Monday, 14 January 2013

Getting more companies to set up childcare centres on site

By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Jan 2013

Making childcare centres more affordable and accessible.

That is what the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package may address, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Madam Halimah Yacob.

And the ministry aims to set up more childcare centres in the heartlands and at workplaces in the coming years.

Three-year-old Lucas tags along whenever Louise Koh heads off for work at Changi Airport.

It's also where he goes to school.

For 29-year-old Louise, having a childcare centre within her work premises makes a big difference.

Koh said: "The cost of bringing up kids now is very high, so both parents need to work to keep the family going, so it does help that here are such facilities around for us. 

"It is very assuring because when I'm working in the day, I know that my son is close by to me, if anything happens to him) let's say if he were to fall sick in the middle of the day, it is very easy for me to reach him very quickly.

Ms Koh said it also encourages her to have more children.

Changi Airport is one of the 34 workplaces that has benefited from grants provided by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Childcare centres located within government buildings can receive a one-off capital grant for conversion at 20 per cent of total cost, currently capped at S$52,700.

Those sited within a commercial building can receive one-off capital grant for the purchase of furnishings and equipment, currently capped at S$50,700. 

It is part of efforts to make the workplace more pro-family.

Robin Goh, assistant vice president of corporate communications at Changi Airport Group, said: "It gives our employees a peace of mind well knowing that their children are in good care, and again in terms of proximity very close to them and of course with that peace of mind, our employees can of course do their work better and be more productive."

This childcare centre has been operating since 2006 and is the only centre within Changi Airport.

It caters up to 140 students and there's already strong demand for more places, with about 50 children on the waiting list since the start of the year.

The ministry aims to increase the number of childcare centres in workplaces.

Nine employers and building owners voiced interest when the ministry launched an information kit on the grants last May.

But only one decided to set up a childcare centre this year.

Madam Halimah said: "The challenge for many of these childcare centres who want to set up is that it can be quite pricey for them in terms of the rental cost, particularly in commercial buildings so that is their concern.

"Employers should think for themselves to think that this is a win-win strategy for them to attract and retain talent you see."

For now, the ministry aims to see about five workplace childcare centres being set up every year.

Madam Halimah said: "We aim to have at least about five per year, so you see, the aim is modest but we feel that is one source we feel it is to be supplemented by the other efforts to set up childcare centres near the homes."

The ministry also wants to address issues beyond access to childcare.

Madam Halimah said, "It has to be accessible, if it is too far, it is no use to families. It has to be affordable, if it is too expensive, then it is prohibitive as well, and thirdly it has to be of certain quality so we try. We are improving all these three prongs so the Marriage and Parenthood package may address some of these."

Workplace childcare centres currently make up 27 per cent of all child care centres.

As of this year, there are a total of 272 workplace childcare centres. This is about 20 per cent more than 2010 when there were 223 workplace childcare centres.

Govt looks into cost of infant care
More help could be on the way, to encourage couples to have babies
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2013

The Government is reviewing the affordability of infant care, at a time of rising fees and parents complaining about the high cost of raising children.

The average monthly fee for the full-day care of babies aged between two and 18 months rose by 14 per cent from $1,152 in 2007 to $1,318 last October.

Latest data from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) showed that such fees have been rising steadily.

Its spokesman said the affordability of infant care is being looked at as part of an ongoing review of the affordability of childcare in general. The ministry did not give more details, but more help could be on the way to encourage couples to have more babies.

Infant care centre operators interviewed told The Sunday Times that fees have risen due to various factors. The sector has expanded rapidly in recent years, with the number of infant care places almost tripling from 1,593 in 2007 to 4,536 in October last year.

Operators say more parents are turning to infant care as an alternative to maids and the Government's $600 monthly subsidy for working mothers who place their babies in full-day infant care has also driven demand.

Bank manager Liza Khor, 34, gave up on maids after running into problems with them. She placed her 10-month-old daughter, Kyla, at Learning Vision@Work at Changi Business Park from the time the baby was three months old. "Her teachers are friendly and take good care of her," she said.

But the sector's swift expansion has led to a manpower crunch, and wages and rentals have risen, say operators.

Most operators interviewed have raised fees by 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the past few years. The exceptions are the non-profit PAP Community Foundation (PCF) and the National Trades Union Congress' My First Skool, which said they had not increased infant care fees for the past five years.

The PCF charges between $900 and $1,250 a month for full-day infant care, while My First Skool charges between $1,188 and $1,250.

Most private operators charge more. For instance, Learning Vision charges an average of $1,600, while Kinderland charges an average of between $1,600 and $1,700.

The PCF and My First Skool say they have kept fees low as they are not profit-driven and receive government grants to defray operating costs.

Infant care also costs more than childcare for children above 18 months old. The average full-day infant care fee is $1,318 a month, compared with $843 for childcare.

The main reason is that infants need closer care. The ministry stipulates one worker for a maximum of five babies aged between two and 18 months, but most operators say they have better staffing ratios than that.

For example, it is one carer for three babies at Learning Vision and at Babies Inc, which has a centre in Turf Club Road.

Engineer Foo Shir Li, 31, is hoping for more infant care subsidies as such fees take up a substantial part of her income. She and her engineer husband have two daughters, Joelle, three, and Shanelle, who is six months old.

They spend about $1,700 a month, after government subsidies, for Joelle's childcare and Shanelle's infant care.

"Infant care is not cheap but at least I have peace of mind. I know that her teachers will take good care of Shanelle."

Staff crunch a problem
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2013

Despite regular complaints from parents about the lack of infant care places, only about six in 10 places available are filled.

There were 4,536 spaces for the care of babies aged between two and 18 months as of October last year, but only 2,594 were taken.

The Sunday Times found vacancies mainly at non-profit operators PAP Community Foundation (PCF) and the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) My First Skool.

The PCF's average enrolment is 40 per cent to 60 per cent of capacity, while My First Skool's is about 50 per cent.

An industrywide manpower crunch is a key reason they cannot take in more babies at some centres. Both expanded at a blistering pace in the past five years and now provide about half of the 4,536 spaces available.

Other operators say PCF's and My First Skool's massive expansions contributed to the shortage of infant care workers, called "educarers" in the industry.

Babies Inc chief executive Lina Ong said: "All our educarers say they have been approached by other centres. If they quit today, they can get a job tomorrow at another centre."

Many operators say they have to raise salaries to keep their staff.

For example, Babies Inc pays its educarers at least $1,400 a month now, up from $1,100 five years ago.

The worker crunch is set to worsen, with PCF and My First Skool planning to open 15 new centres each this year. My First Skool, which has about 290 educarers, hopes to hire 130 more this year.

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