Childcare centres see 60% surge in enrolment

Mrs Teo and Dr Faishal interacting with children during a visit to the Skool4kidz childcare centre yesterday. Mrs Teo sees the growing number of infants enrolled in childcare centres as a reason for action, saying: "If we want to provide better suppo
Mrs Teo and Dr Faishal interacting with children during a visit to the Skool4kidz childcare centre yesterday. Mrs Teo sees the growing number of infants enrolled in childcare centres as a reason for action, saying: "If we want to provide better support to millennial families, this is an area that we want to look into."ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

It underscores need to have more such care in future; most parents still prefer babies remain at home

Enrolment in childcare centres has grown 60 per cent since 2012, underscoring the need for more such care in the future.

About 4,000 infants between two and 18 months old are enrolled in childcare centres now, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division, yesterday.

While noting that centre-based childcare is the choice of 10 per cent of parents - so most still prefer to have their babies cared for at home by family members or domestic workers - Mrs Teo sees the growing number as a reason for action.

Speaking on the sidelines of a visit to a Skool4kidz childcare centre in Tampines yesterday, she said: "If we want to provide better support to millennial families, this is an area that we want to look into. Increasingly, I think, more of these millennial families are going to turn to centre-based care in order to have peace of mind at work."

At the centre, a qualified caregiver, called "educarer", oversees five infants at any one time, feeding and bathing the babies, as well as playing and bonding with them. The centre charges $1,360 a month for full-day infant care, before subsidy.

Slightly more than half of the stay-at-home parents who were caring for their infants indicated that they would prefer to work if there was an adequate care arrangement for their infants.

Dr Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has already ramped up the number of infant care places by 32 per cent since 2013 to 6,900 this year.

Dr Faishal, who also visited the Tampines childcare centre, said the ECDA is looking into building large childcare centres in areas where there are more younger families with young children.

"So we are moving in quite aggressively in these areas," he said.

The infant care numbers are a fraction of those in childcare. Childcare enrolment hit a high of 95,414 last year, more than double the 44,224 in 2005.

Dr T. Chandroo, chairman of the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services, said most parents do not place their infants in childcare centres because they do not feel comfortable leaving their babies in the hands of an external party.

Mrs Teo said more parents are opting for infant care services now because mothers and grandparents - or mature workers - are choosing to re-enter or remain in the workforce.

During the visit, Mrs Teo also shared the findings of a recent survey of 1,500 parents done by the National Population And Talent Division.

Parents whose infants were being cared for by family members were asked whether they preferred to turn to nannies, domestic workers or centre-based care should they have no family members to rely on during weekdays.

Most of the parents, or 83 per cent of them, indicated that they preferred or accepted centre- based care.

Slightly more than half of the stay-at-home parents who were caring for their infants indicated that they would prefer to work if there was an adequate care arrangement for their infants.

Ms Loo Keng Yin, a 41-year-old mother of two, has tried both bringing up her daughter on her own and tapping infant care services for her son, who is younger.

Seven years ago, she cared for her daughter herself as she was not working then. When she started work as an information technology software consultant in 2011, she was prepared to put her then two-month-old son in a centre, but she could not find a place for him. She eventually enrolled him at a centre when he was eight months old.

"There are pros and cons to being in a centre. There is someone experienced there to guide them on developmental goals and nutrition and they get to socialise more, but they may catch illnesses more easily," said Ms Loo.

"But I find that because my son was (placed with the centre from a young age), he is more independent and less choosy about food."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Childcare centres see 60% surge in enrolment'. Print Edition | Subscribe