New system to improve childcare locations

SINGAPORE - A new system to more accurately gauge demand for childcare places is in the works, so that new childcare centres can be built where they are most needed.

It comes amid moves to meet growing demand for childcare services, which saw the Government pledge last year to add 20,000 more childcare places - or about 200 centres - by 2017.

This will provide enough places for one in two children here, up from one in three in 2013.

While a centre's waiting list can provide some indication of demand, it suffers from one key problem - duplication. This is because some parents put their children's names down for places at several childcare centres at the same time, even when the children may already be enrolled in one centre.

To get around this issue, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) is putting together a database which will filter out repeat applications, and reveal the actual number of people waiting for a place.

Coupled with its existing database of enrolment, this will help it better plan where to open new childcare centres.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who revealed this new initiative in an interview with The Straits Times this week, said the new database is expected to be ready by the second half of the year.

Explaining the need for it, he added: "Some parents register their children at many places and that messes up the projection of demand... Some may even continue to register their children in the queue, even though their children are already in a particular centre."

The ECDA is interested in knowing who is in the queue only for the purpose of ascertaining its length, he said.

He acknowledged it may be a "sensitive issue" for childcare centre operators to share their waiting lists with ECDA. But he said the data would be kept confidential, so operators would not know their competitors' waiting lists.

Currently, in planning where to locate centres, the ECDA relies on geospatial software which shows the location of existing centres, and demographic data such as the number of children eligible for childcare places in an area.

This year alone, at least 45 centres will be set up islandwide, with most of them sited in newer estates such as Punggol and Sengkang, where there is a higher proportion of young families and more demand for childcare services.

A spokesman for My First Skool, which has six centres in Punggol, said waiting lists give "very limited insight" into the demand for childcare services in an area.

Besides parents registering at multiple centres, some parents whose children are already in childcare centres in other areas may register interest in a specific centre after increased publicity about the centre, she explained.

Accountant Michelle Tay, 35, said it would be good if parents too could know the actual number of people queueing up for a place at centres in a particular vicinity.

Said the Punggol resident, who put her four-year-old daughter's name down on waiting lists at three childcare centres from 2010, before getting a place about a year later: "We'd be less anxious when looking for a childcare place."

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