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Impacts of Early Childhood Education Social Obligations on Families and Whanau

This thesis explores the impacts of ECE social obligations on affected families and whānau. In 2013 ECE social obligations were introduced through the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill. These obligations require beneficiaries to ensure their children are “enrolled in and attending an approved early childhood education programme from the age of three, until they start school” (Work and Income New Zealand, 2013c). A qualitative approach was utilised to hear the voices of those affected. Data was gathered through interviews with eight beneficiary families and two ECE centre managers who had knowledge of the impacts of obligations. Perceived impacts were analysed using thematic analysis. An examination of the discourses underpinning these obligations as represented in policy documents was undertaken utilising Bacchi’s (2000; 1999) “what’s the problem?” framework. The introduction of the ECE social obligation policy was found to have placed responsibility on beneficiaries but to have failed to adequately address barriers to ECE participation that families face. The study identified many barriers which impede a family’s ability to participate in ECE. These include transportation, cost, and provision of high quality, suitable ECE for their children available in their local community. Mandatory ECE does not provide the infrastructure needed to enable families to access ECE programmes as it does not address the accessibility, structural, and personal barriers that families face. The thesis argues that the context of incorporating ECE policy in Ministry of Social Development (MSD) legislation and the use of sanctions to ensure compliance is likely to lead to negative outcomes for children’s well-being. Policy-as-discourse analysis identified that social obligations were conceived in the context of reducing long-term benefit dependency. The three interrelated dominant discourses underpinning this policy, economic rationalisation, the positioning of beneficiaries as job seekers, and the positioning of children as vulnerable, has left the child as citizen invisible. I advocate that redefining the problem through a child as citizen lens could provide a framework for government to support families through barriers and address provision of high quality ECE. Three key suggestions are made. Firstly, utilisation of a child’s rights framework could ensure children’s rights are at the forefront of ECE policy. This would enable the primary emphasis to be on the welfare and best interests of all children. Within this framework this study identified the need for ECE matters to be in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, rather than MSD, in order to ensure consistency and accessibility to quality ECE for all children. Secondly, ECE engagement needs to be promoted through a positive model rather than sanctions. Government financial investment in integrated ECE services within local communities could aid families to overcome participation barriers and provide an ideal model for enabling families to access social services. Thirdly, government policy and funding needs to support provision of high quality ECE services that are responsive to their local communities. Such services are essential to encouraging ECE participation.
Type of thesis
Randall, J. (2014). Impacts of Early Childhood Education Social Obligations on Families and Whanau (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9262
University of Waikato
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