The benefits of early childhood education continue to be debated in Aotearoa New Zealand. Although attendance is not compulsory, almost all New Zealand children attend an early learning education (ECE) service for a period of time before starting school or kura. Using data from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, in this report researchers examine two primary measures of child wellbeing:
- child behaviour (emotional symptoms, conduct, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationships, and prosocial behaviour) and the association with ECE use, in terms of childcare type, and hours of weekly attendance.
- prevalence of common infectious illnesses and associated hospitalisations. They investigated associations for four common childhood illnesses (ear, chest, gastro and skin infections) at two time points (9 months and 2 years of age) with childcare attendance at the same age by type of service.
ECE and behavioural outcomes
- Participation in centre-based care was inversely associated with the development of peer problems. Children who participated in ECE at 24 months showed significantly lower odds of peer problems at 54 months when compared with children who did not use ECE at 24 months (odd ratio = 0.77), after adjustment for sociodemographic covariates.
- 20-30 hours in ECE per week was inversely associated with the development of emotional difficulties and peer problems when compared to no time in ECE at all.
ECE and infectious illness
- Centre-based care at both 9 months and two years of age was independently associated with 1.5-2.5 times greater risk of ear infections, chest infections, and gastro illnesses, when compared to children in parental care.
- There were no significant associations between ECE usage and skin infections.
- Two year olds attending childcare for more than 30 hours per week had an independently increased risk of ear infections (odd ratio = 1.5) compared to children attending childcare less than 10 hours a week.
- Centre-based care in infancy and more than 30 hours a week in care at 2 years of age was associated with increased risk of hospitalisation due to ear, chest or gastro infection.
The findings suggest that ECE may contribute positively to the task of supporting the young child’s healthy relationships with self and peers, however the researchers note that centre-based ECE services should be aware of the increased risk of infectious illness for children in their care and be encouraged to follow public health advice on how to reduce the risk of infections spreading.