National Association of Early Childhood Care and Education Malaysia president Datin Radziah Mohd Daud says that with more women joining the workforce, there is a great need for childcare services like daycare centres and babysitters. Currently, there are 46 per cent of women in the workforce and the Government aims to increase that to 55 per cent by 2015.
"However, we need caregivers who have proper knowledge of child development and who genuinely adore children. Most daycare centres adhere to a certain curriculum and adopt a holistic developmental approach.
"Babysitters may not have such knowledge, but at the very least, they must love the children and know about nutrition and behavioural management," stresses Radziah, adding that babysitters must also know basic first aid, and how to handle a choking incident.
A former nurse and midwife, the head of the non-profit organisation that acts in the interest of children from birth to eight years old, emphasises the importance of social and emotional development in a young child.
"Socialising is an important aspect of a child's growth that he or she can pick up from in a daycare environment," says Radziah, who has been involved in the early childcare industry for over three decades now. She runs the Ayu Manja Childcare Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
"I strongly feel that babysitters must also know activities that stimulate a child's development, besides loving them."
She lists out three factors of quality childcare - a conducive learning environment; developmentally appropriate curriculum; and a nurturing and trained caregiver.
"I am not against babysitters. But the early years of a child is a time to not just nurture them academically but also build character and instil good values."
She adds that technically, home-based childcare providers should register with the Social Welfare Department, under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, and attend a one-week basic childcare course.
Home-based operators come under one of four categories of childcare centres under the Child Care Centre (Amendment) Act 2006.
Under the Act, "childcare centre" means "any premises at which four or more children under the age of four years from more than one household are received to be looked after for reward".
It also states the four categories of childcare centres:
(a) Home-based - a centre which receives fewer than 10 children into the home of the person registered under the Act.
(b) Workplace-based - a centre at a workplace which receives 10 or more children.
(c) Community-based - a centre that receives 10 or more children in a particular area, and which receives aid from the federal government or a state government.
(d) Institution-based - a centre other than those listed under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), and which receives 10 or more children.
Child development expert Ruth Liew shares the pros and cons of enlisting a babysitter. The downside is that should she fall ill, there is usually no support system to take care of the children.
"However, there is often a low child-adult ratio with babysitters fostering bonding with the kids in a home-like environment. However, it is an isolated care (system) with no monitoring system and babysitters are usually not trained or licensed," says Liew, who used to write the column Childwise in Star2.
"Babies and toddlers need one-to-one care to thrive and bond with the care provider. In this case, home-based babysitters are preferred. Older children need activities and be involved in social groups, like the ones set up by daycare centres."
She adds that while children develop and grow healthy and happy under the loving care of a babysitter, they may get the same in a daycare centre but with quality and trained staff.
On the whole, Radziah feels that parents need to build a trusting relationship with the babysitter.
Says Liew: "In many cases, parents may have to get to know the babysitters before they can trust them and place their children under their supervision."