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Monday, November 12, 2012

Childcare services: daycare and private nursery businesses

Working couples hit by childcare costs

PETALING JAYA: It's a double whammy for working couples with children maids are hard to find while daycare centres have increased their fees in tandem with higher operation costs.

A check with several centres in the Klang Valley showed that they have raised fees by up to 10% over the past two years.

A staff member at a centre in Bukit Damansara, who declined to be named, said that it had to increase its fees by 10% every two to three years.

The centre, which also offers pre-school education inclusive of daycare for children aged three to six years, now charges about RM1,600 per month.

Another centre in Taman Desa, which offers only daycare for children of two years and above without pre-schooling, charges RM500 a month.

“We charged RM450 last year, but had to increase our fees because food prices had gone up,” said the principal who only wanted to be known as Stacey.

A centre in Puchong has maintained its fees at RM500 per month, but expects to raise it soon.

The centre provides lunch and two snacks, a shower in the evening and assistance with school work for the children under its care.

“We will try to hold down our fees for as long as we can, but foresee having to increase it soon as everything else is going up in price,” said its operator.

Demand for childcare centres in the Klang Valley is especially acute as many families have both spouses working while living away from their parents and relatives.

The scarcity of maids has contributed to the increase in demand.

It was reported recently that agencies were asking Malaysians to pay more for maids from Indonesia even as the Philippines was phasing out the sending of its citizens abroad as domestic workers.

Association of Registered Child-care Providers P.H. Wong said the centres had been affected by the increase in living costs as the price of goods had gone up along with public expectation of the quality of service.

“Parents who want quality service must be ready to pay more. Centres have no choice but to increase their fees to survive,” she said.

She urged the Government to introduce a subsidy for parents who need to care for their children while they were at work.

The Health Ministry had announced stricter control of daycare centres, with regular inspection of nurseries to ensure that they are fit to take care of babies in the wake of deaths from choking on milk and other incidents at these establishments.

Social Welfare Department statistics this year showed that 52% of the 3,238 nurseries nationwide were unlicensed.

However, there is no record of the number of children who died while under their care.

According to news reports, at least 22 children under the age of four were believed to have died while in nursery care between 2009 and this year.


Private nurseries struggle to stay in business

PETALING JAYA: About three million children aged four and below need daycare services in this country but many private nurseries are struggling to keep their doors open.

Association of Registered Child Care Providers Malaysia vice-president P.H. Wong said the Government should extend support to private childcare centres because of high operating costs.

As of May this year, 1,086 childcare centres had been registered with the Welfare Department: 989 were privately run, 16 set up by companies at work places, 67 in government offices and 14 were community-based.

Even for community-based childcare centres, there were few takers despite the RM50,000 set-up grant and annual RM64,000 subsidy given by the Government, Wong said.

This was because the subsidy barely covered operating costs since lower income parents could only afford to pay RM200 to RM350 for each child, she added.

A former childcare centre owner, who wanted to be known only as Cheong, said she closed her centre in Sri Petaling last month after operating for more than two years because the RM600 to RM800 monthly fees she collected from 14 parents could not cover the monthly expenses.

“It was really heartbreaking. I don't want to do it (run a centre) again,” said the 36-year-old.

She could not continue paying the RM3,000 rental for a corner unit house, pay providers' salaries, food, beverage and toys for the children, and utility bills, said Chong who spent RM25,000 to set up the centre.

She also had difficulty looking for care providers because the heavy workload made people reluctant to take the job even if she offered more than the RM1,000 to RM1,600 salaries.

Social Welfare Department legal and advocacy division director Dr Zaitol Salleh said that two nurseries had surrendered their licences from January to May, and on average five cease to operate each year.

Another childcare centre operator, who only wanted to be known as Ooi, said she had to close her nursery in a condominium after operating it for seven years because she could not get baby sitters.

“Most baby sitters prefer to work on their own at home while the young people prefer other jobs,” said Ooi, who is in her 50s.


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