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Sun Xueling: ECDA to bolster oversight and penalties in response to child mismanagement incidents

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) vows to enhance investigation procedures and review regulations for pre-school operators after recent child mismanagement incidents.

During a parliamentary session on Monday, Sun Xueling, the Minister of State for Social and Family Development, addressed over 40 questions regarding these incidents and discussed the potential enhancement of penalties.

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SINGAPORE: The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has announced its commitment to bolstering its investigation procedures and revisiting regulations governing pre-school operators in light of recent incidents involving the mismanagement of children.

Addressing more than 40 parliamentary questions in Parliament on Monday (18 Sept) related to the recent child mismanagement incident, Sun Xueling, the Minister of State for Social and Family Development, disclosed that ECDA is considering whether it should increase penalties imposed on operators in cases of child mismanagement, including the possibility of enhancing financial penalties.

“To prevent such incidents from happening will work closely with the preschool sector to strengthen our system of multi-layered safeguards, which has been built up over the years.”

She added that moving forward, the agency will collaborate with the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) and training providers to enhance the training of educators.

This effort seeks to ensure that all educators have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and obligations concerning child safety.

To facilitate this, training materials will be refined to provide more explicit guidance on what constitutes inappropriate and prohibited methods of child management.

This will empower educators to better identify and address instances of mismanagement within their pre-school environments, Sun Xueling added.

“In our continuous efforts to ensure the safety of our children and support their growth and development in a positive and nurturing environment, we will learn from recent incidents to strengthen our system of preventing child mismanagement cases,” she said.

The existing regulatory framework, implemented in 2019, is slated for improvement.

After accumulating experience in implementing this framework, ECDA aims to reinforce it and assess whether penalties for operators should be augmented, potentially raising financial penalties, as indicated by her statements.

In the most severe scenarios, a preschool’s license can be revoked, added Ms Sun, underscoring that the existing regulatory framework had been put into effect in 2019.

“With the experience gained in operationalising this regulatory framework, ECDA intends to strengthen the framework and review the provisions to see if penalties imposed on operators for child mismanagement should be enhanced, including whether financial penalties should be raised,” she told parliament.

ECDA will explore the prospect of imposing more stringent penalties on preschool operators who engage in child mismanagement, drawing insights from alleged abuse cases at two Kinderland centers.

The agency will also enhance its investigation protocols and collaborate with the National Institute (NI) of Early Childhood Development to enhance training in child management strategies, as outlined by Ms Sun.

Operators are obligated to establish standardized operating procedures and appropriate policies to uphold a secure environment for children.

It is imperative that these policies are not only put in place but also effectively and consistently enforced.

Childcare centers are mandated to conduct regular assessments of staff-child interactions, intervening promptly when necessary, she said.

In cases where teachers fail to adhere to the requirements, consequences may include warnings, disqualification from working in the sector, or even facing criminal charges.

ECDA has previously issued an apology for failing to remove former teacher Lin from her classroom responsibilities at Kinderland Woodlands Mart, despite the clear evidence and the severity of her actions.

“We will learn from this case,” Ms Sun said. “ECDA is reviewing its procedures to strengthen this protocol and ensure better oversight of cases under investigation.”

The case background

The ECDA imposed a fine of S$5,000 (US$3,700) for the operator of Kinderland Preschool @ Woodlands Mart, in response to the disturbing incidents at the facility.

On 28 August, a series of videos, uploaded by a parent named Claudia Tan, circulated on Facebook, showcasing apparent child abuse.

The former educator, Lin Min,  a 33-year-old Singaporean, faces charges on 30 August with ill-treating a child, an offence under the Children and Young Persons Act, after the video surfaced of her force-feeding and striking a toddler.

60 per cent of preschool operators already installed CCTV

Given the gravity of the situation, Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa inquired whether the Ministry would contemplate advancing the deadline for childcare centers and preschools to install closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) if such a move were feasible.

She also expressed her view that the one-year timeframe allotted for operators to install the CCTV seemed somewhat excessive and questioned why the policy implementation couldn’t be accelerated by three or four months.

In response, Ms Sun acknowledged that while the agency understood that some parents might have concerns and prefer an earlier installation of CCTV cameras, it was imperative to provide pre-schools with the necessary time to procure and properly install the cameras in suitable locations, safeguarding the privacy of both children and staff.

She added, “Currently, 60 per cent of preschool operators already have CCTV, and almost 100 per cent for EI centres.”

She explained that when announcing a policy, it was crucial to ensure that operators on the ground were adequately prepared to implement it correctly and reiterated that these operators would require time to acquire their CCTV systems and identify appropriate installation sites.

Child mismanagement incidents at a rate of 10 per 100,000 enrolled children annually

Annually, there are approximately 10 cases of child mismanagement incidents for every 100,000 enrolled children. This statistic has remained consistently low and stable in recent years, stated Ms Sun.

Ms Sun said: “Each case is still one too many and when an incident of child mismanagement happens, ECDA takes it seriously and will take appropriate action.”

During the session, several Members of Parliament raised queries about the use of personal mobile devices by staff members for collecting evidence of wrongdoing.

Kinderland had previously issued a statement on 30 August, stating that their staff members are prohibited from using personal devices during teaching hours to prevent the misuse of photos and videos of children.

This statement garnered public criticism, particularly in light of the alleged child abuse case at the Woodlands Mart center, which was brought to light through a secretly recorded video by a former teacher.

Mobile device policies will not inhibit reporting of wrongdoing at preschool centres

Ms Sun underscored that an operator’s policy on the use of personal mobile devices at work should not hinder staff members from reporting any wrongdoing occurring within their centers.

“If so, this is a clear breach of the operator’s duty to implement an effective reporting mechanism and ECDA will take action against the operator.”

ECDA’s Code of Practice mandates that all operators implement a policy for internal reporting of wrongdoing. In the event of an incident involving the health and safety or mismanagement of a child, it must be reported within 24 hours.

Ms Sun further noted that ECDA will continue to enhance awareness of reporting obligations, encouraging centers to clarify with their staff what steps to take if they witness any wrongdoing and how to utilize various reporting channels.

Kinderland incidents contrasted with the widespread commitment of preschool educators

She emphasized that the recent incidents at Kinderland preschool centers do not reflect the broader preschool sector. She stated, “Many preschool educators have expressed their shock and dismay.”

“They have been dedicating their time and energies in caring and nurturing our children, putting the children’s well-being as the top priority.”

“When the Kinderland @ Woodlands Mart incident first surfaced on social media, like many members of the public, parents, and preschool educators, I was shocked and alarmed. The videos were painful to watch,” added Ms Sun.

“The incidents at Kinderland should not have happened and are not representative of the vast majority of educators, who work tirelessly to care for our children and provide them with a safe space to learn and play.”

Concern over “heavy” workload faced by preschool educators

Concerns were raised by some MPs about the “heavy” workload faced by educators, which may contribute to their stress and potentially lead to “adverse incidents.”

In response, the ECDA is actively working to enhance the career prospects and working conditions of preschool educators, as highlighted by Ms Sun.

These efforts encompass salary increases, resources for professional development, and well-being programs.

Ms Sun noted that in October of the previous year, ECDA initiated measures to raise educators’ salaries to be competitive in the job market and reflective of their growing expertise. This step aims to retain high-quality educators and attract new talent.

The government has collaborated with government-funded operators to implement salary increases in 2023, with plans to continue this in 2024. Furthermore, ECDA is providing resources to empower educators to take charge of their professional growth and career advancement.

Addressing working conditions, Ms Sun mentioned the removal of the Saturday operational requirement for childcare centers, set to take effect from January 1, 2025, to enhance work-life balance and provide sufficient rest for educators.

Additional initiatives are in the pipeline, including ECDA’s evaluation of preschools’ practices concerning “non-contact-time,” aimed at offering educators respite during working hours for refreshing and completing non-teaching tasks. The outcomes of this review will soon be shared with the sector.

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The latest statement on reporting wrong doing. Is applicable to all institution or only kinderland Saga ?!?

I am amazed at the low quality of PAP Ministers. Instead of walking round in circles, nationalize all child care centers and place them under MOE. The curriculum should be the same for all the children. The children will also be in a safer environment.

Sun is pussyfooting over such a grave issue of child abuse, and it’s utterly unacceptable! In the developed world, child abuse always attracts custodial sentence due to the very vulnerable nature of the very young who need the full protection of the law. Instead, Sun passes the buck to childcare operators as pap is so accustomed to doing. Does Sun need to wait for young children to die needlessly before doing something really serious to protect our young????

Wow the only way is having multiple coloured Educational Venue since it seems only the Preschool that is not PAP have this issue … Or they take turn?!?

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