STATISTICS reveal that about 40 per cent of our population comprise children below the age of 18, including about 3.4 million who are below 4. The target is to have 13,200 registered childcare centres by 2020 to cater to this growing need but currently, there are only 3,142.
“The numbers show that children make up a huge chunk of our population, this group needs undivided care and attention. The government wants us to move towards corporate Malaysia, but who’s going to look after our children when that happens, as both parents work?
“The agenda is to have more women participate in the workforce, but that can’t happen unless we have a network of quality childcare centres,” said Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia (ARCPM) president Datin P.H. Wong.
At present, there are four types of childcare establishments. Home-based childcare centres, which are placed within the community, allow trained mothers to take in other children into their homes. These centres are supported by licensed institution-based childcare centres, which can care for more than nine children.
Community-based centres have been renamed Taska 1Malaysia, and are for lower- and middle-income families. Government-subsidised fees are RM180 per child. Workplace childcare centres are set up by companies to ensure their employees have quality childcare, either by providing such service in the workplace or by offering subsidies.
According to the first Entry Point Project (EPP) under the National Key Economic Area (NKEA), there should be 13,200 registered childcare centres by 2020, but we’re nowhere near the target, said Wong.
“We’re pushing for more centres to be registered, but we need more universities and colleges. By 2020, all those in the field should at least have a diploma in early childcare education. There’s no reason why we can’t achieve that, Singapore has been doing it for years. Unfortunately, people don’t view this as a profession; they equate it as being a maid.
“We’re also pushing for young local people to be trained. Today, many of our children speak with a twang, like the Indonesians and Filipinos, because of foreign help at these centres.”
The biggest problem faced by childcare centres is balancing quality and affordability, she said.
“Because of the strict staff-child ratio, limited space ratio per child and the implementation of the minimum wage of RM900 which they have to pay their staff, the majority of the centres serving low- and middle- income families are struggling.
“When the government set the minimum wage, many of these centres made compromises on other things, like safety and food, increasing the number of accidents and other mishaps.
“The bottom line is that it’s expensive to run a childcare centre that is of high quality. The only way is for corporations to provide this facility to employees or allocate subsidies. We’re asking companies which are led by women to make the first move.”
Wong advised parents to be more involved in the daily education and care of their children.
“We want all centres to have a Child Protection Policy (CPP) to address abuse, recruitment of staff, emergency handling and safety issues. We have guided 210 centres in implementing this policy; we want it to be compulsory in all centres.
“Parents have to do their part as well. Before sending your child to a centre, make sure it’s registered. This does not mean they’re registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM), check www.jkm.gov.my or contact ARCPM.
“Ask about emergency procedures, does the centre have emergency numbers at hand? Check the premises, both indoor and outdoor. Ask about the food that’s being fed to the children. Is it in accordance with the Health Ministry’s guidelines for infant and young child feeding?
“All childcare centres should be doing body checks on children early in the morning and in the evening, in front of the parents. It only takes 30 seconds. However, child abuse is not just physical alone. Parents need to take action if a child is withdrawn or has pain in their private parts. This is especially a danger at home- based centres, which may have husbands, sons or uncles around.”
Despite warning and enforcement by the Department of Social Welfare, many centres are still operating illegally, added Wong.
“The public should email pictures of suspicious centres to email@example.com. There are just too many centres in every neighbourhood. ARCPM and our state associations are taking on the responsibility to collate this information as part of our ‘Jom! Daftar lah’ campaign. We don’t want to shut them down but to help, especially in licensing matters.”
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