How community childminding networks are breaking poverty cycles in Singapore

By Si Ying Thian

The Singapore government has been partnering with non-profit Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT) on a home-based childminding pilot to support low-income families, which has expanded from nine rental blocks to islandwide within a year of partnership.

From 9 rental blocks to islandwide, a home-based childminding pilot led by the non-profit has helped to fill the gap for alternative caregiving options for lower-income families working irregular hours. Image: DOT.

A single father who works as a delivery driver on Saturdays hopes that his young son does not spend his weekends in the van with him, playing on his phone for hours on end, recounts Kaylee Kua, the newly appointed Executive Director at the non-profit Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT).

Kaylee Kua, the newly appointed Executive Director with DOT, shares how its partnership with Singapore's social service ministry has helped expand the reach of its community-based childminding pilot. Image: DOT.

For other parents in low-wage jobs who work longer and atypical hours, it is challenging for them to pick up their kids from traditional childcare centres which typically run from 7am to 7pm on weekdays.  


This group risks getting “fined” for picking up their kids late from the centres.  


This was why DOT began a home-based childminding pilot in 2018 to help low-income families find care for their children while working irregular hours.  


We speak to Kua to understand how the programme taps into the power of community to tackle poverty, and how it is expanding DOT's community-based childminding pilot by partnering with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Singapore’s social service ministry.  

Tapping into community participation to fight poverty 


What sets this programme apart from traditional childcare centres is that it taps on community networks, such as other mothers, for peer-to-peer childminding support that is both affordable and flexible.   


“Childminder and client can negotiate the compensation according to what works for them: It doesn’t always have to be money,” previously reported The Pride, a digital publication by the Singapore Kindness Movement, when the programme was first launched by DOT in 2018.  


As a non-profit that facilitates livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women, DOT took on the role to recruit, train, and match these childminders. 


DOT later partnered with MSF in July 2022 to expand the programme’s reach.  


Since then, the programme has expanded from nine rental blocks in Bedok and Punggol to its current islandwide reach, growing from two to 20 family-childminder matches, of which 14 pairs are currently active as of January 2024. 


The single father mentioned earlier said to DOT he found the programme helpful as it allowed his son to have more opportunities to engage in activities with the childminder, thereby enhancing the child’s overall development. 


The main beneficiaries of the programme include dual-income parents, single parents, and those employed in shift work.  


The latest Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Force report 2023 found that caregiving needs remains one of the main reasons for unemployment, particularly when parents had to care for children aged 12 and below.  


DOT has been seeing a growing demand for its childminding services on weekday evenings and weekends, and plans to increase the pool of available childminders. The current figures stand at 190 childminders catering to 99 families who have reached out for additional childcare support. 

Government-NGO partnership 


Partnering with MSF has enabled DOT to expand its outreach especially among single and unwed parents who require alternative caregiving options beyond childcare centres. 


With MSF’s funding, DOT was also able to make its childminding services more affordable for low-income families, charged at a subsidised rate of S$5 per hour.  


Both organisations are also working together on a framework to ensure child safety, through childminder training, home safety checks, background checks and unannounced home visits during childminding sessions.  


They will tap on the childminders as additional community support to safeguard the well-being of children in the community. 


A KidSTART practitioner shared with DOT that the programme had improved a child’s well-being and school attendance, said Kua. 

Singapore has launched a national plan underlining different support rendered to families at different stages of life. Image: MSF.

“By accompanying the child and his grandmother to school on a regular basis, the childminder helped to build confidence in the grandmother, and increased the child's attendance in school. 


“Community sighting of the child increased with this programme as the childminder kept a lookout for the child’s well-being. 


“With increased attendance in school, there are improvements observed in the child’s health and development as he has access to nutritious meals in schools and increased stimulation and learning in school,” Kua explains.  


KidSTART is a national programme that matches trained professionals to a low-income family to render support in areas like health, nutrition, meeting early childhood milestones and navigating childcare subsidies. 


According to the “A Singapore Made For Families 2025,” a national plan launched to support families at different stages of life, MSF has announced other initiatives to support the holistic needs of lower-income families. 


These include more affordable and flexible childcare services, regular school attendance, home ownership, and social and financial assistance. 

More partnerships needed to sustain communal caregiving 


Kua shares that DOT is now aiming to work with other government agencies in the early childhood sector to implement similarly formalised services to benefit parents and caregivers alike. 


Such programmes can provide alternative income streams to stay-at-home parents and retirees, build stronger community ties, and strengthen the overall social fabric of the nation, she adds.


“With a formalised framework, low-income families would also be able to tap into childcare subsidies that can be extended to such services, beyond just institutionalised childcare centres,” she says.  


The potential of community childminding networks can also be extended to caring for the elderly, Kua says. 


“DOT is still in the early stages of understanding the needs on the ground, the challenges and working out mitigation plans. We are keen to share our learnings to accelerate the formalisation of home-based childminding services, like that of formal home-based elder care services, while maintaining a community-led aspect to the initiative.”