Sweetlands childcare centres still open amid probe

A Sweetlands branch in Woodlands.

Operations went on as usual yesterday at the centres of a childcare operator in the news for making unauthorised withdrawals from the Child Development Accounts (CDA) of children under their care.

At least three of Sweetlands' 11 childcare centres have displayed a notice to say it is business as usual despite the investigations.

Most parents The Straits Times spoke to were unfazed by the news that Madam Chan Chew Shia and Mr Ho Boon Hong, the married couple running Sweetlands, were found to have made the unauthorised withdrawals.

"It's a management issue and has nothing to do with the quality of the school. The teachers are very good," said Ms Purdey Yap, 38, a senior accountant, whose son attends the Woodlands 896B branch.

Moreover, childcare spaces are hard to come by and moving to centres further away is inconvenient, said parents.

Business development executive Nicol Koh, 31, whose daughter attends Sweetlands Childcare Punggol 612, said: "It is very hard to find a childcare centre slot, especially in the Punggol area. And my girl was born in the Year of the Dragon, which makes it even more competitive."

The case has been referred to the police, and the couple may each face a fine of up to $20,000 if convicted of breaching the Child Development Co-savings Regulations.

Yesterday, two officers from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) were seen outside Sweetlands' Woodlands branch handing out letters to parents to inform them of the investigations. Separately, the ministry told The Straits Times it had received feedback from parents on the case but said it was "premature" to comment on it as the matter is now with the police.

Only one parent, Mrs Jenny Lim, 40, expressed reservations about keeping her child in Sweetlands.

The sales executive said: "It's a matter of trust. I'm worried about what else could happen."

Calls to Madam Chan's phone were not picked up and no one answered the door at a Woodlands address registered under her husband's name. The couple were given 14 days to clarify the irregularities, failing which they might have their status as approved persons revoked, which means they will no longer be authorised to make any deductions from CDAs.

But this does not mean Sweetlands centres will have to cease operations. MSF will appoint a temporary approved person until the chain finds a suitable replacement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Sweetlands childcare centres still open amid probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe