Childcare abuse case: Cameras, time-outs at some centres

Childcare teachers get cooling-off period to destress; CCTV cameras monitor what goes on in class

At Enfant Educare preschool in Lavender, teachers get a "cooling-off" period when they are overwhelmed by work and need a short break.

Fellow teachers step in, taking over their class while they take some time out.

The school also holds weekly meetings where staff have open discussions about issues they face at home and at work.

"Teachers are also human, we have emotions," said the preschool's supervisor Nurliza Mohd Shah. "It is very important for teachers to get away from tense situations, and this can be possible only with the necessary support from other teachers and the management."

Like Enfant Educare, some childcare operators here say they have measures in place to help teachers keep their cool when the going gets tough.

These operators have come under the spotlight after a part-time teacher from NTUC My First Skool centre in Toa Payoh was arrested yesterday for allegedly mistreating a three-year-old child by dragging him across the floor and pushing him onto the ground.

According to the Child Care Centres Regulations, corporal punishment is not allowed on children. This means that teachers are not allowed to strike, shave, shove or spank a child.

Preschool operators say it is important to have a strong support system for teachers because things can get quite stressful.

Mr Edmund Phang, head of operations at Knowledge Universe Singapore, which runs schools like Pat's Schoolhouse and Brighton Montessori, said: "It can be stressful as teachers need to handle children for many hours. If they are very stressed and cannot cope, they have to raise the alarm so we can deploy people to support them."

As an added measure, some schools use closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to monitor what goes on in class.

At Enfant Educare, CCTVs are installed so that there is accountability to parents for any injuries to their children that occur on its premises.

Such cameras are also being used in centres under the Modern Montessori International Group (MMI). But clearance has to be sought before showing footage to any outside parties, said Dr T. Chandroo, chairman of the MMI Group.

A spokesman for PAP Community Foundation said the CCTVs it installed at some of its centres are meant to ensure security, but not to check on staff. "We trust our teachers to do the right thing," she said. "We have a system in place for teachers to proactively inform a parent if a child sustains an injury while in our centre."

Commenting on the incident, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said yesterday that the prevalence of CCTVs was "the reason why we are able to look at the evidence quickly". But he was quick to add: "At the end of the day, it's not the technology that matters. What is most important is the quality and commitment of our teachers."

Parents like Mrs Kathleen Kwan, 32, say they understand that it is not easy to take care of young children.

But the marketing communications manager, who has a 2½-year-old daughter, asked: "Was the child frequently very naughty which resulted in this? Even so, it is not a good reason for the teacher to do that. The main question should be if it could have been prevented."

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