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New research offers insights into how mothers choose and use early childhood education

07 March 2019.

Mothers, on average, take 25 weeks leave from work when they have a child, their use of teacher-led early childcare education (ECE) services increases with the hours a mother works and with the age of the child, and income and the hours of work affect uptake of ECE services, are some of the findings of a recent Auckland University study.

The research, funded by the Ministry of Social Development’s Children and Families Research Fund and conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education, examines the link between maternal workforce participation and the use of early childhood education services. The researchers also looked into the use of paid parental leave and uptake of bi-lingual, centre-based services.

“The Children and Families Research Fund supports policy-relevant research using data from the valuable and rich Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study. This research is a useful input to understanding the tradeoffs and choices families make about ECE when their children are younger,” said Rob Hodgson, General Manager Insights MSD.

Researchers said the findings showed there may be barriers to some groups using ECE services – including financial resources, the location of ECE centres and when they are open. Mothers’ antenatal intentions frequently differed from their actual choices about ECE or childcare.

“Eighty four per cent of mothers who had indicated during pregnancy that they would use an ECE service instead opted for an informal arrangement, such as care by a relative, by the time the child was nine months old. It was not until children turned two that mothers are more likely to engage with ECE services,” said Dr Kane Meissel, University of Auckland researcher and co-author of the report. “The research shows there are a wide range of inter-related factors affecting ECE choices.”

“The research also reveals that choosing a Māori or Pasifika immersion and bilingual centre-based service was most likely to relate to developmental reasons, such as their child’s language development. Mothers’ ethnicity was not related to their decision to use this type of service,” Kane said.

The study used anonymised data from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, also conducted by the University of Auckland.

*ECE here refers to services licensed and funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Education.

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