ECE Diamonds

Joyce Mitchell – changing the landscape for early childhood education

b. 1935
Life member 1985

From her career beginnings in 1955, Joyce contributed to the gradual but growing acceptance that quality childcare and trained staff are beneficial for both children and families.

Joyce, who opened her own childcare centre in Lower Hutt and became a member of our Association in 1964, led by example and was outspoken in her advocacy.

A 1972 Wellington newspaper article highlighted the shoe-string budget upon which Joyce was forced to run her high-quality and sought-after service, for an annual profit of just $16: “Her centre would convincingly demolish many of the arguments put up by anti-daycare campaigners. There is a waiting list of over a year for parents wanting to place their children in the centre... Miss Mitchell readily attacks the Government for not financing centres and staff training. Until it does, she says, there will be many mothers wasting their talents at home and many ill-treated children.”

In 1982, Joyce was appointed supervisor of the new Public Service Association childcare centre near Parliament. On 3 March 1983, The Evening Post wrote: During Miss Mitchell’s long experience in the field...  the overwhelming feedback from parents is that childcare has a good effect on the children and is beneficial for the whole family…. But Miss Mitchell stresses she is not talking about any kind of care – it must be quality childcare.”

In 1979, an Association conference raised the idea of a union for early childhood teachers and in 1982 Sonja Davies registered the Early Childhood Workers Union (ECWU). 

Joyce was one of the first union members and was part of the first negotiations. Joyce had spent 20 years advocating for staff training and challenging beliefs that working with children came naturally to women. The ECWU strongly argued for a pay scale that recognised higher wages for trained childcare staff, and ultimately an agreement that recognised trained staff was reached, setting the foundation for future decisions. 

In 1983, the Government introduced the first direct funding for centres with qualified staff, and in 1985, the Labour Government made the first moves to transfer childcare from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of Education.

Slowly, the work of Association members like Joyce, speaking out for better policies and conditions for early childhood education over many years, changed the landscape for children, families, services and teachers in early childhood education.

Joyce became a member of the Association (now Te Rito Maioha) in 1964 and was made a life member in 1985. She died in the 2000s.

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