Social Services Committee
Select Committee Office
7 October 2012
Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill
I am a Solicitor and Notary Public and mother of four children. I have serious concerns regarding Paula Bennetts’ proposed Bill, and wish to lodge the following objection and support it with scholarly evidence.
I largely support the reform objectives, however, I am deeply concerned over the proposed method to “reinforce social norms” of children’s education and health through the “introduction of social obligations” for parents. I also question the Bill’s implication that all children of beneficiaries are vulnerable or suffering neglect and therefore require the proposed interventions.
The Bill violates a parent’s right to choose where and how their child is to be educated; a right protected in the Care of Children Act 2004 (Clause 16(2)(d)), and in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Standards (E/C.12/1999/10, Article 13.29).
Furthermore, the Education Act does not require any children under 6-years old to attend an early childhood education centre. The Act nowhere discriminates against children of beneficiaries. Bennett’s Bill ignores the Education Act and coerces beneficiary parents to enroll their children.
Bennett’s claimed benefits to children participating in formal early childhood education are unsupported by hard research. Likewise, the Ministry of Education’s webpage on the proposed ECE Social Obligations cites zero evidence for the claims. In fact, scholarly research does not show clear benefits of formal ECE over at-home care for up to 4.5-year-olds.
The following 2006 16-year study of 1,364 children and their families by NICHD is “the most comprehensive study to date of children and the many environments in which they develop”. This evidence shows that the amount of time children spend in childcare is not related to their cognitive outcomes prior to school entry. The quality of childcare has only a modest effect on children’s cognitive and social development. Behavioral problems increase with increased number of hours spent in childcare. Centre-based ECE is “associated with both positive and negative effects” on children. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (January 2006). The NICHD study of early childcare and youth development: Findings for children up to age 4½ years. NIH Pub. 05-4318).
The following 2006 8-year study of 33,000 4-year-olds and under into Quebec’s Universal Childcare Program found “some positives but some strikingly negative outcomes on children’s well-being and family functioning”. And found for “almost every measure, increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in children’s well-being relative to other children”. It concludes that “the evidence leaves it unclear whether the program is what is best for children and their parents” (Baker, M., Gruber, J., Milligan, K. (February 1, 2006). What can we learn from Quebec’s Universal Childcare Program? [e-brief]. Institut C.D. Howe).
The following 2007 joint Stanford-Berkley Universities study found that “overall, centre-based care raises reading and maths scores, but has a negative effect for socio-behavioural measures”, and that “the intensity of the effects depend on family income and race” (Loeb, S., Bridges, M., Bassok, D., Fuller, B., Rumberger, R. W. (2007). How much is too much? The influence of preschool centres on children’s social and cognitive development. Economics of Education Review, (26): 52–66).
The following 2003 NICHD study found that “the more time children spent in any of a variety of non-maternal care arrangements across the first 4.5 years of life, the more externalising problems and conflict with adults they manifested at 54 months of age and in kindergarten, as reported by mothers, caregivers, and teachers. These effects remained, for the most part, even when quality, type, and instability of child care were controlled, and when maternal sensitivity and other family background factors were taken into account.” (Early Child Care Research Network, N. I. o. C. H. a. H. D. (2003), Does Amount of Time Spent in Child Care Predict Socioemotional Adjustment During the Transition to Kindergarten?. Child Development, (Vol. 74. Issue 4): 976–1005).
The following 2011 MIT study suggests that early childhood education “comes at a cost: children are less likely to discover novel information”. ECE has a negative affect on children’s “exploration and discovery” (Bonawitz, E., Shafto, P., Gweon, H., Goodman, N. D., Spelke, E., Schulz, L. (2011). The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition, Volume 120, Issue 3, September 2011, Pages 322-330).
The cited evidence shows that there is no clear benefit to children being separated from their parents and being forced to spend 15 hours per week at an ECE centre. Government should not encourage or enforce premature separation of children and parents. In addition to the mostly negative outcomes for children and their families, parents have the right to and must be allowed that right to decide whether or not they wish to enroll their children in ECE.
Similar rights issues can be raised around the Bill’s proposed enforcement of child enrollment in Well Child/Tamariki Ora services, and in particular imposed immunisation.
The Bill discriminates against a certain segment of New Zealand society and usurps their rights. The Bill in its present form sets a dangerous precedent that opens the door for unacceptable involvement of government in the lives of families.
Please reject this Bill or consider fundamental amendments to it.