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Alternate Child Care (III)
Child-Care Centres
© Aug 1997 Alan S.L. Wong
Grandparents & Babysitters   ::   Live-in Maids   ::   Child-Care Centres

Alternate Child Care

Should you decide to work, what are the pros and cons of the various alternate childcare options in Singapore? We will look at four options: grandparents' care, neighbourhood babysitters, live-in maids and child-care centres.

Child-Care Centres

The Ministry of Community Development (MCD) regulates child-care centres in Singapore. There are training requirements and health screening for child caregivers; stipulations for staff-child ratio for various age groups; and space requirement for each child enrolled in a centre. Thus, we have a greater assurance of the quality of child care.

On the negative side, the relatively high staff turnover is not conducive to the development of children. Children in child-care centres also tend to experience more bouts of coughs and colds as germs and viruses pass from child to child. Late pickup of children from the centres will cost you and upset your child as he sees the rest of the children leaving the centre.

The Singapore Government is in favour of child-care centres ... while there is a levy on employing a maid to look after your child, you are given a subsidy for placing your child in a child-care centre. This subsidy cannot be claimed for neighbourhood babysitters.

For infants, child-care centres are not available as an option. According to MCD, child-care operators who have provided care for infants have stopped such arrangements because they are losing money. Infant care requires a higher staff-child ratio as well as special facilities.

The spectrum of child-care centres in Singapore ranges from those housed in the "void-decks" of HDB apartments (ground floors of public housing) to those in private residential estates and commercial premises. The fees charged for full-day care vary from S$400 to more than S$1200 per month.

The qualifications of teachers range from three GCE "O" level passes to degree holders. Some centres even boast of native speakers of English and Mandarin among their staff. Do these "better" features matter? Language acquisition is important for toddlers who are beginning to talk. But more important than speaking in complete sentences or with the "right" pronunciation are teachers who are keen to engage children in conversation.

Another thing to note is the separation of ownership from management in some child-care centres ... where the operator is not the supervisor. "Operator" means any person who operates a child-care centre and includes the owner, financier and promoter. According to MCD, the supervisor's main responsibilities are to plan and direct the programme of a child-care centre. MCD further stipulates that the supervisor should have at least 2 years' experience in a child-care centre or related establishment and had successfully completed training in child care, recognised by MCD at the Advance level.

While MCD seems to encourage full-time operators to attend training in child care, it makes provision for non-attendance ... stating that if the operator is not prepared to attend such courses then the operator's involvement in running the centre should be limited only to handling the finance and administration. This means that there are operators of child-care centres who know little or nothing about child care and early childhood. Their motivation in running the child-care centres is profit.

There is nothing wrong in making money because every centre needs to make a profit to continue to provide its service. But where the sole motivation is money then there is a potential problem. Often, the operator is the employer and the supervisor is the employee. When there is a conflict between profit making and child development, guess who (the operator or the supervisor) usually has the upper hand?

I prefer the situation where the operator and the supervisor is the same person ... in other words, the operator has experience and training in early childhood. Hopefully, the operator cum supervisor can balance the tension between profit making and child development.

Then there are franchised child-care centres where operations and curriculum are "standardised." They are usually launched based on the success and reputation of the first child-care centre. But note that unlike a McDonald franchise, which is based on a tangible product, child-care centres are providing a service and one thing that cannot be standardised is the service provider. Do not assume that a franchised child-care centre is the same as the original. Drop in unannounced and talk to the franchisee and the teachers of that child-care centre to find out the actual situation.

What is a quality child-care centre? How does one choose a child care centre? Child care is a service and service is highly dependent on the service provider. Physical facilities like building and equipment do not matter as much as teachers because they are the ones who interact with the children. There are teachers who are simply doing a job and teachers who love their job.

Many teachers are devoted to the children and try their best to develop them. But it is tough when they have a number of children under their care. The present stipulated staff-child ratio is 1:8 for children 18 - 30 months old; 1:12 for 30 months - 3 years; 1:15 for 3 - 4 years and 1:25 for 4 - 7 years.

It is difficult for child-care centres to be sensitive to any particular child's needs because they are dealing with a group of children. Little flexibility is allowed because group activities must be kept structured and organised. I guess one can view this situation favourably in that it helps to develop routines for the children.


Whatever alternate child care is chosen, it is impossible to pay anyone enough to get her to do what you as a parent will do for free out of love and commitment. It is too much to ask of anyone other than the child's own parents to give him a healthy self-image, a moral standard and a zest for life. While child care service can be arranged or purchased, parenting cannot be delegated.