Families can look forward to more childcare subsidies and a more convenient application process to get aid, said Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Senior Parliamentary Secretary Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Besides extending the duration that non-working mothers with infants or young children receive subsidies, additional subsidies will be given if their monthly household income is $7,500 and below. More than 5,000 families will benefit from these enhancements, Associate Professor Faishal said in Parliament yesterday as he responded to questions from several MPs on the topic of childcare support.
As of March 1, unemployed mothers looking for work will receive monthly subsidies - $300 and $600 per child in childcare and infant care, respectively - for six months, up from the current three.
They will also get additional subsidies of between $100 and $540 a month for six months if their monthly household income is $7,500 and below.
The second category of families who will benefit from the enhanced subsidies are those with at least two children and a non-working mother.
For these mothers caring full-time for their younger child aged two or younger, they will also receive the childcare or infant care subsidy for their older child until their younger child turns two years old - up from 18 months old now.
Depending on their household income, they may also be eligible for extra subsidies of up to $540 a month.
Single parents also qualify for these benefits, which are separate from the basic subsidy of $150 a month that all non-working mothers get, regardless of family income.
There is no change to basic subsidies for employed mothers, deemed to be working if they work at least 56 hours a month. They get $300 and $600 per child for childcare and infant care, respectively.
In total, about 100,000 children benefit from basic infant care and childcare subsidies, regardless of their mothers' employment status.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will also introduce a centre management system (CMS) this year which will streamline subsidy applications and administrative processes like licence applications to provide parents and pre-schools greater convenience.
For example, parents will have to fill in just one form - down from three currently - to apply for various subsidies and financial aid schemes. This will benefit about 20,000 families annually and halve the time spent on such applications.
All childcare centres and kindergartens regulated by the ECDA must use the CMS, and the ministry aims to roll it out to all pre-schools later this year, Prof Faishal said in response to a question from Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) about the new IT platform.
Prof Faishal also pointed out that MSF has increased the number of childcare places from about 90,000 in 2012 to around 170,000 today, and plans to raise it to 200,000 by 2023 so that every child who needs a pre-school place has one. The monthly median fees are now $171 for kindergarten and $856 for childcare, before subsidies, he added.
For programmes like KidSTART, which started in 2016 as an ECDA pilot and was aimed at breaking the poverty cycle by intervening early in the lives of children from low-income families, MSF will study the viability of scaling up, Prof Faishal said in reply to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).
Regarding updates on the early childhood industry transformation map asked for by Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) and Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Prof Faishal said the ECDA and the Health Promotion Board will commission a panel of experts to assess the occupational health and safety of pre-school staff later this year.
The panel will also recommend ways to improve human resource practices and working conditions for early childhood professionals.
Housewife Lee Siok Hong, 38, is looking forward to the increased subsidies. Her husband is an engineer and earns around $6,000 a month while she looks after five-month-old daughter Mavis and sends her son, Oscar, six, to childcare. Oscar's pre-school fees cost $743 a month before subsidies, and the family gets a $150 monthly subsidy as Ms Lee is not working.
She said: "This is good news as it will ease my husband's burden. All the expenses add up."