Industry Ratings and Quality Management Systems For Child Care?

This article is an expression of our personal view and certainly not a representation of every centre in this industry. This is referring to additional quality management systems; what’s over and above the regular licensing criteria and checks by the government. Similar to ISO 9000, etc.

First of all, I personally believe all industry standardization programmes and quality management systems have their inherent benefits. Otherwise, they would not be invented. For instance, they provide a platform aiming at proper governance over the quality of service which covers a large area such as (but not limited to) talent management (on-boarding, appraisals, goal settings etc), administration, finance, and operations. It’s intention is to give some kind of assurance or measurement to the consumers with regards to the standards and quality of service of the vendor. Like it or not, logically, it alludes consumers to think that so long as a child care centre has such certification, it means the centre should be “there”. But does it work?

Unfortunately, unlike a factory, engineering company, construction or restaurant, or even mainstream primary school, child care is different. If it were a factory that can be fully automated to comply with every highest standard you can think of, imagine, it will be a scholar’s ideal system where at a press of a button (or nowadays, click), everything will comply and produce what is expected. Then the critical success factor certainly is the “system”. But some will argue that due to whatever variance they have, the “system” isn’t the only success factor. And that is true. A checklist is not going to ensure that a waiter will not say the wrong thing or topple a glass, albeit unintentional.  So let’s call the success factors in such a situation as “system +”. And as the number of scenarios widen, the success factors will look like “system ++”, or “system +++”, and so on. Get the idea?

Now, imagine we place that concept into a child care centre; an ecosystem where a huge success factor lies in the emotional well being of the care-giver, then it may look like “system ++++++++++++++…”

All of us who have been there and done that would know that every ounce of energy, emotional capacity and time we have or don’t have, makes a difference in delivering quality care that involves the mind, heart and soul of a child. We are not talking about walking a dog, cooking a  dish or machining a part. We are talking about growing a tender young human being with a soul, who registers and remembers more than what we are often conscious of.

As parents ourselves (and teachers too), we know that no matter how well or unwell we are, we “suck it up” and put on a smile and still deliver. But we all know deep down, that it would have been different if we were feeling better. As the saying goes “you cannot impart what you do not possess”. Sooner or later, too many of such acts will drain a person to a burnt out state.

Various “quality management systems” that are supposedly designed to raise the standards of childcare services, in reality, today, drains the energy, emotion and time out of the teachers. So much so that it is not uncommon to hear many teachers working in such centres complain and confess that they end up racing through the essentials just to juggle with the additional administrative work these well-intended systems introduce. Some confess that they end up spending more time “dressing up” reports to ensure they get the ratings needed. And the biggest irony is that the one they usually sacrifice is…. the child!

Some may ask: “Why not take the good parts of such programmes seriously and white-wash the not-s0-good parts and thus still be recognised with the certification?”

The short answer to that is yes you technically can (but we do not believe in that), if you really just want the certification. And sad to say, that’s what exactly many centres are doing today which explains the ironies resulting from it. But if we are really after the real benefits the certification is intended to produce, and not the certification itself, then really, we do not need the programme at all since these guidelines and “best practices” are taken from commonly taught management sciences and practices in many other industries. With today’s advancement and access to knowledge, there is no longer any special novelty or rocket science about what such systems are trying to implement. The only difference is that by doing so, you will sacrifice the bulk of the administration and time required to prove yourself to the regulator; rather than the child.

“Hire a full-time administrator. That should solve it!” The problem with this idea is that the bulk of input, work and monitoring required, comes from the teachers. So unless each teacher has an administrative assistant, this idea would have limited effectiveness. And to keep things affordable, most centres will not be able to do that.

“Get the assistant teachers to do it!” To answer this question, we need to remember the background of a great majority of assistant teachers. They are either semi-retirees who want less stress, people who do not wish to struggle with administrative work and just want a place to enjoy helping children, or people who did not qualify as teachers. They would not be the best fit for this role. Likely, the teachers may end up doing it themselves so as to keep work relations amiable =).

At His Little Kingdom, candidly, we were able to delay implementing such systems, at least for now, because thankfully, it hasn’t become mandatory yet :). But more importantly, unlike new child care chains or mega centres, we have a first-hand legacy and proven history to tell us if we know what we are doing. It is no longer based on theories, textbooks, other world’s success stories or marketing hype. We have our own legacy. We have past students who are now parents themselves. We have enough history to tell us what we’ve done right or wrong. In summary, we are able to ensure good quality service because we have a stronger edge in:

  • Our proven reliability in our heritage, values, methods and internal controls;
  • Our intentional low staff-children ratios; and
  • Our kind of staff whom we train, mentor and love from their youth.

So yes, for now, we’d trade such systems to protect our time and margin for our aspirations. And for the record, we are thankful that for the last 26 years, we have not encountered the kind of malpractice and incidents we see in the news; which ironically included centres who implemented such systems.

So yes, we’d trade anything to make time and margin for these aspirations because at His Little Kingdom, we love your child like our own and we care.

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