After 42 years of providing “latchkey children” with a safe place to be while their parents worked, we will be closing the chapter on our student care services when Student Care @ Children’s Society (SCC) in Bukit Merah View shutters its doors on 31 December 2021.

Alternative forms of support and assistance, as well as care options, have become available in the area in the decades since the centre first opened its doors, says Mr Fang Xin Wei, Deputy Director, Student Care @ Children’s Society. SCC will continue to ensure that assistance is extended to low-income families in the area who still need it.

The seeds for Student Care @ Children’s Society were sown in the late 1970s when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew expressed concern about “latchkey children” – children who typically wore their house keys around their necks so they could let themselves into their homes after school. These children often returned to empty houses, and fended for themselves until their parents returned from work.

A 1978 survey conducted by Children’s Society in the Bukit Merah area found that a third of the 150 households surveyed had latchkey children. In response, three four-room flats on Henderson Road were acquired and turned into a first-of-its-kind centre for latchkey children. It was opened by then-Minister without Portfolio and Member of Parliament for Bukit Merah, Mr Lim Chee Onn, in 1979.

The centre provided a lifeline for parents who previously had no alternative caregiving arrangements.

Safe haven: The first Latchkey Child Development Centre, known as Children Centre, occupied three four-room HDB flats in Block 94 Henderson Road. It was officially opened on 2 April 1979

Ms Koh Wah Khoon, a senior social worker with Children’s Society and part of the team who managed the Latchkey Child Development Centre in its early days, recalls the case of a single father who was raising a daughter on his own.

He would cook some food in the morning, leave it on the floor, and lock his daughter in the house before leaving for work. He was so grateful for not having to do that anymore.

“Given his circumstances, that was the best the father could provide, but he felt guilty. I remember his exact words: ‘It’s as if I treated my daughter like a dog.”

A report was also produced by Children’s Society in 1981 on the characteristics and problems of latchkey children. It was made available to other Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and government bodies, and served as a blueprint for other VWOs to start their respective before-and-after-school care services to serve the community.

The Student Care service model has evolved through the decades, with greater emphasis on supporting children from disadvantaged families with school-based student care. This is now available in almost all primary schools. The Ministry of Education is also expanding the After School Engagement programmes for both primary and secondary school students. Within Bukit Merah, many community agencies also provide similar services through their student care centres.

This allows Children’s Society to shift its focus to other needed programmes, explains Mr Fang.

“We will continue to work with community agencies in the Bukit Merah area to explore how we can continue to support the children and young persons living in this area in other ways. For the current students of SCC who still require this service, we will work with other student care centres in the vicinity to help,” he adds.

On behalf of all past and present beneficiaries, thank you to the staff and volunteers who have kept the centre going for over four decades, and created fond memories to last a lifetime.

Click here to read the story in Chinese.