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HomesingaporeKinderland alleged abuse cases 'not reflective' of wider preschool sector

Kinderland alleged abuse cases 'not reflective' of wider preschool sector

SINGAPORE: The recent incidents at Kinderland preschool centres where teachers were caught on video allegedly mistreating children are “not reflective” of the wider preschool sector, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on Monday (Sep 18) in parliament. 

“Many preschool educators have expressed shock and dismay,” said Ms Sun about the alleged abuse cases from the Woodlands Mart and Sunshine Place at Choa Chu Kang preschools that surfaced on social media in late August. 

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

In two videos shot at the Woodlands Mart preschool, the teacher could be seen handling children roughly as she tried to force them to drink water. In a third video, she is seen shouting at a child and hitting them multiple times with a book. 

The teacher, Lin Min, has since been charged with ill-treating a 23-month-old child by allegedly forcing the girl to lie down and pouring water into her mouth. 

In the video from the Choa Chua Kang preschool, a teacher is seen forcefully handing a water bottle to a boy before smacking him on the head several times and pushing him away. The teacher has been arrested by the police and suspended by Kinderland.

“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. 

“This incident and the others at the Kinderland centres should not have happened. Our children deserve to grow up, learn (and) play in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Related:

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SUPPORTING EDUCATORS, PRIORITISING CHILD’S WELL-BEING 

Ms Sun on Monday acknowledged that some members were concerned that the “heavy” workload for educators contributes to their stress and could lead to such “adverse incidents”. 

To support educators, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) is doing its part to “improve the career proposition and working conditions of preschool educators”, said Ms Sun.

These measures include increasing their salaries and providing resources for professional development, as well as programmes to look after their well-being. 

Ms Sun shared that ECDA announced efforts in October last year to raise the salaries of educators to be “market-competitive and commensurate with their growing competencies”.

“We do so because we recognise and take pride in the improvements in the training and professionalism of our 24,000-strong workforce over the years, and want to retain the good quality educators that we have and attract more to join,” she said.  

The government has since worked with government-funded operators to implement the increases in salaries this year and will continue to do so in 2024, she added.

ECDA also provides resources for educators to take charge of their professional development, deepen their expertise and plan for career advancement, Ms Sun said. 

Additionally, EDCA has been taking steps to improve working conditions, such as to remove the requirement for childcare centres to operate on Saturdays. This major change, announced in July this year, was to enable educators to have “better work-life balance and sufficient rest to recharge”. It will take effect from Jan 1, 2025. 

More moves are being planned, such as ECDA’s review of preschools’ practices on “non-contact-time” to provide educators respite during working hours to “refresh and complete non-teaching tasks”, she added. 

The outcome of the review will be shared with the sector soon.

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Ms Sun also highlighted the need for the support of parents and operators to implement such improvements in work conditions for the preschool sector, noting that “teachers who are cared for, can better care for our children”. 

On the part of operators, she said they must take the lead in supporting the well-being of their employees. 

To help operators support their employees, ECDA has launched a Good Practices Guide to guide them in implementing best workplace and human resources practices to foster a supportive work environment and support the well-being of their staff.

ECDA also works with the Health Promotion Board and the Workplace Safety & Health Council to offer programmes to operators and educators to support their overall well-being.

“We encourage educators who may feel overwhelmed to have open communication with their centre leaders or management on their work commitments and well-being,” she added. 

Ms Sun also pointed to MP Melvin Yong’s (PAP-Radin Mas) acknowledgement that “most educators are exemplary” and that “we ought to boost their morale as they have been affected by the recent incidents”. 

She said she was glad to see that parents share this sentiment, and noted the “outpouring of support” for educators over the past few weeks.

“I have met many teachers who have devoted their time and energies to raising our children with love, while putting their well-being as a top priority,” she added. 

“I fully understand that it is not easy to care for young children, but it is our teachers’ passion and commitment that spurs them to stay the course. Our children’s well-being is at the heart of what they do every day.”

TRAINING, SCREENING PROCESSES

MPs from both sides of the aisle raised supplementary questions, from policy concerns to training and screening processes for preschool educators. 

MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) asked about having preschools adopt a “child protection policy” to protect both children, as well as teachers and schools from “unwarranted accusations”. 

Ms Sun, in response, pointed to the existing Early Childhood Development Centres Act, Early Childhood Development Centres Regulations, and a code of practices. She noted that these policies are constantly reviewed and used to engage the industry. 

“It is not for a lack of policies. We can have all the policies under the sun, in the world, (but) what is important is how well it is being executed on the ground … And we believe that doing this, that the best way to do this, is to have multi-layered safeguards,” she said.

“At the same time, operators need to know and truly breathe child safety in their policies and SOPs, and centre leaders and educators have to take their responsibilities seriously.”

Watch:

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Responding to MP Yeo Wan Ling’s (PAP-Pasir Ris-Punggol) question about the training provided to preschool educators, Ms Sun pointed to pre-service training and continuous professional development courses for both fresh graduates and mid-career individuals joining the early childhood sector. 

“Our operators also have obligations to provide orientation programmes to induct and socialise new staff on the values, the mission, the expectations (and) attitudes that staff should have when they join the preschool sector,” she added.

“Operators are also required to conduct ongoing training and provide development opportunities for staff to maintain their knowledge of child safe policies and … their expected standards of care and appropriate behaviours in relation to children.”

Ms Sun also highlighted the background and reference checks conducted on new preschool educators, but cautioned against “mandatory psychological screening”, a move that MP Carrie Tan (PAP-Nee Soon) had asked if ECDA would consider implementing. 

“Because if we take a step back, I think we must also fully recognise that there are … many individuals out there who may be struggling with mental health conditions, and actually their mental health conditions can be well managed with proper advice, medication from their doctors,” she said.

“So I do not think that we should exclude these individuals who have mental health conditions – if those mental health conditions are well managed – from entering the preschool sector.”

Ms Sun said there is currently a self-declaration form for potential educators to indicate any mental health conditions. If applicants declare any, they would need to be certified by a psychiatrist that they can work with young children.

“So I think that is the balance that we have put in place to ensure child safety while ensuring that we do not stigmatise mental health conditions in our society,” she said.

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