ECE Diamonds

Pam Croxford – a social justice champion with children at heart

Pam Croxford with her two young children at a 1971 protest for a childcare centre funded by Auckland City Council. 

Life member 1990
President 1985-1989

A strong sense of social justice and a refusal to accept the way things were made Pam Croxford a remarkable advocate for childcare, children’s welfare, women’s rights and support for parents.

Trained as a teacher at university in the 1960s, Pam was active in social protest circles – anti-war and anti-apartheid. As young mother in the early 1970s, Pam worked as a postie and needed childcare. Women’s liberation groups were starting up and Pam joined one focused on practical issues, formed the Childcare Action Group and successfully campaigned for a council-funded childcare creche. 

Pam also  became involved in Playcentre and trained as a supervisor – it was the beginning of a long career in childcare. In 1977, Pam starting working for Barnardos and joined the NZ Association of Childcare Centres (now Te Rito Maioha) and started to get involved with the politics around childcare:

“There were issues about the low rates women were paid for caring for children in their home. Broadsheet magazine wrote critical articles. To me, the idea of women being paid to care for children was empowering. There wasn’t much work available if they had children. The women also felt that they were doing a community service. I had a strong belief in training being empowering to women.”

It was just the beginning for Pam, who was elected on to the Association executive In 1982 amidst arguments over community-based or private childcare. In 1985, Pam became Association president.

“I was keen to move the Association on a bicultural journey…. I had to explain the idea in great depth and got some support. Another person who had come into the Association was Maureen Locke [Jehly]. I met Maureen in 1978 at a traumatic Playcentre hui in Nelson. There were about 30 Māori women who told the hui attendees, “You haven’t served us well in the Playcentre”. There was a state of shock and women in tears. This had heightened my awareness of the issues. I saw biculturalism as an important issue for the Childcare Association.”

Politically, significant changes were underway for childcare with the Labour Government’s Before Five reforms: “The first thing I was involved in as President was the working party for the transition of childcare into the Department of Education. There were some difficult politics [with other organisations who did not support the shift]… The tensions between the private sector and corporate operators and the Association were significant.

“It was heady days politically, but I couldn’t have managed if Helen [May] and Kathy [Baxter] as Vice Presidents hadn’t taken a lot of responsibility. We shared the leadership.”

Pam was made a life member in 1990. She continued to be involved in education and children’s welfare, working for the YWCA, Crippled Children’s Society and the Ministry of Education focusing on special education until she died in 2005, aged 59.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Pam's full story 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