Babies at risk in crowded daycare

Sunday Star Times 6 May 2007
Up to one in five of the 34,000 babies and infants in New Zealand daycare centres may be at risk developmentally from overcrowded care, says groundbreaking research out today. In the most comprehensive survey yet of the country’s booming early childhood sector, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research found poor staff ratios for under-twos posed a potential developmental risk for infants and babies in 20% of daycare centres surveyed. In these centres, just one staff member was available to look after every five infants aged under two.Although 1:5 ratios are legal in New Zealand, the researchers say such crowded settings are unsuitable for the care of under-twos. International research shows a ratio of 1:3 is the minimum for good care for under-twos. Senior researcher Linda Mitchell said babies and infants’ brains developed extremely fast, making quality care critical…The findings come as enrolments surge for under-twos. Last year, more than 34,000 under-twos were in daycare centres – 9000 aged under one. Of babies, 17% were in daycare for more than 39 hours a week in 2005, up from 12% the year before. The report suggests improvements to paid parental leave to give parents more options to stay at home – a recommendation the government looks likely to act on.