Some register for infant care when still pregnant

Choosing a popular infant-care centre may mean you have to register your baby even before he is born.

And some centres say that if you try to register after the first trimester of pregnancy, it would be too late.

Madam Amy Ho, who lives in Hougang, started her search for an infant-care slot late last year, when she was about six months pregnant.

Even so, she had to call at least six centres and still could not get into the one of her choice.

She only recently got a place far from her home and has to put up with the higher monthly fees.

The 26-year-old bank officer, who gave birth two weeks ago, says: "I had to start my search early because this is the Year of the Dragon.

"Last year, there wasn't much demand yet. But when I paid my deposit this year, most of the places had been snapped up."

First-time mum, Madam J. Quek, 33, an information technology executive, tells The New Paper on Sunday that she paid a non-refundable deposit of $200 to be on a waiting list for a slot for her son in an infant-care centre just across her home in Sengkang.

The waiting time? A year, she was told.

She had to extend her search to nearby neighbourhoods like Hougang before she got a place three months later.

These stories epitomise the difficulties faced by couples with young children living in newer estates such as Sengkang and Punggol who are looking for infant-care centres near their homes that are popular, affordable or convenient.

Said Mr Seet Lee Kiang, the general manager of Kinderland Educare Services, which runs the Kinderland childcare centres: "Newer estates such as Sengkang and workplace centres in the Central Business Districts are seeing an increase in enquiries by mothers who are in their first trimester wanting to reserve a place for their infants."

He said the average waiting time is six to eight months and his company gets several enquiries on infant-care services a week.

"Hence, mothers who require the infant-care service after their maternity leave should register for places as soon as they reach their second trimester," he said.

Madam Fatimah Mohamed Shariff, 34, the supervisor of Faith Educare Centre near Buangkok MRT station, said it requires parents to register at its infant-care centre once they are pregnant.

Madam Fatimah, who has been in the industry for 14 years, said: "We have limited infant-care space here. We get about three to four enquiries a day and we have to turn all of them down."

A check with more than 20 popular individual and chain infant-care service providers reveals that most of them are running at full capacity.

"No vacancy" and "we are full house" are the common answers they gave when asked whether they can take in a five-month old baby now.

Madam Ivy Teo, 57, the principal of Ci You Infant and Toddler Care Centre at Whampoa Road, recalls a pregnant mother who cried because there's no space for her soon-to-be-born baby.

She says: "She is almost going to give birth. She thought that infant-care places will be easily available, so she didn't plan.

"Some parents keep calling us even when we told them there's no vacancy.

"It is very sad. We have to turn them down because we cannot accommodate any more infants."

She said her centre has always been full, even when it can take up to 30 infants, with parents recommending her centre to others.

But if the parents don't mind the distance or inconvenience, there are vacancies at other centres. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) says in an e-mail reply: "Overall infant care enrolment has remained steady at about 60 per cent of overall capacity over the last three years."

As of January, there are 963 childcare centres in Singapore. Of these, 262 offer infant-care services and have a total of 4,047 places for infants, according to MCYS.

The spokesman also says childcare centres are not required to provide infant-care services but may choose to do so if there is demand in the areas they serve.

Childcare providers are also ramping up plans to open more centres in the next few years, in line with the Government's announcement that it is setting up 200 more childcare centres in the next five years.

Kidz Meadow Childcare & Development Centre, which is run by voluntary welfare organisation Association of Muslim Professionals, hopes to cater to the long waiting list at its current centre with a capacity of 10 babies.

Its senior manager, Madam Norliza Amin, said: "We will be opening a new centre as an extension of our current centre in Buangkok Crescent in July offering infant- and childcare services with 20 infant-care and 51 childcare slots."

Meanwhile, My First Skool revealed at their 100th centre celebration last year that it plans to open another 50 centres by 2013. Its newest centre at Block 14A, Toa Payoh Lorong 7, opened its doors earlier this month.

Madam Celyn Sim, 34, a management executive, welcomes the Government's move to add more childcare centres.

She said: "If these centres can be under every block, that will be ideal. Sooner or later, especially in newer estates, there will be more young parents and the demand will increase even more."

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