Dads will get more help to be active parents

Mrs Teo welcoming children back to school at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in Bishan yesterday. The Senior Minister of State said she will focus on ensuring a conducive environment for couples to start a family, among other prior
Mrs Teo welcoming children back to school at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in Bishan yesterday. The Senior Minister of State said she will focus on ensuring a conducive environment for couples to start a family, among other priorities.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

That is one of her 3 priorities for the year, says Josephine Teo; another is affordable childcare

Fathers can expect more help so that they can play a more active role in parenting, Senior Mini-ster of State Josephine Teo said yesterday.

It is one of three priorities Mrs Teo, who oversees population matters at the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), has set for herself this year.

Her other priorities are to ensure affordable childcare services reach those who need them and to ensure a conducive environment for couples to start a family.

Mrs Teo said the take-up rate for paternity leave, which was doubled to two weeks on a voluntary basis last year, had been very modest and "can be much higher".

Detailed datawill be released at a later date. But she said: "Some young fathers may not be aware of it yet. And some do encounter a little bit of difficulty when they raise it with their employers."

The civil service and several large corporations have implemented the enhanced paternity leave, which gives fathers an extra week off work, the payment of which will be borne by the Government.

NEED FOR SOCIETAL SUPPORT

It takes a whole society, a whole culture, to put marriage as a priority to get this going.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE JOSEPHINE TEO, on encouraging people to get married and have babies earlier

But small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which hire 70 per cent of the local workforce, have not been as quick to implement it owing to their tight manpower.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, told The Straits Times in November that among eligible SME employees, only 40 per cent take up a full week of paternity leave.

Mrs Teo said it was important for fathers to play an active role in raising their children, especially with eight in 10 women aged 25 to 54 active in the workforce.

The Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP was giving an update on the population portfolio to reporters yesterday when she welcomed children on their first day of school at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in Bishan.

Mrs Teo took over the job in October last year from Ms Grace Fu, who became Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

The childcare services to be made available will not only be affordable but of good quality as well, she said.

The Early Childhood Development Agency, she noted, is on track to meet its target of providing full-day childcare services for one in two children by next year. About 13,000 places were added last year.

Latest official numbers show about 30,500 Singaporean babies were born as at Dec 1 last year, Singapore's Golden Jubilee year.

The full year's figures are expected to be close to the 33,193 citizen births in 2014 - up from 31,017 such births in 2013, but a tad lower than the 33,238 births in 2012, which was the auspicious Year of the Dragon for Chinese births.

Mrs Teo said boosting the birth rate will need taking approaches beyond policies or incentives.

Rather, it is important to "enhance workplace and community support for parenting", she added.

This means convincing stakeholders, such as employers and shopping malls, to provide flexible work options and family-friendly amenities, for instance.

It is about "how they help couples feel that parenting is a very rewarding process, and help minimise the stress that comes with it", she said.

Coaxing people to get married and have babies earlier was "a little bit more dicey (and) harder to work on", given such meaningful pursuits as studies and careers, she noted. "It takes a whole society, a whole culture, to put marriage as a priority to get this going," she said, adding that the NPTD will gather more feedback on this front.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Dads will get more help to be active parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe