That’s according to a new report, released by the Ministry today, detailing the number of complaints and incident notifications received about early childhood education (ECE) services and nga kōhanga reo in 2017.

According to the report, there were 4600 licensed ECE and care services and nga kōhanga reo operating in the country in 2017, along with 927 certificated playgroups providing ECE.

To keep their licence or certification, all providers must meet minimum standards set out by law.

The Ministry of Education’s deputy secretary sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said the number of services that the Ministry received complaints about was a small proportion of the total number of services.

“The proportion of services we received complaints about in 2017 has remained largely the same since we started reporting on them, at around 5 per cent of all services,” Casey said.

"In 2017 we received 339 complaints about early learning services, a slight increase from the 331 complaints received in 2016.The complaints related to 286 early learning services. There were 5527 services in 2017.”

More than 200,000 children attended an early learning service in 2017.

Complaints that were upheld included a concern at the level of maintenance of the service’s van, concerns about fees being charged, and concerns about mould at the service.

Responses to complaints included the provision of advice by the Ministry, reviewing the service’s policies or procedures and provision of professional development.

The Ministry said it investigated 297 of the 2017 complaints; of those, 166 were upheld, meaning that standards had not been met or the investigation found something that the service was required to improve.

A further 42 did not require investigation. These were either resolved at the source, referred to the service’s own complaints process, referred to another agency or withdrawn.

While the number of complaints investigated in 2017 was higher than in 2016, the number of those upheld remained largely the same, Casey explained.

“The 166 complaints upheld in 2017 involved 2.6 per cent of all early learning services. In 2016 2.5 per cent of all services had an upheld complaint.”

Six services had their licences suspended in relation to 10 complaints, and nine services had their licences cancelled in relation to 11 complaints.

The Ministry changed a further 31 services’ licences to provisional, in response to 41 complaints.

“Every complaint we receive is treated seriously,” the deputy secretary said.

“We assess each complaint, and if a service falls short of the standards we impose conditions for improvement or shut the service down.”

Meanwhile, there were 137 reports of incidents about 130 early learning services in 2017, including both mandatory and voluntary notifications from the services.

The incidents reported included an attempted abduction, children suffering fractures and other injuries, and restraint of a child.

In its report, the Ministry said the majority of incident notifications did not require further involvement from the Ministry.

In some cases, the Ministry could amend the service’s licence to provisional, suspended or cancelled.

Of the 137 incident notifications received in 2017, six services had their licence amended.

The deputy secretary said the release of the report highlighted the Ministry’s commitment to giving parents confidence in the ECE sector.

"It’s important that parents and caregivers can have confidence that their children are learning in a safe, well-run early childhood service. An effective complaints and incidents process is part of this.

“Services are legally required to have processes in place so parents and whānau can complain or ask a question if they’re not happy with any aspect of their child’s education and care. That could be a concern or question about enrolment processes, ECE funding or something more serious.

“Most complaints can be managed at the service level but parents, whānau and caregivers are encouraged to come to us if they are not satisfied with the response from a service or if the complaint is potentially serious,” she said.

Casey said the insights from investigations were used to improve services.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our children."

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ), which provides training and professional development for early childhood educators, welcomed the figures released by the Ministry.

“[We are] pleased that more than 97 per cent of licensed ECE services meet or exceed Ministry of Education standards.

“We applaud the Ministry’s timely release of this data as it shows that the majority of tamariki are in good hands and it helps give parents and caregivers confidence," ECNZ chief executive, Kathy Wolfe, said.

“In making this statement, it goes without saying that any practice having a negative impact on tamariki is totally unacceptable.

"That is why it is good to see the Ministry taking every complaint seriously and where necessary, imposing conditions for improvement or closing the service.”