1. The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) would like to provide an update on its investigations into recent incidents at two Kinderland centres.
Case Involving Kinderland @ Woodlands Mart
2. This case involving a 2-year old child was reported by a whistleblower to ECDA on 8 August 2023, who provided video evidence on 10 August. The behaviour depicted in the video clip revealed a breach of the Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDC) Regulations which prohibits, among other things, force feeding and hitting a child. The educator (“A”) involved has been issued a warning under the ECDC Regulations, and barred from working in the preschool sector. A is also currently under Police investigation, based on reports received by the Police, for offences under the Children & Young Persons Act.
3. ECDA’s investigations at the centre also established that another educator (“B”) had used inappropriate methods to restrict the movement of one 3-year old child under her charge on two occasions by (i) pulling the child’s shirt over the back of a chair and (ii) securing him to a chair using straps from an infant chair. ECDA has issued a warning to B, and required her to be placed under close supervision for three months, and to attend refresher training on child management strategies.
4. For the centre principal, our investigations showed that she did not exercise adequate supervision over her staff in their management of children and hence failed to prevent the use of inappropriate child management methods in the preschool. As such, ECDA has cancelled our approval for her to be deployed as a principal in a preschool. She has been issued a warning and will be required to attend refresher training on child management strategies. ECDA will consider her suitability as a principal after she has completed refresher training and after a period of 2 years.
5. Given the severity of the incidents at this preschool, ECDA has issued a warning, imposed a penalty of $5,000 on the operator, and reduced its licence tenure to 6 months with immediate effect. At the end of 6 months, ECDA will not renew the licence if the preschool fails to demonstrate significant improvements in its standard of care to their children.
Cases Involving Kinderland @ Sunshine Place in Choa Chu Kang
6. There are two reports with respect to Kinderland @ Sunshine Place in Choa Chu Kang.
7. On 29 August 2023, ECDA received a report of child mismanagement at Kinderland @ Sunshine Place. Sometime around April 2022, an educator (“C”) was seen forcefully pushing a 3-year old child. ECDA’s investigations are still ongoing. Police also received a report about this case, and have commenced investigations into the case. In the meantime, Kinderland @ Sunshine Place has on its own accord, placed C on leave of absence pending the outcome of the investigations.
8. The second report is an already concluded case. On 1 June 2023, ECDA received a report of child mismanagement from a parent of a 2-year old child who had attended Kinderland @ Sunshine Place but withdrew from the preschool in May 2023.
9. Our investigations revealed that the incident happened in April 2023. Two educators (“D” and “E”) at the centre admitted to strapping the child in his chair on several occasions. The straps were taken from an infant seat used in the centre’s infant care bay. The educators’ intent was to get the child to focus on the activity and prevent him from hurting himself and other children.
10. ECDA instructed the centre to immediately stop this practice and ensure all its educators adopt appropriate methods and work closely with parents to manage the behaviour of each child. We also issued stern reminders under the ECDC Regulations to the preschool and two educators for failing to use positive and developmentally appropriate methods to manage the child.
11. The centre was informed that more severe actions would be taken against them should a similar incident happen again in future. ECDA updated the parent on the results of our investigation and that action was taken against the centre, D and E.
Direction to Kinderland Headquarters for Independent Review
12. In view of the recent incidents of child mismanagement, ECDA has instructed Kinderland Headquarters to conduct an independent review of the child management practices in all their preschools, and to report to ECDA on the findings and recommendations within three months. During this period, ECDA will also place all preschools under Kinderland on close monitoring and conduct more frequent unannounced checks on their classroom management practices.
Review of ECDA’s Case Handling Process
13. The child’s safety and well-being are ECDA’s top priority in any investigation. If there is clear indication of child safety being compromised at the start of the investigation, ECDA will take immediate precautionary steps to remove the staff involved in the incident from contact with the children. At the same time, due process must be followed in investigating the involvement of the staff, and whether any regulations have been breached. Investigations will take time to complete because the fact-finding process has to be thorough, objective and robust.
14. In the case involving Kinderland @ Woodlands Mart, ECDA’s Investigation Officer commenced investigation by the next working day. Timely action was taken to gather the facts and interview various parties. The officer assessed that sufficient supervisory measures were put in place by the preschool to mitigate the risk to the safety of the children while investigations were ongoing. However, he failed to follow the established protocol that for cases with clear evidence that child safety is endangered, the staff should be immediately removed from classroom duties. ECDA acknowledges this lapse in its case handling procedures. We are reviewing our systems and procedures to strengthen this protocol and ensure better oversight of cases under investigation.
15. “ECDA places child safety as its top priority and follows up on all reported cases of child mismanagement. We do not condone acts of child mismanagement and our priority has always been to ensure children are not exposed to further harm while investigations are ongoing. When there is evidence that a child’s safety is endangered, this means immediately removing the incident educator from all roles involving direct care of children until we have concluded our investigations. In the case of Kinderland @ Woodlands Mart, ECDA has taken firm actions against the preschool and staff involved for the breach in regulations concerning child safety,” said Mr Tan Chee Wee, Chief Executive Officer of ECDA.
16. He added, “However, ECDA should have done better. We apologise for not getting Kinderland to immediately remove the educator from her classroom role while investigations are ongoing. We will strengthen our protocols and training of our officers.”
System in place to ensure a safe preschool environment for our children
17. The safety of our preschool environment depends on a system of multi-layered safeguards, comprising: (a) professionalism and credentials of educators; (b) supervision of educators by centres; (c) oversight of centres by operators; (d) proactive inspections by ECDA; and (e) impartial investigation of complaints by ECDA.
18. ECDA, as the regulator for the sector, puts in place clear policies and requirements that establish the baseline for a safe and positive learning environment. There are explicit provisions in the ECDC Act and Regulations, which prohibit the use of corporal punishment or any other inappropriate child management practices in our preschools. We also regularly review policies to improve the preschool environment, such as informing the sector in February 2023 of ECDA’s plans to mandate implementation of CCTV cameras in preschools, followed by a recent announcement of 1 July 2024 as the deadline for compliance.
19. Professionalism and Credentials of Educators. As part of their training, all educators are made aware of their responsibility to ensure child safety and equipped with a range of classroom management strategies to work effectively with children. All educators must be registered with ECDA before they can be deployed in our preschools. ECDA verifies their professional qualifications and conducts background checks. For example, candidates with previous criminal offences involving children will not be allowed to be deployed in our preschools.
20. Supervision of Educators by Centres: Centres must implement the child safe policies instituted by their operator HQs. Principals must provide active guidance and supervision of all staff through regular walkabouts, class observations and staff meetings to share best practices and learning points. They have to ensure that educators perform their duties professionally and in compliance with prevailing codes of practice and operating procedures.
21. Oversight of Centres by Operators: Operators must put in place child safe policies, which include a comprehensive procedure for recruiting suitable staff to work with children. Operators also need to take proactive steps to ensure these policies are implemented effectively and consistently by their centres. Operators should also foster a safe culture where all staff feel empowered to report to their principal and HQ management team when they observe inappropriate practices that compromises child safety in the classrooms.
22. Pro-active Inspections: ECDA conducts regular checks to ensure compliance by centres, and we will take firm action against educators or preschool operators when they are found guilty of not fulfilling their duty of care to the children under their charge.
23. Impartial investigation into Complaints: All preschool staff are required to report suspected cases of child mismanagement to ECDA. Anyone with information on child mismanagement at preschools should contact ECDA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
24. This system of multi-layered safeguards has enabled the preschool sector to grow to meet demand, while maintaining high standards of care. From 2019 to 2022, there were an average of 10 substantiated child mismanagement cases, per 100,000 enrolled children annually. We urge parents and the public to support the vast majority of educators who serve with dedication each day and uphold their professional commitment to keep our children safe and nurture their development. ECDA will continue to work with operators, centres, educators and parents to ensure that each of us do our part to further improve child safety in our preschools.
Annex: Regulatory Levers under the Childhood Development Centres Act and Regulations
Under the Early Childhood Development Centres Act and Regulations, ECDA can take action against educators or preschool operators when they are found guilty of not fulfilling their duty of care to the children under their charge.
ECDA can impose administrative actions like warnings and stern reminders to those who use inappropriate child management practices. For serious cases where there appears to be clear intent to harm the child, the case will be referred to the Police for criminal investigation. Individuals who are found to have committed serious acts of child mismanagement will be barred from working in the preschool sector.
For preschool operators
About the Early Childhood Development Agency
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) was set up in 2013. The autonomous agency oversees the regulation and development of infant, childcare and kindergarten programmes for children below the age of seven. To achieve their vision of giving every child a good start, the agency works in partnership with stakeholders to ensure that every child has access to affordable and quality early childhood development services and programmes.