Thursday, 31 August 2023 – News reports this week of preschool educators rough handling young children have caused deep shock and anger. The early childhood years are especially critical in building the foundations of lifelong learning and well-being. Violence against children undermines this and can never be tolerated under any circumstances. Younger children are even more vulnerable where abuse is concerned, as they are less able to identify or articulate what has happened.
Impact of abuse on children
While the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), the police and judicial authorities continue their ongoing processes, Singapore Children’s Society asserts that it is critical to address the psychological impact on all the children affected. This includes the children who were not subjected to direct harm by the errant educators but bore witness to the maltreatment of other children in the same classroom.
Exposure to acts of violence in a climate of fear diminishes a child’s sense of safety. Therefore, deploying post-crisis support to all the children involved is imperative. Parents, educators and caregivers should consider the following: creating safe spaces for children to process what they observed, exploring if there are other issues that they are worried about, letting them know that certain treatments were wrong and how the school will protect them, practising coping strategies and talking about support options.
These are actionable steps that can be taken to restore their sense of safety. It is also vital that preschools empower children to develop protective behaviours, such as seeking help, so that they can always feel safe and in all settings.
Schools as safe spaces
All children have the right to learn and thrive in a safe environment. We need to build a culture of respect for young children and recognise that they are unique and valuable individuals. ECDA’s Code of Practice contains provisions for appropriate child and infant guidance and behaviour management, as well as reporting procedures for suspected child abuse cases. However, the incidents have brought to light a series of lapses in the child safety protocols on the ground.
It is vital that every preschool operator has a comprehensive and robust child safe policy. This includes but is not limited to: a code of conduct; risk assessment and management tools; an incident reporting and whistle-blower policy; a complaint handling and investigation process, among others.
For a child safe policy to be meaningfully operationalised, every member of staff must be familiar and competent with these standards and tools. The school environment should also be one where safety and wellbeing is considered at every juncture. This can be done through briefings on standard operating procedures, continuing professional development training and capacity-building on child safeguarding. These sessions must be conducted at regular intervals and be made mandatory. There is also a need to review whistleblowing policies such that educators feel empowered to raise concerns about misdemeanours that they encounter at the centre level directly to ECDA’s safeguarding team.
Essential role of early childhood care and education practitioners in our society
We understand and appreciate the vital role that early childhood educators play in Singapore. They support children through the formative years in learning, socialisation and other forms of development, and prepare them for the rigours of formal education. Their provision of care also enables parents to continue to be part of the workforce.
This sector is staffed and supported by individuals with caring and compassionate hearts. The magnitude and demands of the role of preschool educators are substantial, and these are exacerbated by the issues of manpower crunch, extended hours, burnout and parental pressures. While these stressors can never be an excuse for the use of violence, the recent spate of incidents is a stark reminder to take stock and ensure that adequate support, attention and resourcing are provided to attend to these educators’ needs.
There are concrete improvements to child safeguarding that can be made in the preschool sector. For there to be any meaningful change, our responses or measures taken must not be piecemeal nor reactionary. Only then can preschools develop a culture of safe people, safe programmes and safe spaces.
About Singapore Children’s Society
Singapore Children’s Society protects and nurtures children and youth of all races and religions. In 2022, the Society reached out to 21,559 children, youth and families in need. Established in 1952, its services have evolved to meet the changing needs of children. Today, Children’s Society operates more than 10 service centres islandwide, offering services in the four categories of: Vulnerable Children and Youth, Children and Youth Services, Family Services, and Research and Advocacy.
Parents of the affected children may reach out to Singapore Children’s Society (firstname.lastname@example.org) if psychological support is needed.