20,000 more childcare places in 4 years

SINGAPORE - About 20,000 more childcare places will be added over the next four years, ensuring that there will be enough for at least one in two children in 2017, an improvement from one in three now.

But limited space may mean childcare centres may be located in places such as hawker centres and carparks, said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing on Thursday.

What is important, however, is they will cater to the average Singaporean family by charging affordable fees, he added as he outlined several pro-family initiatives in Parliament during the debate on his ministry's spending.

Mr Chan also had good news for single and unwed parents: From May 1, they will be given the same number of days of infant-care and childcare leave as their married counterparts.

His ministry will also set aside $40 million over the next three years to promote family education under the new Family Matters! initiative. Schools, businesses and community groups can tap on the fund to run programmes such as bonding activities.

Outlining his ministry's priorities, Mr Chan said the quality of care and education was "very crucial" to many young parents.

"Someone asked me: 'Why do you build more childcare centres? The TFR (total fertility rate) is decreasing'... But it can be a chicken-and-egg problem. People may not have children because they do not feel that they have adequate childcare provisions."

But the Government faces the problem of finding space. This is why the ministry is exploring "innovative" options, like co-locating them with other facilities.

For instance, one childcare centre will operate from a hawker centre in Woodlands. Facilities no longer in use can also be converted, such as the former swimming pool in Bukit Merah. The Early Childhood Development Agency, which starts on April 1, will identify suitable sites.

Another priority is improving the lot of vulnerable families, and giving help in a more flexible manner. "Delivery is as important as policy," said Mr Chan.

The first four of 20 new social service offices will be set up by year-end - in Kreta Ayer, Jalan Besar, Jurong West and Bukit Panjang-Choa Chu Kang - to make it more convenient for residents who need financial and social aid.

And the ComCare Transitions scheme, which gives cash payouts for up to six months, will be extended beyond a year for those who still need support. For those with more complex problems, the ministry is looking at extending help of between five and 10 years.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.