NTUC childcare centre's licence cut

SINGAPORE - The childcare centre involved in an alleged child abuse case has had its licence tenure cut from 24 months to six months.

More inspections will be carried out at the NTUC My First Skool centre in Toa Payoh, and it will have to meet a set of conditions in order to have its licence renewed. These include having clearer guidelines for reporting incidents involving children under its care. If the centre fails to get its licence renewed, it will have to shut down.

Separately, the authorities may also tighten licensing conditions for the entire childcare sector.

Centres may be required to send their teachers for a minimum number of hours of upgrading courses before they can get their licences renewed.

The announcements yesterday came as the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) wrapped up an internal investigation into the case which shocked many parents.

In the incident which happened earlier this month, a teacher was caught on video dragging a three-year-old boy across the floor and pushing him to the ground. The boy suffered a fractured shin. The 51-year-old teacher has been arrested and sacked.

Police investigations are still ongoing.

The internal probe by ECDA found that there was evidence of child mismanagement and lapses in some operations at the centre.

For example, the centre did not report the incident to the authorities within 24 hours as required under existing guidelines.

"Over the next six months, we expect NTUC My First Skool to work closely with ECDA to rectify some of the things they could have done better," Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said yesterday, after visiting pre-schools in Serangoon. "The incident is a reminder of how we need to strengthen our system and the trust (among parents, teachers and childcare operators)."

Childcare centres are issued licences of different tenure - six to 24 months - depending on how they measure up to licensing requirements set by ECDA. The tenure of the licence is indicative of the quality of the centre.

Last year, two centres had their licensing tenures cut short because their teachers had disciplined their children inappropriately, by pulling the child's ears, for instance. ECDA did not identify these centres.

At the end of six months, the NTUC centre in Toa Payoh must meet a set of requirements spelt out by ECDA, said the agency's chief executive Lee Tung Jean.

These include providing more support and training for teachers.

It is also required to improve its centre layout, so children can be split into smaller groups and teachers can focus better on them.

Steps will also be taken to make sure teachers in the sector, which is facing a manpower crunch, get better support and training.

For instance, the Education Services Union, which represents pre-school teachers, is looking into setting up a common hotline or centre where teachers can receive counselling advice.

The union is also discussing with ECDA to make it mandatory for childcare operators to send their teachers for continual training if they want to renew their licences, said Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive secretary of the union.

He said the union has been in touch with the teacher accused of child abuse to provide her with the support she needs. "Many have looked at the video and crafted the story based on it. They have not seen the full picture."

NTUC First Campus, which runs the centre, said yesterday that it will roll out new measures at all its 101 centres. These include setting up an independent review panel to look into complex cases of injury, accident or mishandling reported.

When contacted yesterday, the parents of the boy in the incident said they are still "not satisfied" with the outcome, and hope to transfer him to a centre run by another operator.


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