BY CHIOMA OBINNA
When you think of child care, your mind automatically goes to women irrespective of their status in the society. According to the UNICEF, pre-school age corresponds to a critical period of rapid physical, cognitive and psychosocial development of the child.
The quality and intensity of care, nutrition and stimulation a child receives during this period determines to a large extent the level of physical and cognitive development a child can attain. Today, appreciable progress has been made in early childhood care; unfortunately, in Nigeria caregivers of these centres are generally unqualified. About 85 per cent do not possess basic qualifications and more than half have no formal education.
Investigations have shown that another major issue in Nigeria’s early childhood care and development is the poor state of the infrastructure, equipment, facilities and learning resources. Essential learning resources are lacking in most facilities while the national curriculum is not yet widely operational.
Mrs. Itoro Ugorji, an Early Years professional believes that early childhood care centres remains low in Nigeria. The Founder of Baby Lounge, an independent facility, of Kidstone, which focuses on designing, set up and management of crèches said childcare is an exciting and fulfilling prospect for anyone with a passion and natural energy for children.
Itoro spoke to Chioma Obinna on the need for standardised childcare centres.
What motivated your interest into child care?
I had always have interest in child care. In Nigeria today, the number of full-time housewives in urban areas is in on the decline. Many women are working at paid jobs or running their own small businesses. As a result of this trend, there is a growing opportunity for convenience services like crèche and day-care centre businesses. Many of the centres you find in the country today cannot be classified as good centres. We talk about work and life balancing, the balance of life comes from the family and the other part should come from the employer. Some companies have spent a lot on less benefiting projects, but setting up crèches won’t cost much to set it up and it needs to be run by proven professionals.
This is why our focus was initially on the cooperate organisations. And what we are looking forward to achieve is to provide support for working moms of young children, infant and toddles. Apart from the Baby Lounge, we build, design, set up and manage child care centres for corporate organisations all in effort to ensure that children of working mothers do not suffer and denied access to good nutrition and education among others. We walk with children in early years within age 0 to 5 years, so its care and education.
How would you describe Baby Lounge and what you do here?
The Baby Lounge is an independent facility, of a company called Kidstone. It is not a school in strict sense of it, but a support for parent.
We have managed to calve a niche for ourselves. We go to companies and convinced them why they should have a crèche for their female employees and their babies within the work place. We also educate people on how to run the centre. Day care centres are meant for professionals not just anybody because it has to do with the well being of a child including early development and education. We could also go ahead and manage it for you, which mean that, we would bring in our expertise, a team of professionals and manage the day to day running, of the facility.
But we realised in the process that most companies have space challenges, within their office, so we decided to set up Baby Lounge. At the Baby lounge, companies are allowed to buy block of spaces, and for such subscriptions, we have group discounts.
Again, another challenge is location. It is very critical, which is about comfortability, and that was why we located where we have the target markets. Many Lagosians work in the Island.
How would you assess Day care Centres in Nigeria?
With few that I have visited, Day care should not be business venture because we are having the life of these children entrusted to us, so it is a sensitive thing and it should be treated as such. The time has changed, nowadays mothers are contending with so much, and it will be unfair to describe it as a failure on the part of mothers. That is why we believe that Day care is not all about keeping a child till the mom comes back to pick him or her. Besides learning, care is also critical. For the children in the Baby Lounge, we track their developments periodically, we look at how they develop in different areas, physical, and emotional cognitive, certain things and skills a child suppose to have achieved in those areas, so we track them and if a child is falling short we are able to identified that and communicate it to their moms, that does not mean that anything is wrong is just an indication that we should look out and help that child in that area.
At the end of each day, we give parent a report, and that is a snap shot of the child daily activities, like time the child was brought in, what and quantity of her meal, sleeping hour, diaper changing among others.
For the toddles we teach them how to be responsible, social skills, they know how to interact and appropriate behaviours. We also have reading programme and the objective is to rekindle reading culture among young children.
In this time where we have a lot of parent, running serious schedules and have limited time to spend with children and these children grow up very fast, we are here to provide support for every mother. It is much more than academic, we are teaching the children values, how to talk to each other.
How would an ideal crèche or Day care look like?
The environment alone must be stimulating enough for a child to be comfortable and learn. It has to be clean, it has to be well laid and well ventilated. Another thing is content, what they children are taught and the qualities of the personnel in the centre.
We invested in surveillance, CCTV so that we can monitor the activities and interaction of children and care givers. Secondly, we located ourselves in a building that is largely secured. In which access is very limited.
What should be government role in monitoring Day care centres?
The government needs to step up their games in terms of putting in place monitoring mechanisms so that they have a data base of every Day-care and this has to be updated regularly. There should be proper registration and inspectors should come out periodically to check if standards are in place. Periodically, we have inspectors to check our facilities.
How should children be fed in a day care?
We recommend that children should not take juice; we encourage water, nutritious food. We say no to chololates and give them our own recommendation. We also have a food time table that parents can subscribe to and must abide with.
What will you say is the uniqueness of this centre?
Our service is excellent. You cannot find service like this anywhere in this country. You have to experience it. We work with three organisations. We work with Total, MTN and Access Bank. We are hoping to drive this initiative because employees are the lifeline of any company and employees’ welfare is tied to the profitability of any company. So any forward looking organisation should come now. They said generally that women are more loyal employees, so we need to think of how best to help them and better ways of doing it is by creating a welfare package that will help them to be top performing employees and also successful at raising the children and supportive as wife.
The initiative ensures that while women are at work, they know that their children are close by, safe and comfortable.
Why do we need professionals to run Day care Centres?
It is simple, to prevent mothers running in and out of the offices. The only people allowed to check their children are nursing mothers and in case of emergency we allow the mothers in, anything outside that they have to wait till pick up time.
What is your advice for mothers?
We should let children be children so that they can be the best they can be. For parents, we need to buckle up, and ensure that children turn up right. When they do they will be source of pride to us and nation.