high Māori populations such as Northland, where the highest ECE attendance rate last week was only 34 per cent on Tuesday.

The next-lowest was 43 per cent in Taranaki/Whanganui/Manawatū, while the highest was 58 per cent in mainly-European Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast.

Pratt said kōhanga reo remain closed until level 1 because of Māori fears of infection.

High Māori death rates when Europeans introduced new diseases to New Zealand in the 19th century, and again in the 1918 influenza epidemic, were cited by Māori communities that put up roadblocks to keep out visitors in the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Frost already has "two or three possibilities" for a new job and says Emrys will then be "definitely going back" to BestStart.

"Looking at the jobs coming out at the moment, it seems like a lot of businesses are not affected by international travel. A lot of the town pubs and smaller restaurants are not affected," he said.

"Three of the people I have spoken to say they had international workers who decided to go home. I guess that's opened up the market a bit.

"I'll have to take a massive pay cut, a huge cut. One of the places was almost half what I was getting paid before.

"But like I say, compared to the cost of living and putting him into daycare, we still have to earn money."

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