THE Government is coming up with holistic measures to make quality childcare affordable and accessible.
A multi-pronged solution is in the works, assures Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Deputy Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun.
Chew, who leads a task force on early childhood care and education, says there are various factors effecting the industry so there is no single silver bullet solution.
“We’re monitoring the industry from a macro and micro level to address all issues comprehensively,” she says.
She says the ministry is working closely with the Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia to improve the service. The ministry has been gathering data in the last two years and is in the midst of compiling everything.
“We need to address this from several aspects, including amending existing regulations. For example, a new rule to allow the setting up of centres on the third to fifth floors will be implemented soon. Currently, childcare centres are only allowed on the first and second floors where rent is high, so the new rule will help lower cost for the operators,” she explains.
The ministry is also looking into online training for care providers so that they can undergo practical on-the-job training while studying. This, she says, will further reduce the operators’ costs.
The problem is that many caregivers treat this as temporary job while waiting to continue their studies or until something better comes along. So operators are reluctant to invest in their training. That’s why we must promote, upgrade and make child-caring a recognised profession, she says.
Urging parents to change their mindset, she says the perception that centres are like traditional nannies must change. Traditionally, a nanny just feeds, accompanies and looks after a child. But a trained care provider has knowledge and skill. They do more, she adds, like provide a safe environment and prepare nutritious and hygienic food for their charges.
“Send your kids to a registered centre because it means that the care providers are trained and the operators must comply with density ratios. It’s also easier for the authorities to monitor and make sure that the centre is up to mark,” she says.
Operators too must learn to balance their accounts by accepting more older kids.
The care provider to child ratio is:
> Infants 0-1: 1 staff : 3 infants
> 1-2 years: 1 staff : 5 children
> 3-4 years: 1 staff :10 children
So centres can accept more older kids if they’re suffering losses, Chew points out. If you want to cover your costs, you should take more of those aged three to four, she says.
“On the other hand, it’s a problem too when centres refuse to take babies because of the costs involved. That’s why the Government has introduced various programmes that allow women to take time off to care for their newborns before returning to the workforce,” Chew says.
Encouraging the corporate sector to set up centres, she says the request for subsidies is being studied. Employers, she says, must realise that looking after their staff's families will result in higher productivity because parents who have peace of mind will focus better on their jobs.
The Government, she adds, is also engaging with all relevant quarters, including the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia and local councils, to ease the burden of operators.
“We’re lobbying local councils to treat childcare centres as social service providers rather than a business because this will lead to lower costs for them.
“And, we’re requesting that developers include childcare centres when planning townships. If a corner lot can be designated and approved by the local council as a residence/childcare centre, an operator can move in and start the business immediately without having to get the consent of neighbours or applying to change the building’s usage,” says Chew.
This, she feels, would be a win-win situation because the local council will study the traffic flow and safety aspects at no additional cost.
The developer may even get a higher price for that unit because of the dual usage status.
While the Government provides some childcare subsidy to civil servants and those who qualify, operators must improve their service so that they can justify higher charges.
She says monthly childcare fees can range from RM200 to RM2,000 per child but most centres only charge between RM250 and RM400.
“Operators must give good, quality service. And parents must pay more if they can afford it,” she adds.