“SUPPORTING FAMILIES BY GIVING EVERY CHILD A GOOD START”
1. I thank Members for their views on preschool education. Just as families are the bedrock of our society, children are the future of families. I will share on MSF’s approach to give every child a good start in life.
2. Our efforts are part of the whole-of-society plan, A Singapore Made for Families 2025, which was launched by DPM Heng last year.
a. If we want a society made for families to thrive, each and every one of us has a role – the Government, the community such as social service agencies or businesses, and families including parents, children, siblings and other caregivers.
b. This is our social compact; to weave together a larger circle of care, to support families to achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility.
I. SUPPORTING NEW PARENTS
3. A good start in life begins at birth. The Government is committed to supporting couples as they embark on their parenting journey.
a. While families may have different caregiving needs and preferences, parental care and support remain crucial in anchoring and shaping our children’s development.
b. Findings from the GUSTO study, which Minister Masagos mentioned earlier, suggest that mothers’ responsiveness to their child’s signals or needs in infancy, also called maternal sensitivity, was linked to brain development in early childhood.
c. Today, most infants are cared for in a home-based setting by caregivers such as parents and family members, while around one in five infants are in centre-based infant care. At the playgroup years, there is also a growing segment of families who are enrolling their children in preschools.
4. Mr Seah Kian Peng and Mr Fahmi Aliman have asked how we will assure parents that they will be supported in their children’s earliest years.
a. To better support families who require infant and playgroup services, some 7,000 of the full-day preschool places that Anchor Operators are creating over the next two years will be for infant care and playgroup programmes.
b. We have also been ramping up the infant care workforce, something Ms Joan Pereira raised. The number of qualified educators has tripled from 2,100 in 2017 to 6,400 in 2022.
i. And we will continue to do more. We are tapping on a wider pool of local and foreign allied infant educators and programme helpers, who can jointly contribute up to 50% of the staff in infant care bays.
c. Ms Shahira Abdullah asked about lowering staff-child ratios in infant care. Our staff-child ratio requirements are minimum requirements to ensure the safety and well-being of children. These are calibrated based on the needs of children at different ages.
i. In practice, many preschool operators operate with more staff to the same number of children. However, any changes to the minimum staff-child ratio can impact overall manpower demand and availability of services. Our staff-child ratio requirements are hence designed to work with other regulations to ultimately provide a safe and conducive environment for our children.
d. Mr Seah asked about the progress of the Early Years Development Framework (EYDF) review. The review is currently ongoing and the revised EYDF is slated to be ready by October 2023.
5. Mr Seah and Mr Fahmi also mentioned that centre-based care may not be the preferred solution for all families. We are mindful that many parents want more options in caring for their young children. Under the Forward SG exercise, we are studying how we can better support families, given what we know about the importance onf the involvement of parents in the early years, and we will share more when ready.
6. Regardless of one’s choice of caregiving arrangements, it is important for families to be well-equipped to navigate the joys and challenges of raising young children.
a. Minister Masagos spoke about our plans to expand Families for Life @ Community, or FFLC in short, island-wide, to enable families to access parenting and grandparenting programmes more easily.
b. In this expansion, we will work closely with social service agencies, schools, volunteers, community and corporate partners as well as health clusters to equip families with the skills to nurture and care for young children.
c. We are also exploring different parenting programmes and will promote parenting programmes which are science-based and outcome-driven.
II. GIVING EVERY CHILD A GOOD START IN LIFE
Enhancing Access to Affordable, Quality Preschools
7. For children aged 3 and above, preschool can be the best option to meet parents’ caregiving needs while supporting children’s development.
a. Today, about 85% of Singaporean children enrolled in preschools come from dual-income families. In this way, preschools provide an important service to help working parents balance between their work and caregiving responsibilities.
8. Our preschools complement the important role that parents play, giving parents the assurance that their children are well taken care of, while providing a nurturing and supportive environment where children can grow and develop holistically.
a. International research shows us that attending quality preschool can boost our children’s confidence and social skills.
b. Additionally, our local data shows that children who attended preschool from 3 years onwards are less likely to require additional learning support in primary school.
9. Today, around 9 in 10 Singaporean children aged 3 to 6 years are enrolled in preschools.
10. To meet the growing demand for preschools, we have worked with preschool operators to more than double the number of preschool places over the past decade.
11. At the national level, there are currently enough preschool places to accommodate every resident child aged 3 and above. However, we recognise that capacity is tighter in some areas and this is why we are working with Anchor Operators to increase the sector’s capacity and create 22,000 more full-day preschool places over the next two years.
a. Mr Louis Ng asked about the timing of building new childcare centres. ECDA works closely with agencies such as HDB and URA to develop new preschools together with new housing developments so that they are conveniently located near families with young children and can be operational shortly after residents move in. ECDA will continue to work with agencies on the timing of preschool openings to facilitate faster enrolment.
12. Mr Melvin Yong asked how we will ensure there are enough preschool educators to support the sector. Currently, there are over 24,000 certified early childhood educators, with an annual sector attrition rate of around 10% to 15% over the past few years. We will need at least another 2,500 educators by 2025. To encourage more educators to join the sector, the Government has been enhancing educators’ career progression and professional development, as well as undergoing a review of the working conditions.
a. To keep salaries competitive, we announced salary enhancements for educators in government-supported preschools last year. ECDA has also provided recommended salary ranges that the rest of the sector can refer to when reviewing remuneration packages for their educators. I am glad to share that we have since seen an 18% increase in the number of educators who have joined the sector.
b. We will continue to work with preschools to reach out to different sources of local and foreign manpower, who have the right aptitude and passion for working with children. These could include mid-career individuals, back-to-work women, and stay-at-home mothers among others.
13. Ms Ng Ling Ling asked about the affordability of preschools which are not government-funded. To make preschool more affordable, we fund government-supported preschools to adhere to fee caps and other quality requirements.
a. These fee caps have brought down median fees in the preschool sector, from $800 in 2016 to $760 in 2022. We expect median fees to decrease even further, as we had lowered fee caps at government-supported preschools at the start of this year.
b. Families’ out-of-pocket expenses are lower than fee caps after factoring in subsidies. More families can enjoy fee caps at government-supported preschools as we expand capacity to allow 80% of preschoolers to have a place in a government-supported preschool by around 2025, up from over 60% today.
c. Mr Faisal Manap asked about extending the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme, or KiFAS, to children from lower-income households enrolled in non-Anchor Operator or non-MOE kindergartens. Our priority is to ensure that Singaporean children have access to affordable and quality preschool services. As such, KiFAS is extended only to Singapore Citizen children attending Anchor Operator and MOE kindergartens, which are publicly accessible to all families. There are sufficient places in these kindergartens nationally to serve lower-income families who want to enrol their child into a kindergarten programme.
14. We will continue to invest heavily in improving access to affordable and quality preschools.
a. Over the last decade, the Government’s spending on the early childhood sector has increased almost sixfold, from $320 million in 2013 to about $1.9 billion in 2022. This spending is expected to go up significantly over the next few years.
Uplifting Children from Lower-Income Families
15. While we continue to invest in our preschools to support all families, we also recognise that lower-income families and those who have children with developmental needs may face additional challenges.
16. Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Fahmi Aliman have asked how MSF can provide greater support for lower-income families. We will do so through providing more upstream and targeted support, journeying with lower-income families through various life milestones to empower them to uplift themselves and their children.
17. This support will begin from the early years, which are critical for children’s development.
a. The GUSTO study I mentioned earlier found links between mothers’ well-being during pregnancy and their children’s later development.
b. This is why the KidSTART programme supports families as early as possible, starting even before the child is born.
18. Mr Seah Kian Peng will be glad to know that we have supported over 6,200 children since KidSTART was started in 2016. We have closely studied the impact of the programme on families, and seen positive outcomes for parents and children alike.
a. Through regular home visits, KidSTART equips parents with the skills and knowledge to support their children’s development, health and nutrition.
b. Parents in KidSTART families who received these visits showed improvements in their parenting skills such as confidence and ability to interact well with their children and reduced parenting stress. Their children also improved in their socio-emotional and daily living skills which is demonstrated in their ability to cooperate with others, manage their emotions and self-control.
i. These are significant outcomes in early childhood interventions, and have far-reaching consequences including influencing many outcomes later in life such as educational attainment and employment.
19. As DPM Wong mentioned in his Budget speech, we will expand KidSTART nationwide to offer the programme to all eligible families. We expect to support about 80% of children from eligible lower-income families, up from around 20% today, beginning with children born this year.
a. To achieve this expansion, we will be working with KKH and NUH to develop protocols to allow us to systematically identify and encourage more eligible mothers-to-be to sign up for KidSTART.
b. These eligible mothers-to-be will be supported by a multidisciplinary team during their pregnancy, to help them keep well physically and mentally before childbirth.
c. After their child is born, the new mothers will continue to be supported by KidSTART practitioners in the home, community and preschool settings, to empower them to continue to nurture their children’s growth and development. KidSTART is an open programme and eligible mothers are welcomed to join at any point during their pregnancy or after their child is born.
20. KidSTART’s success is possible only through partnering our community and corporates, which have given holistic support to families across the social, health and education domains.
a. We are keen to work with more partners as we reach out to more families in the next phase of KidSTART’s expansion. We will also continue to enhance coordination with our partners to better support KidSTART families, as Ms Joan Pereira had suggested.
21. Our data shows that about 80% of children aged 3 to 4 from lower-income families are enrolled into preschool. This is lower than the enrolment rate for their peers.
a. Lower income families are faced with complex challenges including searching for stable employment, housing or perhaps managing medical issues. Hence, early preschool enrolment for their young children may not be a priority.
22. We have made some progress through KidSTART and the Preschool Outreach Programme in reaching out to lower-income families to help facilitate their children’s preschool enrolment.
a. We have also taken decisive steps to enhance preschool affordability for lower-income families. Currently, they can pay as low as $3 per month for full-day childcare at Anchor Operator preschools.
b. However, more needs to be done to close the preschool enrolment gap between children from lower-income families and their peers.
23. Every child from a lower-income household will have priority enrolment in Anchor Operator preschools so that they can be enrolled as soon as possible.
a. We hope that with a facilitated enrolment process, parents from lower income families will work with us and help to enrol their children into preschool by age 3.
24. Beyond preschool enrolment, we also recognise that children from lower-income families may need more support to attend preschool regularly.
a. KidSTART practitioners will work closely with preschools to address barriers to regular preschool attendance for KidSTART children.
b. ComLink, which SPS Eric Chua will elaborate on later, also addresses attendance barriers and other family needs holistically.
25. Under the Forward SG exercise, we are studying how to further support children from lower-income families in preschools, including considering different ways to encourage timely enrolment and regular attendance. We will provide more updates when ready.
26. Together, these moves will lay a stronger foundation to help children from lower-income families progress in life.
a. By intervening early to improve support subsequent education and life outcomes, we hope to sustain social mobility across generations.
Supporting Families of Children with Developmental Needs
27. Mr Seah Kian Peng spoke about families who have children with developmental needs.
a. We agree with him that we need to support these families to identify their children’s needs early, and ensure that they receive the necessary support in a timely manner.
28. As Minister Masagos shared, children with developmental needs may face considerable wait times for enrolment at an early intervention (EI) centre. We have focused our efforts on increasing the number of places in Government-funded EI programmes so that these children can receive support earlier.
a. ECDA will expand the capacity of the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, or EIPIC, as well as the Enhanced Pilot for Private Intervention Providers programme, or PPIP, by 1,400 places over the next two years so that more children requiring medium to high levels of EI support can receive timely intervention.
b. We will launch more EI centres over the next two years.
i. The two EI centres which I announced last year will begin operations in Fernvale Woods and Bukit Batok by the end of this year.
c. We will also triple the number of EI places offered under the PPIP programme by March 2024.
d. To ensure that the PPIP programme is an affordable option for families, we will lower out-of-pocket expenses for the programme.
i. From 1 July this year, ECDA will introduce caps on the maximum amount that families pay for PPIP. As an illustration, a middle-income family can expect to pay around $190 per month after subsidies, less than half of what they are paying today.
ii. With this, we hope that more families who are waiting for a place in EIPIC will enrol their children in PPIP instead.
e. Finally, we plan to scale up the Inclusive Support Programme to more preschools from 2026 onwards, after it has undergone evaluation.
29. These plans will help us generate sufficient government-funded places to serve 80% of children requiring medium to high levels of EI support by 2027, up from 60% today.
30. We have also implemented initiatives to enhance inclusion and support for children with developmental needs in preschools.
a. The Inclusive Support Programme was piloted in October 2021 to integrate the provision of EI services within preschools.
i. Families of children enrolled in the pilot had found the pilot helpful, as children can now benefit from preschool and EI services in one location rather than shuttling between different locations. Parents have also shared that an inclusive learning environment has been beneficial for children with developmental needs, as well as their typically developing peers.
b. We currently have around 1,000 trained inclusion coordinators.
i. They will play a crucial role in preschools to refer families to relevant EI resources and work with fellow educators to identify children with potential developmental needs for further assessment.
ii. We are making good progress towards our aim of appointing an inclusion coordinator in every preschool by the end of this year.
31. Families need to be adequately supported to make informed decisions.
a. Last year, we launched a Parents’ Guide to provide parents and caregivers with information on EI services, as well as caregiver training and support at key milestones along their caregiving journey.
b. Parents have given feedback that they have found the Guide to be useful. We have since made vernacular versions to make it accessible to more parents.
32. With everyone’s support, we can forge a more caring and inclusive society, beginning in the early years.
a. Where families provide the first line of support and care for their children.
b. More children receive timely support in early intervention centres and preschools.
c. And the community embraces the diversity of abilities in children, supporting all children to play, learn, contribute and participate meaningfully alongside one another.
33. Chairman, In Mandarin please.
a. It is important that we continue to build strong and resilient families, which are the bedrock of society.
i. Families play an indispensable role in caring and raising our children, especially in their earliest years.
ii. Families encourage our children to progress towards their aspirations, help them develop the right mindset to overcome challenges and inspire them to take the opportunities presented to them. These are the most valuable lessons that will carry our children through life.
b. We recognise that parents may have different needs and preferences when caring for their children.
i. Today, most infants are cared for in a home-based setting by caregivers such as parents and family members, while around one in five infants are in centre-based infant care. At the playgroup years, there is also a growing segment of families who are enrolling their children in preschools.
ii. The Government is studying how to better support families with infants, to meet varying preferences and needs. We will share more when ready.
c. For children aged 3 and above, preschool can be the best option to meet parents’ caregiving needs while supporting children’s development.
i. We have made good progress in improving access to affordable and quality preschools, and will continue to invest heavily in our preschools.
d. There are also some families that need more help in their journey. We will step up our efforts to provide targeted and timely support for children from lower-income families, as well as families who have children with developmental needs.
i. We need community partners and volunteers to come alongside such families to create a strong tapestry of support, empowering them and their children to rise above their circumstances.
ii. Preschools and early childhood educators also play an important role, working closely with parents and the community to equip these children with the tools that they need to develop and thrive alongside their peers.
e. It takes a whole-of-society effort to build a Singapore Made for Families.
i. For the next three years, MSF will shine the spotlight on and celebrate the good work of those who deliver social good every day, starting with 2023 as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners to recognise the integral contributions of partners from within and beyond the social service sector who work with us and with each other to build strong families and a caring society.
ii. Let us work closely together to empower parents to give our children the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential – by nurturing their early growth and development at home, and enrolling them in preschool by age 3 so that they can benefit from quality preschool education.
34. Chairman, parents should have the assurance that their children will be well-supported and have good access to opportunities to progress in life, regardless of their starting points.
a. This is a commitment that we want to make, and a journey we want to walk alongside our families.
35. We are all familiar with the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”.
36. What it means for us today is that it takes many helping hands to give every child a good start in life, and build a Singapore Made for Families together.
a. Our preschools, social service agencies, healthcare institutions, and other community partners have made good progress in supporting families with young children. The Government will continue to work with them in a more coordinated manner.
37. Even as we work together to strengthen support for families, every family must be willing to come forward, seize the opportunities presented to them, and do their part to achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility.
38. Thank you.