ECE Diamonds

Katherine (Kathy) Baxter – we all had the same end goal, improved affordable childcare services for all

b. 1951
Life member 1990

Political activism was in the blood for Katherine Baxter whose parents and grandparents were involved in protest during the two world wars. 

For Katherine, in the 1970s, it was all about anti-racism, anti-apartheid and Bastion Point. By the 1980s childcare became one of her campaign interests—alongside a career as a public servant supporting community groups to engage with Government. 

Katherine became active in early childhood advocacy when her eldest child started at a parent collective childcare centre in 1982. It was the year that the Early Childhood Workers Union (ECWU) was formed and began to negotiate conditions for childcare workers. There were issues: the union was trying to negotiate, but there was no organised employers’ group to respond.

Katherine, Association executive member Crispin Gardiner, and Jenny Gill from the Wellington Polytechnic Centre, set up an employer’s branch of the Association. She recalls:

“We all had the same end goal: improved affordable childcare services for all families…. It was two sides of a coin: we were negotiating with childcare workers and not able to meet their claims to the extent we wished; so that meant committing, equally, to campaigning to achieve quality early childhood education through improved standards and training, and increased government funding.”

In 1984, the union and the NZCA employers’ group negotiated the first ever award for childcare workers. It launched Katherine into the affairs of the Association, beginning in 1984 as an Executive member and later as Vice-President. 

It was the time of the Labour Government’s Before Five education reforms.  With Treasury seeking to limit the state’s role in early childhood, Katherine led the Association’s challenge to this. She critiqued the ‘pure market’ approach, arguing it was not feasible and undermined quality. A campaign package was developed and mailed to all Association branches to lobby local MPs. The package included advice on minimum numbers of people needed to present a petition in Parliament, which resulted in the petition text being repeatedly read out in Parliament—a strategy that drew complaints as a breach of Parliamentary process! In the event, Treasury’s view was unsuccessful.

The Association shifted its attention to the Before Five (1988) reforms. Government working groups were established; Katherine chaired the group tasked with designing a new funding model. Unfortunately, with the 1990 change of Government the proposed increases in funding were halted. 

Katherine saw her role within the Association as a “parent voice” but learned from those professionally involved with services and training. “I was in awe of so many of the women I worked with.”

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 Katherine 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