As progress is being made with re-establishing the early childhood services in Christchurch, it is becoming increasingly evident that nothing is going to be the same as it was pre-quake.
I have done a lot of talking and listening in the past couple of weeks—friends and family, teachers across sectors, Ministry of Education (MoE), managers, and EC leaders. What is emerging is that each group is now faced with unexpected dilemmas when it comes to thinking about early childhood care and education.
Recovery decisions in order to get EC services running again
Everyone is resigned to the understanding that rebuilding and repairing the city’s infrastructure is going to be a long-term project. While this recovery begins, decisions have been made around getting schools and EC services up and running. The MoE is supporting the education sector by promoting guiding Principles of Recovery From Traumatic Incidents, namely:
While these principles offer an admirable vision, I am troubled about whether the sector has the capability to realise these goals when people in the sector are working in such complex and pressured circumstances, both personally and professionally.
Some of the dilemmas being confronted by early childhood services
We are entering a new and uncertain environment. How will EC services continue to meet the changing needs of their communities? The following are just some of the dilemmas that the Christchurch EC community is facing:
- Many families with young children have left the city. Whether they return or not is largely unknown.
- Families have been displaced, and now live in different locations—their support networks have been interrupted, and they are no longer in easy access or proximity to their regular EC service.
- EC staff are returning to work at the same time as juggling their personal childcare, travel, and housing dilemmas.
- Many EC centres have not opened yet. Parents returning to work are under increased stress as they are desperate for an EC placement.
- Emotions are very fragile, particularly as parents, who don’t really want to be parted from their children, drop their children off in EC services.
- Workplaces have been relocated so that the choice of EC placement may no longer be situated in the most favourable location.
- On the road, travel time has doubled—trebled—meaning, parents will face increasing stress when dropping off and picking up their children.
- Affected secondary schools have reformed with schools sharing sites; this can result in one group in school between 7.30am–12.30pm, and the other from 12.45pm–6.00pm. Secondary teachers with EC children will face problems finding EC placements to suit their new working situation.
These dilemmas have very real implications for EC services.
Transitioning and financial management issues
Two of the big questions that I have been thinking about are:
- What does it mean for children and families transitioning to different centres? And,
- What are the implications for financial management of services?
Transitions: is there the support needed?
What about transitions?
How are children and families being supported to make the types of transitions that they now face, particularly as these are happening out of necessity not choice? Displaced children will be popping up in EC services throughout the country—are these services prepared to support not only the changes transitioning involves but also the emotional needs of the children and families?
Financial management: are new situations being catered for?
What about financial management?
Pre-quake, many EC services had made financially-driven decisions around their operations to cope with the 80% qualified staffing cap. Some had reduced their operational hours; others had implemented policies where attendance-options were limited to 6 hours per day or more (no less). These decisions are now going to conflict with the needs of families. Who is going to cater for secondary teachers (and possibly others) working half-days, beginning work at 7.00am, or finishing at 5.30pm? And what about the cost of additional travel-time for parents with children in EC? In my own case my daily travel to the workplace has increased by 1.5 hours per day.
I would love to hear the thoughts of others. Maybe there are some innovative ideas floating around out there— your thinking could really assist to overcome the new medical condition of ‘quake brain’ we here in Christchurch are suffering from.