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Sweetlands chain probed over deductions from children's accounts

SINGAPORE — The police are investigating Sweetlands Childcare after a recent audit found that the directors of the childcare chain, who are husband and wife, had made unauthorised withdrawals from the Child Development Accounts (CDAs) of several children as well as wrongful claims for childcare subsidies from the Government.

A Sweetlands Childcare centre in Woodlands. Photo: Low Wei Xin

A Sweetlands Childcare centre in Woodlands. Photo: Low Wei Xin

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SINGAPORE — The police are investigating Sweetlands Childcare after a recent audit found that the directors of the childcare chain, who are husband and wife, had made unauthorised withdrawals from the Child Development Accounts (CDAs) of several children as well as wrongful claims for childcare subsidies from the Government.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) today (July 29) also served a notice of intention to Madam Chan Chew Shia and her husband, Mr Ho Boon Hong, to revoke their statuses as Approved Persons (APs) of the company.

APs are authorised persons of approved institutions registered with the MSF who are allowed to make deductions from CDAs for the payment of childcare and related fees. The amount of money deposited by parents in CDAs is matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government, up to a cap ranging between S$6,000 and S$18,000.

This is the first time that the MSF is seeking to revoke the AP statuses of people running childcare centres.

Sweetlands Childcare runs 11 centres in the northern, north-eastern and western parts of Singapore, and has about 780 children under its care. The company’s website said it has been in operation since 1987.

In a statement, the MSF said it takes a serious view of the breaches and that the matter has been referred to the Singapore Police Force’s Commercial Affairs Department.

The police has confirmed that investigations are ongoing.

An MSF spokesperson said the ministry is unable to reveal how much the unauthorised withdrawals amounted to, and how many children were involved, as the matter is under investigation.

Unless Mdm Chan and Mr Ho provide “satisfactory reasons” that their AP statuses should not be revoked within two weeks, the MSF said it would proceed to revoke them.

The ministry will also appoint a temporary AP to manage the CDA deductions and oversee the childcare subsidies until a suitable MSF-approved replacement is found.

All Sweetlands’ centres will continue to operate, “as there are no issues in terms of the safety or well-being of the children”, the ministry said.

When TODAY visited the Woodlands office today, staff members said they were aware of the matter, but declined to comment any further.

The MSF said it would monitor CDA deductions and childcare subsidy claims made by Sweetlands’ centres closely during the notice period so as to ensure that they are properly made.

As part of the supervision and monitoring of childcare centres, officers from the Early Childhood Development Agency will conduct “more regular visits” to Sweetlands’ centres to ensure that quality and care standards are maintained, said the MSF.

The ministry has also notified parents whose children are enrolled in Sweetlands’ centres to explain the situation and will provide necessary support. Parents are also advised to check their monthly CDA bank statements to ensure that the deductions are in order.

The MSF’s audits on other approved institutions have not unveiled similar wrongdoings. “We have also not received any feedback of unauthorised CDA withdrawals from parents in other centres,  the ministry added.

If convicted of breaching regulations under the Child Development Co-Savings Act, Mdm Chan and Mr Ho may each face a fine not exceeding S$20,000. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARISSA YEO

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