A Ministry of Education "hit squad" has found that at least one in every nine home-based childcare services broke the rules last year.
A list provided under the Official Information Act shows that the licences of at least 52 of the country's 453 home-based childcare services were cancelled, suspended or downgraded to temporary provisional licences until regulatory breaches were rectified during 2019.
That was more than three times the 15 home-based services where breaches led to licensing changes the year before, driving the total of all early childhood services placed on provisional licences up from 117 in 2018 to 172 last year.
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But the president of the Home-based Early Childhood Education Association, Susan Phua, said the sector felt unfairly targeted by a group set up in the Ministry of Education in 2017 to review home-based services.
"I have personally, as the president, been quite concerned by the view that has been given of home-based services," she said.
"The association has no issue with trying to raise the quality of our service, and we have done a lot of really constructive work with the ministry over the last two years while this has been happening in the background."
A Government review of the sector last year found that 70 per cent of home-based carers were unqualified. They will now be required to have, or be working towards, early childhood education qualifications at Level 4 in the qualifications system - one year beyond the top high school exams.
But Phua said lifting qualifications would require lifting funding.
"Out of all early childhood services, we are the lowest-funded," she said.
"We are waiting to hear what funding is going to come for our sector, but in the meantime there are services that are really struggling in terms of being viable."
Child Forum director Dr Sarah Alexander, who has analysed the list of regulatory breaches, said the large number of home-based services did not necessarily mean that home-based services were not as safe as childcare centres.
"It's only a case that the ministry has given a stronger focus to home-based," she said.
"They have kind of had a hit-squad approach in terms of the home-based sector. My only comment would be: why home-based in particular and not the whole early childhood sector?
"To target one part of the sector can be seen to be unfair, and probably is, because we have no idea as to the standards within our services unless the ministry is doing regular licensing checks."
Overall, the ministry downgraded, suspended or cancelled the licences of 197 early childhood education (ECE) services last year, or 4.2 per cent of the 4653 licensed services.
The list included eight (6.3 per cent) of the 128 centres owned by the only ECE operator listed on the sharemarket, Evolve Education, including six in Hawke's Bay: Active Explorers in Greenmeadows (Napier) and Mayfair (Hastings), Learning Adventures in Flaxmere, Little Wonders in Havelock North, and Lollipops in Hastings and at Napier Port.
The licence for Little Wonders in Havelock North was cancelled last February, forcing it to close, and Evolve NZ chief executive Tim Wong said Active Explorers Mayfair closed this year because its lease was expiring next month.
"We are not renewing the licence. We believe there are too many childcare centres in Hawke's Bay, to be honest, and some are close to each other," he said.
Wong, who moved over from Australia to head Evolve NZ last September, said the licence breaches were "historical" and all centres were now back on full licences.
The list of licence breaches also included 10 (2.3 per cent) of the country's 444 kōhanga reo, six (1.5 per cent) out of 404 playcentres, four (1.5 per cent) out of 260 Best Start centres, and three (0.5 per cent) of the 654 kindergartens run by kindergarten associations.