Making early childhood environments safe and healthy

Community and Public Health supports health, wellbeing and safety in early childhood settings by providing:

  • Advice on strengthening early childhood settings as healthy environments where children, whānau and staff can flourish. This includes supporting a strong cultural identity, positive mental wellbeing, being active, healthy eating and good oral health.
  • Health and safety assessments on new or existing centres as requested under the Ministry of Education’s Early Childhood Centres Regulations. This assessment is from a public health perspective – looking at compliance with legislative requirements and assessment of health risk. Please note: there is a charge for this assessment.
  • General health and safety advice to early childhood centres, including for new proposed centres or renovations to existing centres.
  • Assistance with Resource Management Applications for early childhood centres.
  • Specialist advice on public health issues such as water, disease outbreaks, and chemical hazards.
  • Support to promote good oral health in Canterbury and South Canterbury.


Effective interventions to support healthy environments in early childhood settings

Development during early childhood lays the foundation for health, education, social, employment and economic outcomes throughout the life course. Many young New Zealand children spend time in early childhood education (ECE) settings, making them an ideal location for health promotion.

Community and Public Health’s 2018 rapid evidence review presents evidence on the effectiveness of health promotion interventions in several areas delivered in ECE settings.

New Menemene Mai/Smile online Oral Health Kit

Menemene Mai/Smile is Canterbury’s first online oral health education toolkit for early childhood kaiako. The toolkit includes practical activities, key messages, and a ‘Teeth Tools’ kit that is available for loan.

The kit was developed with and for kaiako by Canterbury DHB health promoters Jenni Marceau and Belinda Smith.

Community Dental Service Clinical Director Martin Lee, says that “rates of severe early childhood caries has doubled since 2011, and referrals of children for dental treatment under sedation and general anaesthetic have increased by 50 percent.”

“Many early childhood leaders I talk to are alarmed at the increasing numbers of pre-schoolers who need surgery. We want to respond as we can to help children care for their teeth so it doesn’t get to this. This new resource looks like a good first step to support us,” says Centre Manager of Rangi Ruru Pre-school Linda Scanlan.

“This looks like an exciting new and helpful venture. The children will love the catchy songs, and the games look interesting. The resources look inviting to use with whānau as well,” says Hilary Waller – Head Teacher at Kidsfirst Kindergartens Edmonds Smith Street.

Mother Emma breastfeeding her son Frederick at the Ara Learning Centre.Breastfeeding in early childhood education settings

Early childhood education settings play an important role in supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding, as returning to work is one of the most common reasons for discontinuing the breastfeeding journey.

Protecting under fives from infectious diseases

Early childhood centres present health risks to children, staff and other people who spend time at the centre. There is potential for disease transmission because:

  • Children under five years (because of their developmental stage) are likely to have poorly developed personal hygiene habits;
  • There is a high level of physical contact between children;
  • Nappy changing is considered to be a high risk activity;
  • Food may be shared; and
  • Children tend to place items in their mouths and may contaminate those items – spreading the risk of disease.

Disease transmission within early childhood centres may have implications for the wider community, particularly parents, caregivers and friends of children attending. Health and safety risks in early childhood centre environments will be reduced by maintaining effective public health oversight through assessment, enforcement and health promotion.




Download or order resources from the Community Health Information Centre.


For infectious disease or environmental health enquiries, contact:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777
Fax: +64 3 379 6484

Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091

Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169

For more information on other issues, contact:

Jenni Marceau
Ph: +64 3 378 6737
Fax: +64 3 379 6125

Debbie Johnstone
Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091

Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169

Early childhood teachers in Canterbury showing the way in sun protection

Sun safety in early childhood education settings was a recent focus of Community and Public Health and the Canterbury West Coast division of the Cancer Society.

Health promoters teamed up to talk with 26 Early Childhood Education teachers/kaiako about their sun protection practices in May and July 2018. This included what was working well and what support they would value. ‘Equity-funded’ preschools were prioritised, with a selection of others.

All settings spoken to had sun protection policies, and provided spare hats to children. 96 percent provided a broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen and ECE managers self-reported that 96 percent of staff model sun protective behaviour very well. Few early childhood settings knew about the new Cancer Society PD module for early childhood educators. Affordability of resources was important to educators who believed that the expense was a barrier to many families.

Page last updated: 22/07/2019

Copyright © 2019, Community & Public Health,