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Nursery owners need to evaluate staff, conduct mental health assessments to ensure safe environment for children: Expert

PETALING JAYA: Each day from 2018 to June 2023, more than one child became a victim of abuse in childcare centres in the country, said the Bukit Aman Women and Children Sexual Investigation Division, which recorded 3,233 such cases involving 3,666 children.

Malaysia Association of Registered Early Child Care and Development president Anisa Ahmad told theSun: “The actual number of child abuse or neglect cases involving nurseries and babysitters might be higher as many cases go unreported.”

She said of the cases recorded by police thus far, 3,264 suspects were identified and 964 of them were nannies, nursery nannies and/or their husbands, guardians, and housekeepers.

Last week, a three-month-old baby died, reportedly due to choking on milk on the first day he was sent to a childcare centre in Setia Alam.

In January, police arrested two nannies at a childcare centre in Semenyih, Hulu Langat for abusing and neglecting an 11-month-old autistic baby while under their care, causing the infant to suffer soft tissue injuries.

Anisa said all childcare centre owners need to start evaluating their minders and early educators, as well as conduct regular mental health assessments on them.

“This process will help ensure that those entrusted with childcare have the necessary qualifications, training and mental capacity to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children.

“Conducting regular mental health checks serves to emphasise the importance of the emotional and psychological well-being of childcare staff.

“It will also help identify issues that may impact their ability to care for children.”

Anisa said from her observation, most cases of child abuse and neglect involved babysitters in unregistered childcare centres.

“The government should monitor such illegal centres as they also fail to follow the standards that are required by the Social Welfare Department.”

She said the government should also offer a strong support system to the registered ones, and provide more childcare centres as there are fewer than 4,000 of them in the country, which indicates a significant shortage.

“Parents need to take responsibility to ensure they do not send their children to unregistered childcare centres just because the fees are lower.

“Section 33 of the Child Act 2001 mandates an obligation on parents to ensure their children are placed in a safe environment,” Anisa said.

Taska Al Husna owner Haliza Karim said child abuse and neglect happen in childcare centres when the number of children exceeds capacity, and fails to comply with the required ratio of caregivers to children that has been mandated.

“Based on the department’s minimum standard for childcare centres, the number of caregivers to children is adequate only when there is a ratio of one caregiver to three children under one year old.

“For children aged between one and three, a ratio of 1:5 is mandated while for those between three and four, the ratio is 1:10.”

Haliza said failing to maintain appropriate caregiver-to-child ratios can compromise the safety and well-being of children at such facilities, and increase the risk of accidents, injuries, and incidents of neglect or abuse.

With her 20 years of experience in running a nursery, Haliza said every employer should ensure that childminders possess skills in early childhood education that cover aspects such as nurturing and teaching.

“However, the inability to provide suitable salaries due to low daycare fees and the difficulty in recruiting them are reasons unqualified staff are often employed.”