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Speech by Minister of State Sun Xueling at the MSF Committee of Supply 2024

Type: Announcements, Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Committee of Supply, Children & Families, Disability Services, Financial Assistance & Social Support


Supporting parents in providing a good start for every child

1.          Mr Chairman, I thank members for their views.

Supporting parents in caregiving and early childhood education

2.          The Government is committed to providing every child with a good start in life. Preschools play an important role in supporting our children’s development while meeting parents’ caregiving needs. This is an important part of our vision in realising a Singapore Made for Families.

a.         Ms Yeo Wan Ling and Assoc Prof Jamus Lim asked how we will make preschools accessible and affordable for families. The Government provides funding to Anchor and Partner Operators to ensure that they keep within fee caps, while investing in quality improvements. The Government also provides all parents with basic subsidies, as well as additional subsidies for eligible families. Currently, lower-income families can pay as low as $3 per month for childcare in an Anchor Operator preschool. This comprehensive approach to preschool affordability, where we keep fees charged for Government-supported preschools low and provide childcare subsidies to parents, is more effective than giving vouchers.

b.         We will further enhance preschool affordability in the coming years. As announced by DPM Wong in his Budget speech, we will further reduce childcare fee caps at Anchor and Partner Operators by $40 in 2025. After subsidies, a middle-income working household with monthly income of $8,000 will pay $208 for full-day childcare at an Anchor Operator preschool from 2025, around 18% less from what they pay today.

c.         We will make a final reduction in 2026. This will help us to achieve our 2019 National Day Rally commitment where families enrolled in Anchor Operators pay similar expenses to that of primary school and after-school student care, before means-tested subsidies.

d.         We are also on track to increasing the number of government-supported preschool places so that 80% of preschoolers can have a place in a government-supported preschool by around 2025, up from over 65% today.

3.          Mr Melvin Yong asked how we will continue to attract and retain early childhood educators to support the sector. The well-being of our educators is important to us. Our educators dedicate themselves to the nurturing of our children and play a critical role in driving the quality of care and education for our young children.

a.         ECDA has been enhancing the career proposition of early childhood educators. We announced the Continuing Professional Development Roadmap in 2021, and the Leadership Development Framework as well as salary improvements in 2022. We will continue to monitor and review to ensure educators’ salaries remain competitive.

b.         We are also improving the working conditions and well-being of educators. From 2024, similar to Primary Schools, Teacher’s Day and Children’s Day will be designated as preschool holidays. The existing six days of preschool closure have also been repositioned as “Development Days” to give educators dedicated time to focus on their individual and team development. From 2025, childcare centres are no longer required to operate on Saturdays. With this, preschool teachers will have an additional half-day of rest every week.

c.         To attract more Singaporeans to the sector, ECDA is relaunching the “Shape Our Tomorrow” campaign in 2024 to strengthen the public’s understanding of the EC sector and recognise EC educators as a respected profession. Since its launch in 2018, the number of EC educators has increased by more than 30% to 25,000.

d.         Ms Carrie Tan also suggested the SPARK certification process be reviewed to reduce educators’ workload. SPARK is an accreditation framework to guide preschools in raising their quality, such as in the areas of teaching and learning and administration and management of centres. The number of SPARK-certified preschools has been growing over the years and stands at 1,000 preschools or 58% of the sector today. ECDA is reviewing SPARK and plans to roll out the refreshed SPARK certification in 2025 to set the next bound of quality for our preschools. To reduce workload on educators, we are exploring various ways to keep the work required for SPARK certification manageable, such as streamlining requirements and tapping on technology to reduce the documentation and administration work involved.

4.          Ms Tin Pei Ling touched on child safety in preschools. Preschools must be a safe and nurturing environment for our children.

a.         ECDA ensures that our educators have the necessary qualifications and skills to effectively and safely care for and educate children.

i.         Besides basic screening requirements and health declarations, all educators must meet the academic, professional and language requirements before they can be certified by ECDA and deployed in our preschools. As part of these requirements, educators must undergo training programmes where they learn classroom management strategies.

ii.        ECDA also regularly updates the training curriculum of the teachers. We have recently made it clearer with more specific examples on what constitutes inappropriate behaviour to guide our educators. There are also regular sector-wide briefings and circulars to update educators on the latest research and teaching pedagogies.

b.         Where there is negligence from operators, ECDA will take them to task with regulatory fines and levers. Where individual teachers have committed offences, they will be charged by the police and punished under the Children and Young Persons Act and/or the Penal Code. ECDA’s powers are enforced through the Early Childhood Development Centres Act.

c.         ECDA will review enforcement levers and fines currently stipulated through the ECDC Act and will not hesitate to enhance the levers through legislative changes to take errant operators to task. We are working on this right now even as I speak.

d.         We give our assurance to parents that where there is evidence that operators and/or educators have been errant, ECDA and the Police will commence investigations immediately, suspend educators who are in a position to harm children and take them to justice. Parents who suspect that their child has been subject to child mismanagement, they should report the matter to ECDA and the Police so that investigations can be swiftly carried out, investigations are not compromised, and due process can be taken.

Supporting parents in caregiving of infants

5.          During the Forward SG engagements, we also have heard many Singaporeans share their love and aspirations for their children. At the same time, some have also shared about the struggles and anxieties that they faced in raising their children – especially from parents of infants and parents of children with developmental needs.

6.          Many parents explained that the most challenging period was during the first 18 months as parents are adapting to a new phase of life to care for an infant while juggling work responsibilities.

a.         As mentioned by Minister Masagos, for children aged 3 and above, preschools can be the best option to meet parents’ caregiving needs while supporting the child’s holistic development.

b.         For children below 3 years, what is important is for them to build nurturing relationships with significant caregivers, and for caregivers to be responsive towards their needs.

c.         Today, most Singaporean parents prefer to play this role and care for infants themselves or rely on the help of family members.

7.          Mr Melvin Yong and Ms Ng Ling Ling have asked how we can better support parents in caring for their infants. As mentioned in the Forward SG report, the Government will consider how paid parental leave can be further increased. Currently, around one in five infants are enrolled in infant care centres and we plan to increase centre-based infant care places by about 70%, or 9,000 more places by 2030 so that more parents can rely on this care option.

8.          To complement these efforts, the Government will work with service providers to launch a three-year pilot in the second half of 2024 to provide affordable, and reliable infant childminding services. This will be yet another caregiving option for parents.

a.         Childminders, or what some may know as “nannies”, are not a new concept. They were more common in Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s. Some childminders look after a few children in their own homes while others travel to a family’s home to look after the child. They are less common today as parents may be unsure of where to look for trusted childminders or they may find childminding relatively more expensive as compared to other caregiving options, such as infant care centres.

b.         Last year, in a work visit to Denmark, France, and the UK, I learnt that these countries have put in place requirements such as background checks on the childminders, and financial support to parents such as subsidies to make childminding more accessible to parents. Parents can then have greater flexibility to choose what is best in terms of their caregiving needs and preferences.

c.         For example, parents who may prefer a more structured setting during working hours may opt for infant care centres for their infants. Those who prefer more flexible hours or more individualised care in a home-setting may for opt for infant childminding.

9.          We will thus launch a pilot and appoint childminding operators and work with them to expand infant childminding services in Singapore. Under the pilot, each childminder will be allowed to care for up to three infants at any one time, at their homes or at a community space.

10.         Community spaces, such as community centres, will be in areas of high infant care demand so that parents can conveniently access childminding services. Parents also have more flexibility to discuss their care preferences and requirements with the childminder.

a.         To ensure that infant childminding services are affordable to families, ECDA will provide funding to appointed operators to keep the out-of-pocket expenses affordable for parents who use the service for their infants during typical working hours on weekdays. We aim to make parents’ expenses for childminding services similar to what a median-income family pays for infant care at an Anchor Operator. We will also extend the usage of Child Development Account to further defray the cost of childminding under the pilot.

b.         We understand that the safety is a key consideration for parents when deciding the care arrangements for their infants. To give parents more assurance under this pilot, ECDA will conduct background checks on operators and childminders, and require operators to meet certain service requirements. These service requirements include:

i.         Assessing the suitability and homes of the childminders;

ii.        Putting in place guidelines for child-safe practices and responsibilities of childminders;

iii.        Disclosing childminders’ profile to parents;

iv.        Establishing processes for incident management; and

v.        Ensuring that childminders undergo required training in areas such as basic infant care, first aid training and food safety and hygiene.

c.         ECDA will also work with operators to co-develop industry standards. This includes laying out what constitutes a safe childminding environment and the respective responsibilities of operators and childminders. This will ensure baseline service standards across the appointed operators and help to uplift the childminding sector in general.

11.         The pilot will allow us to assess the receptiveness of parents to infant childminding. As this is a new pilot, we have engaged parents, childminders and childminding operators to hear their views to help us refine the parameters. We will continue such engagements and announce more details in the second half of 2024.

Supporting children with developmental needs

12.         Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked how we will support parents of children with developmental needs to help their child reach their full potential.

13.         Children with developmental challenges have diverse and unique needs and require different types of support. Some can be supported in their preschools, while others may require more specialised interventions at centres providing Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children otherwise known as EIPIC.

14.         International studies have also shown that parents are in the best position to embed intervention related to social and emotional skills in their children’s daily lives.

a.         For parents to do this well, they will need to be equipped with the skills to provide early intervention support at home. This is why we will be introducing an EIPIC-Care pilot, a training programme for caregivers of 2- to 3-year-olds with developmental needs.

b.         During the 6-month programme, caregivers will learn from professionals through group workshops and individual coaching sessions on how to support their child’s development at home.

c.         ECDA plans to launch the EIPIC-Care pilot in the second half of 2024.

15.         For children who require more support, we have been increasing the number of government-funded places for children requiring medium to high levels of early intervention support.

a.         In 2023, we launched 13 EIPIC-P centres, which are operated by private providers, and two EIPIC centres, to increase our capacity by 1,200 places. This is a 26% increase from 2022.

b.         In 2024, we will launch four more early intervention centres, and increase our capacity by 1,500 places.

c.         We will continue to expand our government-funded places to serve 80% of children requiring medium to high levels of early intervention by 2027, up from 60% in 2022. This will help to reduce overall wait times for enrolment into an early intervention centre so that children with developmental needs can receive timely support.

16.         To provide stronger financial support for families of older children with special needs, DPM announced in his Budget Speech that we will make Special Education (SPED) Schools and Special Student Care Centres (SSCC) more affordable for families. We will reduce the fees paid to bring the proportion of household income paid for out-of-pocket expenses closer to that of their typically developing peers.

a.         To illustrate, families with a monthly household income of $6,000 will see one-third decrease in their out-of-pocket expenses paid for Special Student Care Centres, from $500 to around $340.

Strengthening Rehabilitation of Perpetrators of Family Violence

17.         Ms Hazel Poa asked on the use of restorative justice in cases of spousal violence. As families navigate various milestones in their life journey, we want to build strong families and ensure parents are equipped to build safe havens for their children.

a.         Unfortunately, some families are not safe when violence happens at home. To strengthen protection for survivors of violence, we moved the Family Violence (Amendment) Bill in Parliament last year. These provisions also strengthen powers for the Government to rehabilitate perpetrators, which is crucial to helping families reconcile once protection and safety for survivors have been achieved.

b.         Our social service practitioners also support families at risk of harm or who are experiencing violence to address the root causes for the use of violence, and work with the survivor and perpetrator to heal and restore relationships where possible. Support for these families would include counselling. Family members, including children, may attend these counselling sessions to achieve healing and restoration of familial relationships, where it is safe to do so.

c.         However, we will not hesitate to take firm measures when such restoration is not possible in the immediate term. This includes exercising the full powers of the law to take the perpetrators to task and to ensure the safety and protection of the survivors.

Conclusion

18.         Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please.

a.         家庭是社会的基石。我们希望在照顾孩子这方面,能给予家长和即将成为父母的人民更多的保障,并为给每个孩子提供良好的生活起点。这是我们实现“为家庭而设2025计划”的一个重要部分。

b.         我们将继续使学前教育更为普及,确保家庭更能负担得起教育费用。2025年,我们将把主要业者和伙伴业者的托儿费顶限调低40元,并在2026年进行最后一次调低。与此同时,我们正在增加政府资助的学前教育学额,以确保到了2025年,80%的学前儿童能在政府资助的学前教育中心就读。我们也计划从2025年至2030年,继续维持这80%的目标。

c.         我们也从许多家长口中得知,育婴最具挑战性的阶段,即是孩子的婴儿期。为了更好地支持家长照顾婴儿,政府将与服务供应商合作,于2024下半年推出婴儿保姆试验计划,为家长提供多一个托婴选择。我们将提供资助,确保家长负担得起婴儿保姆的费用。为了确保婴儿获得良好的照顾,幼儿培育署将对业者进行背景调查,并要求业者符合服务要求,以确保婴儿的安全。幼儿培育署也将与业者合作制定行业的标准,包括共同规定安全的托婴环境,并列出业者与婴儿保姆各自的职责。

d.         有发展需求的孩童的家长也需要更多的支持,来协助他们的孩子能充分发挥潜力。为了使家长具备在家中提供早期介入训练的技能,以便能更好地支持有发展需求的孩童,我们将推出“婴幼儿早期介入计划 (EIPIC)–照护培训”的试验计划,为两岁至三岁、有发展需求的孩童的看护者提供所需的培训。对于有更高需求的孩童,我们也继续增加获政府资助的早期介入计划学额,为有中度至高度辅助需求的孩童提供服务。

19.         As Minister Masagos shared, all of us must play our part to realise our vision of a family-friendly society and a Singapore Made for Families.

a.         We have seen many volunteers who have worked alongside professionals to support our families in need. Ms Marsha Hernatasha (“hair-natasha”) and Ms Qistina Mohamed Nasir are friends who volunteer together for KidSTART Garden Wonders. As volunteers, they welcome KidSTART families, pack and distribute goody bags and engage the children during the storytelling sessions. Ms Marsha and Ms Qistina sees volunteering as an opportunity to do something good and give back to families with young children.

b.         As we dedicate 2024 as the Year of Celebrating Volunteers, let us appreciate and recognise the contributions, effort and sacrifice of our volunteers.

20.         We are committed in supporting our parents and parents-to-be, so that they are assured that every child can have a good start in life in Singapore and that they have fair access to opportunities to progress in life.