ECE Diamonds

Joyce Coss – a pioneer for childcare

Life member c. 1995
Patron 1995

Joyce Coss loved young children but the Great Depression of the 1930s took away her opportunity to attend teacher’s college or university and train as a teacher.

Instead, Joyce helped in Girl Guides, Sunday School, and at a private kindergarten in Palmerston North. She did Playcentre training. Then, in the 1950s, a chance suddenly came to buy the kindergarten. Joyce spent her inheritance money to get it.

As a non-government kindergarten, there was no funding. “We charged a small fee and we managed. I remember one term when we only got £5 each for the whole term.”

In 1960, Government regulations for childcare services were imposed. Without funding or support to implement them, some were crippling. Joyce joined the newly formed Childcare Association in 1965 and became Vice President in 1968.

“I often had to speak for the Association. The politicians went on like ostriches with their heads in the sand and didn’t notice childcare. They didn’t approve of it. I had to sell childcare. This was hard sometimes.

“There were negative attitudes to childcare and we were a respectable organisation. I remember saying to a man once: “How dare you speak like that!”. He was saying derogatory things about childcare and what we were doing. No harm came to children in childcare if it was good. There were social benefits. Children could be lonely and even neglected in their own home. It was a good thing to be with other children.

“It was a long hard road. We needed better quality, training and qualifications. [In 1969], there was the Certificate in Childcare from the Royal Society of Health in London. That was our first qualification… The centres that were ‘iffy’ in those days were run by people who were untrained. That’s one of the reasons we fought for training.

“There was no money for the Association when we started. But we were products of the Depression and believed in wasting nothing… I remember paying my own way to executive meetings. We used to stay in each other’s centres too, rather than pay for accommodation.

“The Association did a lot of good. We were pioneers.”

Joyce became a member of the Association (now Te Rito Maioha) in 1965, vice-president in 1968, and was made life member and patron in 1995. She died in 2012.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read the full story of Joyce and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa