More childcare places over next 5 years

SINGAPORE - Good news for young working parents: The Government is ramping up efforts to create a better environment for couples to raise kids.

This includes creating 20,000 childcare places over the next five years and pumping funds into a new initiative to promote a pro-family mindset.

Plans on making the workplace more conducive and child-friendly for working parents are also under way.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said the Government aims to increase the number of childcare centres at the workplace.

One way is to encourage landowners to make use of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's community and sports facilities scheme to provide extra gross floor area for developers to partner childcare operators.

Ms Clarissa Lim, 34, a corporate trainer with a 16-month-old girl, said having a childcare centre would be helpful because "many parents...can't always get their own parents to help out, or they are not keen on hiring domestic help" to care for their young children.

But for bank officer Joel Choy, 31, who is married for nine months, the measures are not going to encourage him to have more children.

"I feel raising a child is more than just the Government giving short-term fixes in improving early-childcare services. Parents need to spend quality time with children and, with our working lifestyle, it's hard to achieve a balance," he said.

Here are some other measures Mr Chan highlighted.

Move to promote family life

The Government will pump $40 million over the next three years into a new initiative meant to promote family life.

It aims to equip Singaporeans with skills to improve family life, such as through educational talks. Programmes under this scheme will be introduced in schools and at the workplace.

Some $4 million will be set aside from the fund to support businesses that make their establishments more family-friendly.

The Government reached out to one million people last year in its pro-family outreach efforts. But Mr Chan said: "We are not happy, nor are we satisfied." He intends to reach out to more than two million people in 2015 with the initiative.

Early-childhood agency

A new Early Childhood Development Agency will be operational from next month. It will be in charge of executing the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF's) masterplan for the early-childhood sector, and identifying new sites for childcare and preschool centres.

Some 80 per cent of sites for the next two years have already been identified.

The agency will focus on the development of a childcare curriculum with the Ministry of Education, and source for alternative manpower for the sector. This includes attracting retired or relief teachers.

The agency will also harmonise rules and regulations for kindergartens and childcare centres to ensure a continuity of service from childcare to kindergarten.

This is so that, when parents have a child, "they need not worry about the education, the quality of the education, nor the cost", said Mr Chan.

Aid for seniors and disabled

With the Agency for Integrated Care established to oversee eldercare issues, the Centre for Enabled Living will be repositioned as a centre for disability services.

It will provide referral services, enhance employability options and improve transition across life stages.

Places in adult disability homes will jump from 830 to 3,200 by 2030, while those in day activity centres will rise from 950 to 1,400 by 2020.

Mr Chan said MSF will expand senior group homes - where two to three seniors stay together independently in a rental flat - from the existing two to 60, with a total capacity of 700 by 2016.

joyfang@sph.com.sg


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