The Straits Times
Published on Jan 16, 2013

Step up checks on infant care centres


AS A working mother with two children (one of whom is in infant care), I am happy that the Government is looking into the cost of infant care ("Govt looks into cost of infant care" and "Staff crunch a problem"; Sunday).

The Government should also devote more resources to improve the standards of infant care and childcare services.

Ministry of Social and Family Development guidelines for infant care centres set the staff-infant ratio at 1:5, and this increases to 1:8 for toddlers aged 18 months to 30 months.

In reality, it is difficult for one staff member to handle five infants or eight toddlers. The attention and care each child receives would fall short of what parents expect from a professional infant care service.

Infant care centres should be required to report the frequency of their charges falling sick and being absent, which is an indication of how hygiene and care are observed in the centre.

Such information should be made publicly available to parents. A penalty or deduction of fees payable may be imposed on centres with a high incidence of sick children and absenteeism.

Providing food according to Health Promotion Board standards should also be made mandatory. Stricter audits are needed to ensure that operators do not provide poor-quality ingredients or food with large amounts of preservatives, to save on costs.

Besides stricter checks by the ministry, operators should be given incentives to improve standards. They should pay highly subsidised land rentals to ensure that their cost base is manageable, and should also benefit from tax rebates if they maintain high standards.

Lim Wan Keng (Ms)