Jumbo childcare centres for estates with many young families

Coming to housing estates with many young families: Jumbo childcare centres that can each take in 300 to 500 children.

The Government is helping anchor operators (AOPs) to develop bigger childcare centres, providing 2,400 more places over the next few years.

This is to help young families living in areas with high demand for childcare, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said in the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday.

The plan to add 2,400 places goes beyond the original goal of adding 20,000 childcare places between 2013 and 2017 - a target that will be met ahead of schedule. Some 17,000 places have been added so far.

The five appointed AOPs, including NTUC My First Skool, currently get government grants and priority in securing Housing Board sites to set up centres, but they have to keep fees below $720 a month, among other things.

They will get funding help and will be allocated the sites to build the bigger centres. A centre in a HDB void deck can usually admit only about 100 children.

Yesterday, Mr Chan asked for support as his ministry tries building bigger childcare centres. "With bigger centres, there might be issues with transportation, and I seek Members' support to mobilise your respective grassroots organisations to help us build and design such centres that are closer to the needs of the young parents among us," he said.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will give details about the locations of these new large centres later this year.

Mr Chan also announced other initiatives to improve the quality of the pre-school sector.

A three-year Professional Development Programme will be introduced to help pre-school staff develop their careers. ECDA will offer new certifiable courses and cash incentives.

Starting next year, this is for staff who have about three years of experience and are identified by their employers as having the potential to take on bigger job roles.

Childcare centres and kindergartens, which are now regulated under different Acts, will be licensed under a new Early Childhood Development Centres Act.

ECDA will also get more regulatory powers, raising the quality of pre-schools, Mr Chan said.

"Parents will have greater assurance of the standards... Operators will similarly benefit from having a clearer and more consistent requirement, regardless of the type of early childhood services that they provide," he said.

The new Act is expected to be introduced in the second half of the year.


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