Childcare waitlists in Punggol still long

SINGAPORE - Waiting lists have not shortened at more than half of the childcare centres in Punggol - an area of high demand for childcare services - despite the number of centres increasing by 25 per cent to 30 centres last year.

A check with 10 childcare centre operators - including bigger players such as NTUC's My First Skool and the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) which together run 11 centres in Punggol - found that waiting lists had not shortened for eight operators.

Most operators said this could be due to parents registering their children at multiple centres, and that waiting lists were not the best indication of demand.

Another possible reason is that some centres are sited in specific parts of Punggol which have more new flats and higher demand for childcare services.

The building of childcare centres has been ramped up following a pledge by the Government last year to add 20,000 more childcare places - or about 200 centres - by 2017, to meet growing demand.

This will provide enough places for one in two children here, up from one in three last year.

The situation in Punggol reflects the problem of duplication when using waiting lists to gauge demand.

The Straits Times reported earlier in February that the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) is setting up a new database by the second half of the year to filter out repeat applications.

This is to more accurately determine demand and build new childcare centres where they are most needed.

Sunshine Kids Care Centre principal Clara Yeow said parents often complain to her that they cannot find places for their children, but ECDA statistics show that there are vacancies.

Figures from the ECDA website show there were 2,397 childcare places available in Punggol as at the end of last year, and only 1,830 children were enrolled.

The enrolment figures include those in full-day, half-day and flexi-care programmes.

Little Mighty Me director Ethan Lee said it is "a norm" for parents to put their children's names down for places at several childcare centres at the same time.

"Some parents are quite frank with us, and say they are on the waiting list for this school, this school and that school," he added.

Punggol resident Lee Mei Ling, 33, visited five centres and put her son's name on their waiting lists to "play safe", before enrolling her son, now five years old, at a childcare centre in 2011.

Some parents call to put their children's names on the waiting list without even visiting the centre, said the operations manager of a childcare centre who declined to be named.

But the increased number of centres is likely to "contribute to the easing of tension between supply and demand", said a spokesman for My First Skool.

Mrs Nursri Ong, a principal at one of the Bright Kids School House centres, said its waiting list has shortened in the past year and parents can now get a place more quickly than a year ago.

They now usually wait less than a year, instead of between one and two years previously.

This could be because there are fewer new flats near her centre, she said, and some parents transferred children to other new centres.

Ms Lee transferred her son to a PCF centre when it was set up at the end of 2012, as it was "just a block away" and nearer than the previous centre.

The customer service officer added: "Parents would feel more hopeful if they knew the unique number of people in the queue, and that the waiting list isn't as long as it seems."

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