SINGAPORE — For single mother Felicia Lim, it is hard enough raising her nine-year old son on her own.
Ms Lim, 26, is in between jobs and currently pursuing a part-time diploma. This requires her to attend classes at night, when most childcare centres have closed for the day.
She does not receive regular caregiving help from her parents.
Fortunately for Ms Lim, her son attends a night childcare service, which allows her to focus more on her studies.
But while she believes that such services are helpful, she hopes that more can be done to support working parents.
“For a lot of parents who are in a sandwich situation, it’s very difficult to navigate,” said Ms Lim.
For instance, she said that she has faced workplace discrimination for taking time off to care for her child.
Helping people balance work and family commitments was identified as one of seven key policy shifts that Singapore will undergo, following a 16-month long feedback exercise called Forward Singapore.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong unveiled a report on the exercise on Friday (Oct 27), describing it as a road map for Singapore’s future.
The report said that among the moves being considered is to further increase paid parental leave, while centre-based infant care places and childminding service options will be expanded.
“While these services exist today, they can be costly for some parents and are not widely available. We will explore how childminding services can become an alternative option to support the infant caregiving needs of parents,” the report said.
Calls to expand childcare options in Singapore – and to allow for more flexible childminding alternatives – are not new.
Parents previously told TODAY about the long preschool waitlists they faced and the difficulties of securing childcare services near their homes.
Oftentimes, the operating hours of most childcare centres also do not cater to parents who work shifts or who do not receive caregiving help from their parents.
BALANCING CAREGIVING RESPONSIBILITIES WITH EMPLOYMENT
Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), a registered charity organisation in Singapore, is one such provider of home-based childminding programmes, whose clientele include dual-income and single parents.
DOT’s network of childminders would typically pick the children up at their childcare centres and care for them until their parents finished work.
“From a parent’s perspective, our childminding services offer peace of mind, knowing their children are in safe hands while they work. And they do not have to rush back to pick up their children on time to avoid the child care penalties,” said Ms Priscilla Tay, who manages DOT’s childminding programme.
Beyond organisations like DOT, other childminding services that cater to various needs have also emerged.
Aunty SG and KidiBliss offer on-demand childcare services for parents who might need urgent but not long-term help.
A spokesperson from KidiBliss said parents who engage its help include people with tight working schedules who may have run out of infant care or childcare leave, or corporations which require childminding services for their staff during a company event, for example.
Ms Amanda Ong, the founder of Aunty SG, said that the demand for flexible and on-demand childcare has increased. Aunty SG currently has more than 11,000 parents registered as users on its mobile application.
“A significant portion of our users consist of working parents who require childcare while they are working, or if their child is unwell and unable to attend infant care,” said Ms Ong.
“Some require reliable babysitting services for various reasons, including date nights, errands or work commitments.
“There are also parents who have children with special needs or are single parents, and these families usually require additional support.”
She added that the additional support could help parents feel less stressed, more rested, and have more time and energy to focus on their relationship and their own well-being.
Ms Federica Peloso, a parent of two, echoed the sentiment.
The 35-year-old client success lead told TODAY that she and her husband are the main caregivers for their four-year-old son and six-month-old daughter.
“We don’t have any parents or in-laws helping us out because we are expats. So we have no family, we’re alone here,” said Ms Peloso, who hails from Italy.
She decided to turn to the Aunty SG app for help after she had her first child. While her husband did not have any paternity leave then, she was able to enlist the help of nannies who could support her in caring for her child during her maternity leave.
Ms Peloso decided to do the same when she had her second child earlier this year, saying that having the option of such an ad hoc childminding service thus gave her a better peace of mind.
WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY APPROACH REQUIRED
Sociologists and early childhood experts told TODAY that the lack of alternative childminding options could have wider societal repercussions.
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore said that in the absence of alternative care services, continuing or returning to work could prove challenging for certain demographics, such as single mothers.
Dr Hu Shu, the head of the sociology programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), said: “Parents most in need often have the least control over their work schedules, limited informal social support, cannot afford to hire a migrant domestic worker, and may find formal childcare services unaffordable even with existing subsidies.
“Insufficient support for these parents can severely impact both their physical and mental well-being, as well as that of their children.
“Furthermore, this unequal access to work-family balance resources will widen social inequalities between low-income and middle- to upper-middle-income households.”
Ultimately, a whole-of-society approach is required to make it work, said experts from SUSS’ Early Childhood Education programme.
This means having institutional childcare services that complement home-care arrangements, coupled with employers adopting family-friendly practices.
Ms Lisa Zhuang, a 35-year-old parent of two, agrees.
“Ideally, I would want to become a stay-at-home mum for the first two years of their lives, but I do worry about securing a job in the future,” she said.
The human resource manager’s children are aged six and three years old, and currently attend a government-supported childcare centre.
She and her husband, who both work full-time, are their main caregivers. Her parents are still working, while her husband’s parents care also for their other grandchildren.
Asked if alternative childcare services would be helpful in plugging these gaps, Ms Zhuang said: “I wouldn’t say it is good, but more like we have no choice if we want to keep our jobs.”