Outdated regulations are hindering efforts to safeguard quality in early childhood services, an independent report for the Ministry of Education shows.
The report said the regulations governing early childhood education were 10 years old and needed updating. This follows the increasing number of children in early learning and the size and complexity of some services.
"Ambiguities in some regulations are exposed when visits are made to services," the report said.
"The lack of clarity and room [for] interpretation in some regulations can make change in the best interests of children difficult and long-winded.
"The increasingly litigious nature of some services in the sector underlines the lack of clarity in some regulations."
The report said the ministry must respond quickly to serious complaints and should close services that were the subject of complaints involving children's safety.
"High-risk complaints involving matters of child safety should result in immediate suspensions rather than provisional licensing," the report said.
"Time is of the essence in responding effectively."
However, it also said suspending a licence could have a negative impact on children because they could not attend a centre while it was closed. Suspension also created work for ministry staff who must find places for children in other centres while they investigated a complaint.
The report said the ministry must ensure all staff who dealt with complaints and incident reports had training to identify risk, and that they responded consistently in different ministry offices.
It said ministry offices used the power to make unannounced visits to early childhood services "judiciously".
It recommended the ministry look into how to use such visits as part of wider monitoring of persistently poor performing early childhood services.
The ministry said it was acting on all of the report's recommendations, including reviewing the regulations.