SINGAPORE — The government is aiming to boost capacity in the childcare sector, but a lack of qualified manpower means that providing infant care services remains a key challenge for childcare operators.
This has affected dual-income households — where the mother has to go back to work after her maternity leave ends.
Mr Glenn Lim, the father of a baby, Rayner, said that he and his wife are are desperately looking for an infant care centre for him, when his mother’s maternity leave ends in March.
They have gone to four centres near their home and have been placed on the wait list for all of them.
The nearest available centre with vacancies offered to the Lims is in Pasir Ris — about a 15-minute drive away from their Marine Parade home.
But they do not own a car and cannot rely on the grandparents to help out, due to health reasons.
“Nowadays everybody understands that the cost of raising a child in Singapore is very high so it’s definitely a need that both parents have to go and work,” said Mr Lim. “Both our parents are old and not in good health so that’s why they cannot take care of the child.”
Figures from the Early Childhood Development Agency showed that as of October last year, enrolment for infant care places in the Marine Parade and East Coast areas stand at 40 — below the total capacity of 53 places.
At the national level, enrolment stands at about 60 per cent of the total number of infant care places.
Responding to queries, a spokesperson at NTUC First Campus said 76 of the 104 My First Skool centres across Singapore offer infant care.
But the take-up rate for infant care at its centres “generally falls below capacity”.
Industry players said the issue is with location and demand.
Moreover, not all childcare centres in Singapore offer infant care. Of the 1,077 childcare centres in Singapore, only 324 offer infant care services.
The reasons for this include challenges such as space constraints and limited manpower.
Dr T Chandroo, chief executive officer (CEO) of Modern Montessori International, said: “For infant care, the area that you require is five square metres per child and in the case of pre-schools, it’s three square metres to a child. So you require a sufficiently big area. This is basically for safety reasons. In the case of emergency, it’s easier for mobility.”
Infants also generally require more care because they need individual attention. With limited manpower, most centres tend to focus only on child care.
Dr Chandroo said: “I’ve got places available for rent, for lease, but I don’t have the ready manpower to start the business.”
Of the 28 childcare centres under the Modern Montessori group, fewer than five offer infant care services.
To address the manpower crunch, some centres have come up with their own creative solutions.
Ms Fatimah Wee, supervisor at Sparkletots@Pasir Ris West, said: “We get teachers from childcare to go for infant care training. So in that way, if there is a shortage of manpower, we can cross over.”
The centre also taps a pool of retired teachers and parent volunteers.
Of the 117 childcare centres managed by the PAP Community Foundation, 90 offer infant care services.
The government has said that it will build 45 new childcare centres this year.
A spokesperson from the Early Childhood Development Agency said all 45 centres will be required to provide infant care services “if there is sufficient space and demand for the service”.
Under the revised tender evaluation process for commercial child care centres in HDB premises, the provision of infant care services is factored in as a component of the evaluation criteria.
Separately, companies offering home-based infant care services are reporting good business, from parents who are unable to find infant care centres of their choice.
Mr Adrian Ng, director of BBNanny, said parents turn to home-based infant care when the queue for a place in the infant care centre is too long and they do not know when they can get a place.
The Social and Family Development Ministry has said that in planning for new childcare centres, it is zooming into specific estates to meet the needs of the community.
This means going to individual block clusters and precincts to build childcare facilities in areas that need them most.
As for the Lim family, Mrs Lim said she will explore flexi-work arrangements or as a last resort, hire domestic help, if she is unable to find an infant care centre near her home over the next three months.