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By Erda Khursyiah Basir & Muhammad Basir Roslan
Cases involving the negligence and abuse of infants and children placed in the care of childminders, childcare centres and care centres are reported frequently. There have also been unfortunate instances when the irresponsible and heartless behaviour of the carers resulted in the death of their young wards.
This second of a five-part series of articles takes a look at the registration process of childcare centres and care centres which is said to be complicated, as well as the task of caring for special children.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – The story of a 13-year-old special child named Bella that went viral on social media early this year is probably still fresh in the minds of the people.
The teenager with Down Syndrome was allegedly physically abused by her caregivers at a welfare home known as Rumah Bonda.
After the matter surfaced, the Rumah Bonda founder was charged at the Sessions Court here on Aug 20 with child neglect. The Federal Territory Department of Social Welfare (JKM) also sealed Rumah Bonda’s premises as it was not registered with the department.
IS THE REGISTRATION PROCESS TEDIOUS?
Why are many childcare centres and care centres still not registered with JKM? Usually, a childcare centre or care centre’s registration status only comes into the open when a case of abuse or death is reported at its premises and upon full investigation by the relevant authorities.
It is compulsory for all care centres to be registered with JKM under Section Four of the Care Centres Act 1993 (Act 506). Operators of unregistered childcare centres and care centres can be slapped with a compound, have their premises sealed or be prosecuted in court, with the penalty being a maximum fine of RM10,000 or two years imprisonment or both.
According to Malaysian Association of Social Workers vice president Amy Bala, the “complicated, troublesome and lengthy” process of registering a childcare centre or care centre is often the main excuse given by the operators for not registering their facilities.
To register a childcare centre or care centre with JKM, the operator has to submit various documents including their list of staff who must have adequate qualifications and experience. They must also have attended appropriate courses on child development, understanding the psychology of adolescents, and managing and administering care centres, Amy told Bernama.
She said before approval for registration is granted, the operator also has to get the green light from other agencies such as the Fire and Rescue Department to prove that their premises are equipped with the necessary safety features like exit doors (apart from the main door at the entrance), closed-circuit television cameras and fire extinguishers.
“The ventilation in the premises must also be in good condition and there must also be an adequate number of windows.
“The operator should also get the permission of the neighbours before starting their centre. This is because the presence of a large number of children may cause disturbance in the environment,” said Amy, adding that an application for registration, complete with all the documents needed, will be approved by JKM within a period of three weeks.
Infants and children placed at a childcare centre or care centre need a safe environment and be protected physically and mentally, especially if their parents are at work. Their parents too place their full trust in the care providers to take good care of their children.
Amy feels it is not proper to use the “complicating and troublesome” registration process as an excuse not to register a childcare centre.
“What is the intention of a person who opens a childcare centre or care centre without making an effort to fulfil all the procedures set by JKM right from the beginning?” she asked.
Commenting on children subjected to abuse at childcare centres, Amy, who has been a child activist for over 30 years, said one of the reasons why such cases occur is the lack of funds to hire sufficient staff (childcare providers, carers and social workers) to take care of the children in accordance with the set ratio at any one time.
“There are staff who are forced to work overtime, sometimes more than 10 hours a day which leave them exhausted.
“When under stress, the childminder will begin to vent their anger on the children in their care and this is when the beatings and caning will take place, to the extent of abusing the kids,” she added.
Amy also said there are some childcare centres that, in their zeal to focus on academic and religious programmes, neglect the children’s natural inclination to play, socialise and explore new things.
“This is what will happen if childcare centres or care centres don’t follow the childcare and education modules prepared by JKM,” she said.
Meanwhile, commenting on caring for children with special abilities, Associate Prof Dr Hasnah Toran, who is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said normal and special children have to be cared for in different ways.
Urging all the parties involved, especially JKM, to be more sensitive to this matter, she said children with autism or Down Syndrome or a physical disability must be managed by a well-trained childminder.
Said Hasnah, who is an expert in the field of special education and early intervention and chairperson of an autism support organisation called Raudhah Autisme: “Childminders at childcare centres and care centres are usually required to attend JKM’s PERMATA Early Childhood Care and Education course (KAP). However, it is not compulsory for the staff of care centres for special children to attend this course.
“This directly gives rise to the occurrence of cases of abuse and mistreatment at such centres because their carers don’t have the skills or knowledge to look after them.
“In addition, individuals handling special children need to have a high degree of patience,” she said, adding that courses such as KAP and those with content tailored for handling special children should be made compulsory for all staff of care centres for special children.
Hasnah also said that applying for a licence to operate a care centre for special children is a tedious process, based on the experiences of her close friends, adding that the established guidelines have not been reviewed in accordance with the current situation.
She also opined that as part of the implementation of inclusive education, special children with mild disabilities should be encouraged to attend normal childcare centres or kindergartens with other children. However, she added, the procedures and guidelines for the implementation of inclusive education have to be clarified first.
EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION CENTRE
Hasnah also felt that the government’s efforts in providing early intervention programmes or early childhood special education for special children still fell short, adding that currently there are only two centres in Sentul and Putrajaya – operated by Pusat Genius Kurnia – offering such services.
Pusat Genius Kurnia provides early intervention programmes for children with autism.
She said the government should consider collaborating with the private sector in this area with the former providing the education or course modules and the latter providing the necessary facilities and infrastructure.
“Special children who don’t receive early intervention will have problems when they start schooling at age seven. The Ministry of Education will face the same issue (every year) for failing to address it at the grassroots level,” she said.
Hasnah also praised the Selangor government for its initiative to set up the Special Children’s Early Education Support Centre, as well as the Sarawak government for its One-Stop Early Intervention Centre, and added that enforcement agencies should monitor the operations of childcare centres and care centres regularly to prevent any untoward incident.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
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