Every responsible parent wishes to give the best for their children, including quality childcare that they can best afford. Some parents go to the extent of quitting their job as they worry of their children’s safety and wellbeing in the hands of others. Indeed that is a valid concern.
Cases of physical and/or psychological child abuse in nurseries, kindergartens or even at home are rampant nowadays, with the most recent one involved the tragic death of Adam Rayqal, a then 5-month old baby who was found inside the freezer of his babysitter’s house.
In light of such cases, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has stepped up in taking action, among which is to encourage each government agency and institution to set up a childcare facility for the employees’ children by early 2019.
The Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) applauds such move that is seen as alleviating the working parents’ concern for their children’s safety, which sets an example to the private sectors to do the same. Employers, both public and private, should not see this as a burden but rather an investment towards their employees’ well-being and long-term productivity, as a working adult’s life does not only consist of his or her work, but largely involves their family too.
However, despite the recent announcement by the government heading towards the positive, there are obviously many other aspects that need to be re-evaluated and strengthened on the current childcare standard in Malaysia. One of them is registration and certification of childcare providers.
It is true that many mechanisms are already in place provided by relevant governmental departments. Caretakers, particularly those who take up more than four children are required to register under the Department of Social Welfare. We have also heard of cases where unregistered childcare providers have been summoned and taken appropriate action under the Child Care Centre Act 1984 (Act 308).
However, providers caring under four children, especially those who run childcare services in their private home, are still not required to be registered and certified. It is therefore high time for the government to make it obligatory for ALL caretakers to be registered and certified under one national system, regardless of the number of children under their care.
To obtain certification, childcare courses should be made compulsory and fully or heavily subsidised by the government. These courses should cover the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in child minding, including aspects such as safety, hygiene and basic early childhood psychology and handling. This will therefore ensure that the most minimum level of childcare practice in all caretakers is met and available to all parents regardless of their income status.
A one-month long compulsory course in childcare should suffice for the above basic requirements, with rooms for optional add-on courses for the applicant to choose from to improve her skills in child minding and thus increase her marketability as a child caretaker.
Registration and certification processes should be made easy (e.g. through a seamless online system) for those wishing to work in the childcare services, either under a registered nursery or on their own. Having said that, stringent checks on the applicant’s background, physical and mental health need to be applied in order for them to be qualified.
There could also be a one-stop website linked to the national registry for parents to search for an eligible babysitter or nanny, either on casual, part-time or full-time basis nearby. Such facilities are currently very limited and inaccessible in Malaysia, but if made available would work wonders in alleviating parents’ dilemma in choosing a quality caretaker for their children.
When the above is fully implemented, it is then the parent’s responsibility to ensure that their childcare provider meets the minimum requirement of being registered and certified before employing them. This should be the basis for parents to choose their childcare provider, not only due to convenience, cost or reviews by other parents per se. Penalties should be given to respective parties including parents who do not comply with this minimum standard.
Furthermore, a strong community plays a huge role in uplifting our childcare standard. Any suspicion or cases of abuse around our neighbourhood, for example, should always be reported through a hotline readily available under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, that is the Talian Kasih at 15999.
Based on the above, we would come to a realisation that a combined effort from the government, employers, childcare providers, parents and the community is needed to improve our current childcare standard in Malaysia.
Is it a lot to ask? Indeed, it is. But this is what we have to strive for in protecting and investing in one of our most important assets that is our children. After all, we want to bring forth a future generation that is physically, emotionally and intellectually sound, capable to lead a nation. But this can only be achieved starting with providing our children the best care that we can collectively.
Dr Hazlin Chong
Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education