House Approves Early Childhood Act


The House of Representatives has passed the Early Childhood Act, to provide a comprehensive framework for all aspects of early childhood development, including regulations, policies and standards to govern early childhood institutions.
Piloting the Bill in the House yesterday (January 11), Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, Maxine Henry-Wilson described the legislation as another aspect of the early childhood regulatory landscape.
The passage of this Bill follows the Early Childhood Commission Act, which was passed in March 2003, establishing the Early Childhood Commission. The Commission has oversight responsibility for early childhood development with specific functions.
Addressing concerns about the “omission” of early childhood in the recent report of the Education Task Force, Mrs. Henry-Wilson pointed out that the report did not attempt to cover Early Childhood and that there was already in existence a comprehensive and recently done early childhood policy and plan, which informed the programmes and activities which were now being undertaken in terms of the development of the early childhood sector.
She said the reason for the Bill was that even while the Ministry and its partners pursued these initiatives, they were being done against the background of the absence of a legal and regulatory framework to govern institutions with implications for the quality of service delivery.
“We need to move towards greater co-ordination between the various delivery agents and it is in that context therefore that we are seeking to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework to govern the operations of the sector,” the Minister explained.
The Early Childhood Act sets out the prescribed eligibility criteria for persons submitting applications for registration of an institution, and requires persons operating such institutions to have a high level of integrity, making special references to the Dangerous Drugs, the Offences Against the Person and the Child Care and Protection Acts.
Registered institutions will be issued with a certificate, which must be conspicuously displayed and is valid for a period of five years. Provisions are also included for those institutions, which do not immediately meet the criteria for registration.
These institutions will be issued with a permit to operate based on the recommendations of the prescribed authority. All registered institutions will be gazetted and the Act prescribes a maximum penalty of $200,000 for persons who operate unregistered institutions or who are not holders of a valid permit to operate.
Further, the Act outlaws corporal punishment in early childhood institutions. “I would like to diffuse any notion that we are trying to sanction teachers or we are trying to use laws to disempower teachers. There are modern ways in which we discover more and more what works and what does not work and disciplining a child by force or corporal punishment is not the only way. You can have very effective correction by other methods,” Mrs. Henry-Wilson said.
“Nowhere is there any intention of locking up any teacher. What we say however, is that there is due process and there are methods that are helpful and others that are destructive and there is a thing called child abuse,” she added.
The Bill addresses qualifications of operators and other employees and empowers the Commission to prescribe qualification requirements. The Commission is required to give written notice for cancellation of a permit where the operator is in breach and stipulates conditions for refusal of registration. Institutions are, under the Act, required to keep appropriate records in respect of its operations.
There are also provisions for inspections by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, and appeals where the institution is aggrieved by any decision of the Commission. Persons guilty of not co-operating with any investigations being carried out by the Commission regarding suspension and or cancellation of registration or any other breach of the Act is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000.
Section 26 of the Act requires that application for registration be submitted within three months of the commencement of the Act and institutions will be allowed to operate pending the determination of their application.
Out-going Opposition Leader, Edward Seaga welcomed the introduction of the legislation, noting that it gave greater substance to the Early Childhood Commission Act. “It will enable the work to be done in this area to proceed much more effectively,” he said.

JIS Social