A part for all to play in curbing abuse

A teacher's alleged abuse of a three-year-old boy in a Toa Payoh pre-school might well trigger the fears of parents who need to place their young children in childcare centres.

Such reports of mistreatment, however, need to be placed in context. The authorities received 75 complaints last year of "alleged inappropriate child management" in pre-schools, including teachers raising their voice and scratches on children. All, except two, were unfounded.

But even two should be deemed unacceptable when children are too young to describe any abuse they have been subject to. Thus, all suspicions should be raised and properly investigated. Teachers and other staff found to have violated Child Care Centres Regulations or committed offences under the Children and Young Persons Act should be dealt with firmly so standards of care remain high.

The sector has 11,000 childcare teachers, educarers and centre supervisors.

More than 76 per cent of teachers have a diploma or are being trained in early childhood development. As the Government accelerates upgrading of teachers' qualifications and elevates childcare centre operating standards, it needs to ensure suitability in terms of aptitude to the same extent as qualification and experience.

The online recruitment guide of the Early Childhood Development Agency does not highlight aptitudinal prerequisites nearly as much as it focuses on required qualifications and training.

Yet, all the qualifications teachers acquire or training they undergo may not overcome any lack of the right temperament to deal with difficult children or parents, not to mention kids who are hyperactive or have attention deficit disorders.

Neither should prospective recruits be left to assess themselves in this regard. Instead, it might be useful practice - as in some developed countries - to require would-be entrants to volunteer for a minimum number of hours as childcare teachers' aides so job fit can be better evaluated by all. Dealing with outrageously misbehaving children close-up can put disposition and social judgment to the test.

To help prevent abuse and retain staff, childcare centres should limit class size, especially when caring for children with special needs. But parents should manage their expectations as more staff across the board will raise costs. Instead, they can do more to prepare their children for social settings.

Indeed, it would try the patience of a saint to have to gently correct every precious charge who is used to having his or her own way at home. Expecting a one-to-one level of care for an uncontrollable brat in a mass-market creche would itself be a form of abuse.

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