Early childhood pilot programme KidStart grows to become non-profit entity

KidStart home visitor Ms Sua Swee Lee (right) shares tips on how Ms O Lay Hoon can bond more purposefully with her son Jun Cong. PHOTO: COMMUNITY CHEST

SINGAPORE - A successful early childhood pilot programme that provides support to children from low-income homes has expanded so rapidly that it is now registered as a not-for-profit company.

KidStart joins the ranks of other such government-linked companies limited by guarantee (CLG) in Singapore such as SG Enable, which delivers programmes for those with disabilities, and raiSE, which supports social enterprises.

The programme helps low-income families with children up to age six in areas such as child development, nutrition and parent-child interaction.

KidStart Singapore Limited (KSL) was registered on Sept 11 last year as a CLG under the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) - four years after the pilot began with an initial target of reaching 1,000 children.

It was first rolled out in Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai during the pilot phase. In the 2020 financial year, it expanded to Woodlands, Bedok and Sembawang.

In the 2021 financial year, it expanded to Ang Mo Kio and Yishun. Next up are Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang.

Targets have grown in step with the expansion. In 2019, KidStart raised its beneficiaries target for the next three years to another 5,000 children.

The ECDA-led pilot had promising outcomes, said a KSL spokesman in response to queries. She said: "KSL was set up as a dedicated agency focused on the delivery and scale-up of the KidStart programme."

It has 55 staff, she added, most of whom are professionals who work with families through home visits.

A CLG is usually set up to carry out non-profit-making activities in the public or national interest. It has a corporate status and is governed by the Companies Act. It is liable to pay corporate tax and may qualify for tax deductions or exemptions, but is prohibited from paying dividends and profits to members.

KSL chief executive Rahayu Buang is also director of child development, policy and sector funding at ECDA - the division overseeing the KidStart pilot. This will help ensure a smooth transition and expansion, the KSL spokesman said.

Before joining ECDA, Madam Rahayu was the chief executive of self-help group Yayasan Mendaki.

KidStart recently launched its social media platforms to reach out to families and the public through a dedicated website, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages, said the spokesman.

Its spokesman said that the aim is to create greater awareness among parents, key stakeholders and the wider community on the importance of early childhood development, and how they can contribute. KSL is on the lookout for more volunteers, she added.

Volunteers conducting door-to-door outreach to encourage new eligible families to join KidStart. PHOTO: KIDSTART SINGAPORE LIMITED

The KidStart programme includes home visits to provide support in the form of parenting guidance, strategies to manage children, and screening children for developmental milestones.

It also provides support for families enrolling their children in pre-school, and in ensuring that they attend pre-school regularly.

Six social service agencies have been appointed to partner KSL and anchor the programme in different areas. For example, Montfort Care will cover the Kreta Ayer and Bukit Merah areas.

Families get support through home visits

After 14 years of experience working at a childcare centre run by a welfare organisation, Ms Sua Swee Lee joined KidStart.

Ms Sua, 42, said many families who do not enrol their children in pre-school at an early age tend to lose out.

"It's a really crucial window of development for kids in their first few years," she added.

Low-income families need the home-based support because they may not have the capacity to manage young children at home if they are in difficult circumstances or do not get enough support, she said.

Ms Sua was hired as a home visitor last August, amid the rapid expansion of the KidStart programme. Home visitors go to the homes of families every fortnight if possible, and screen children for developmental milestones. They also check on the mental well-being of caregivers and help parents with strategies and activities for their children.

Ms O Lay Hoon, 33, an accounts executive, is among the caregivers Ms Sua visits. She and her 21/2-year-old son Jun Cong were enrolled in KidStart in September 2019.

Ms O said: "As a first-time parent, I did not have much knowledge of how to bring up a child and what the different stages of development were."

She added that she and her husband, a self-employed salesman, 46, learnt a lot from the programme. This included basic child nutrition, and how to manage their son's behaviour and moods.

Virtual check-ins on KidStart families and continuing programme delivery through digital methods during the pandemic. PHOTO: KIDSTART SINGAPORE LIMITED

They also received pointers on how to spend quality time with him and why it is important to reduce screen time on electronic devices - which her parents, who looked after him, did not limit.

She said: "We noticed a drastic improvement in our son's learning and development after we cut down screen time.

"Now he is interested in books and flashcards, which we try to buy for him. If we switch on the TV, he won't look at it. Before, he would sit in front of it and watch for long periods."

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