PETALING JAYA: A one-stop centre should be set up to speed up the licensing and registration of all illegal childcare centres, say childcare providers.
Such a facility involving relevant government agencies including the Welfare Department, Fire and Rescue Department, Health Ministry and local authorities would cut down the application and approval process that could take months or even over a year, they say.
Association of Registered Childcare Providers president Anisa Ahmad said red tape in the paperwork process and difficulties in meeting local councils’ requirements were the main roadblocks to childcare centres obtaining an operating licence.
Each district had different requirements and childcare centres in some areas had to pay assessment at commercial rates, she said.
“To encourage the registration and licensing of childcare centres, we must have this one-stop centre where all the relevant agencies are under one roof.
“It will help centre owners with the applications because they will not need to run here and there.
“Besides that, the local councils must also standardise the requirements for each district so that they will be the same in every state.
“Childcare centres that want to get licensed often have problems with the local councils’ many requirements,” said Anisa.
Compounded by a lack of incentives to get childcare centres registered, many operators felt that it would be easier if they did not register, she said.
“But this is dangerous because the Welfare Department will not be able to monitor these unregistered centres, which might not even have certified and trained workers.”
She added that the government must also make it mandatory for home-based childminders to register with the Welfare Department.
This is because currently, the Child Care Centre Act 1984 only requires nurseries that accept four children or more, aged below four years, to register with and be certified by the department.
“That means those who are running a childminding business at home and taking care of fewer than three children do not fall under the department’s radar,” she noted.
Child rights activist and Suriana Welfare Society chairman James Nayagam said introducing a one-stop centre to legalise childcare centres would be the “only way out” of this situation, where over 1,000 illegal centres are running unregulated nationwide.
He said that in the past, such a system had been implemented, whereby a panel was set up to help register illegal childcare centres.
“When we had that, the application process was cut from over a year to just one month and we managed to help many centre owners with their applications.
“And of course these were centres that met the authorities’ requirements and had safeguards in place.
“This initiative has faded away over the years but it should be brought back and the panel can be led by NGOs,” said Nayagam, adding that he would be happy to help.
He also suggested providing incentives to encourage illegal centre owners to come forward and register themselves.
These included offering milk coupons, furniture discounts, staff training sessions, cooking and food preparation lessons among others, he added.
Nayagam warned of possible dangers if there was no oversight by the government.
Safeguards such as CCTVs and minimum standards like hygiene, fire prevention and building safety must be in place at these centres.
“Unlicensed premises might not have these in place and that’s where the danger lies.”
On June 11, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun revealed that 1,028 privately-run childcare centres remained unregistered after being given warnings.
This comes amid news reports of abuse cases happening at childcare centres, with a recent one being a 15-month-old toddler who was found dead in Seremban.
The Coroner’s Court is set to start an inquest into the child’s death on June 29.