Our centre has had huge financial problems with so many families being relocated to other areas. When I first started at this centre we had 48 children, and it's just that one day that changed everything.
– teacher, Christchurch east centre
In September 2011 CORE Education completed a project for the Ministry of Education exploring the impact of Christchurch earthquakes on ECE provision in eastern suburbs, an area of Christchurch most detrimentally affected by the 22 Feb quake.
Not surprisingly the findings of this project confirmed that significant population movement following 22 February dramatically affected the Christchurch ECE sector. The project reports on data collected between 23 May and 22 July, including an 82% return rate of survey data from 150 ECE services, and interviews with 23 non-Governmental organizations and community groups, and 96 parents/whānau.
The open ECE services in both ChCh east and comparison (located outside of ChCh east) groups reported that 1,072 children left their service following 22 February. The destinations were identified as:
- 304 moved to other cities in New Zealand.
- 90 moved overseas.
- 206 moved within Christchurch and enrolled in another ECE service (196 from east services)
- 59 children were no longer participating in ECE
- 413 destinations unknown.
The large number of ‘destinations unknown’ was not surprising as the movement of many families/whānau was immediate, taking place during the initial disaster period when all ECE services were temporarily closed. ECE teachers and peers were not able to farewell children and families/whānau in the way ECE is regularly accustomed to. Rather, many services were left wondering where their families/whānau had gone.
Fourteen Christchurch east ECE services closed altogether due to significant damage following the 22 February quake. Many of these services remain closed to date. These closures resulted in an estimate of 500 lost ECE enrolments with families needing to find alternative placements. There was no way of accurately knowing where these children and their families/whānau relocated. When adding the 500 lost enrolments from closed services with the 413 children who left open services for destinations unknown (total 913) you begin to get a picture of the size of possible ECE population loss for Christchurch, and of the concerns about the impact on ECE participation overall.
Parent interviews suggested that not all children leaving an ECE service had re-enrolled elsewhere. Parents became discerning about their ECE decisions. Many wanted to keep children close and for some this meant moving their child to an ECE service located closer to home or work, while others made the decision to keep their child with them at home.
Comparative enrolment data of open Christchurch east ECE and outside Christchurch east services confirmed that a number of families moving within Christchurch had re-enrolled children in ECE. Christchurch east services had a 17.54% net loss of enrolments while the comparison ECE services had a net gain of 21.18% new enrolments. The tables below illustrate these changes.
Financial viability for many east located ECE services continues to be at risk as they struggle to balance a continuing loss of income due to reduced enrollments with retaining a quality service for their community.
‘The new enrolments are less in number than those who have left therefore we have less money coming in from parent fees and funding.’
– Manager, east Christchurch
The movement of families/whānau within and beyond Christchurch is set to continue as decisions are made about where to live. ECE services and families/whānau will continue to live in an uncertain climate for some time to come, a situation that is not helped by ongoing quakes and resulting delays to the city’s rebuild.
‘We’re uncertain about our building and whether we can even return’; ‘How many families will be here to serve?’ ‘We have found that a lot of our families are in the red zone but we’re still not sure what will happen’; ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.’
– teachers, east Christchurch
Ideally I want [child] to be with children who go to the same school but not knowing where families will move to means this is not certain now.’
– east Christchurch parent
An overwhelming finding in this project was recognition that ECE had been instrumental in community recovery following 22 February. Services retained a sense of normality for children and families/whānau, provided a place for the social needs of communities, and offered additional support for ECE staff, families/whānau. This sense of community support continues to be a priority for ECE services, particularly those located in or near the red or orange-zoned areas.
We are educators. What we do sets up the main highways for all future learning. …. Post earthquake we have not only provided education for our tamariki, we have provided a sense of security, normality, a return to routines and patterns. We have also provided education, strategies & support for their whānau. We have been the whānau support and resource. We are an important part of Christchurch's recovery.
– Supervisor, east Christchurch centre
As the aftermath of the events of 22 February shapes the new normal in Christchurch, ECE services are turning attention to new demands and challenges with the wellbeing of communities remaining uppermost in their minds.
On the positive side, there is a stronger sense of community and people have formed relationships with others that they previously would not have. The parents/families who have stayed in ChCh were, and are, very supportive to each other and the centre.
– Supervisor, east Christchurch
2012 will prove to be demanding on all early childhood services in Christchurch in different ways. Financial sustainability will be of major concern for many while capacity to meet demand may provide new challenges for others. As always, the tenacity and resilience of the ECE sector is sure to rise to the challenge!
The project team:
Jocelyn Wright, Keryn Davis, Glenda Albon, Josephine Winter and Ruta McKenzie.
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