The Straits Times
Published on Jan 16, 2013

Costs not the only issue


AS A working mother of twins, I welcome the government review on the affordability of infant care ("Govt looks into cost of infant care"; Sunday).

However, rather than simply increasing the subsidy level - which has been shown to be futile in the past - the Government should consider putting in place mechanisms to curb fee increases.

Fees aside, it is even more critical for the Government to review the level of care at these centres. From my observation and experience, several areas need to be looked into.

One is the staff-infant ratio of 1:5. It is extremely difficult for one adult to handle so many infants.

Many infant care centres claim to have a ratio of 1:3 and charge more because of this. However, they do not adhere to this ratio throughout the day. It is not uncommon to find between one and three teachers handling more than 10 babies at any one time.

Another area that needs tighter scrutiny is disease control.

Currently, the onus is on infant care centres to assess a child's suitability to be admitted to the centre.

At many centres, only babies with fever or infectious diseases are barred. Those with common coughs and colds are not only permitted to enter, but are also allowed to play freely with the other babies.

It is thus not surprising that babies constantly fall sick after they start infant care. In fact, parents have come to accept this as the norm.

Finally, the qualifications of infant care teachers need to be raised.

Infants need closer attention, especially very young immobile infants or premature babies.

According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, centres providing infant care services are required to have at least one staff member holding the Certificate in Infant and Toddler Care present at all times. With many centres caring for up to 15 babies at a time, surely this requirement is grossly insufficient.

As with the staff-infant ratio, the ministry says this is just a minimum requirement, and that it "encourages" centres to exceed it.

Many infant care centres are privately owned and profit-driven.

Unless the ministry tightens such requirements, the centres can - and do - get away with simply meeting the minimum requirements.

Yap Tai Perng (Mrs)