Too many kids, too few teachers - the reality of early childcare

  • 30/04/2018

Early childhood teachers are increasingly suffering stress and injuries while on the job, a new survey has found.

ChildForum found nearly half of the early childhood teachers it surveyed had suffered a physical or mental health injury at work - a jump of 17 percent since the 2014 survey.

Early Childhood National Network chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander says early childhood teachers put children's needs first, but the survey shows it's time to start caring for teachers too.

"There are teachers saying they don't get time to have breaks, they don't get time to go to the toilet, they don't get time to have something to eat, they're asked to continue working even though they're injured or on ACC," she told The Project.

The results reflected the environment at many play centres, kindys, kōhanga reo and hospital-based services.

Reported injuries ranged from being bitten, scratched and kicked by children or hearing loss because of the noise, while mental stresses included claims supervisors were even bullying teachers.

The survey's authors say educators need proper support and to be listened to when they voice concerns about troubling working conditions.

"Something's got to be done to keep these teachers, to not lose them, because what's happening currently is teachers are saying, 'We've had enough, we're going to leave'," Dr Alexander said.

A former early childhood worker told The Project she felt forced to leave the job after being subject to bullying and seeing the treatment of her staff and children at the centre.

"I couldn't morally live with myself working there any more," said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous.

She said during her 14 years in the early childhood sector, there were too many children and not enough teachers - and it led to children being neglected.

"I saw children locked in bathrooms when [teachers] couldn't handle them. I saw children being left to scream, babies, for up to an hour while we were busy changing nappies and we just couldn't get to them.

"I saw little babies lying on the floor and being stood on or bitten by toddlers."

Her message to parents is to "turn up, don't ring, don't make an appointment, just show up at lunch time and see the true picture".

She said even though the Ministry checks the centres, the visits are announced and centres have time to prepare.

The former teacher says that owners of early childhood centres should be qualified, instead of simply seeing the centres as a business opportunity.