To help children with special needs from poor families, the government should simplify the rules around setting up care centres

To download the paper please click here

KUALA LUMPUR, 11 December 2014 – The government, currently through the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, should simplify and incentivise the establishment of affordable early intervention special needs centres that cater to poor families.

A new Policy Ideas paper released today by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) entitled “Setting Up of Special Needs Centres: A focus on early intervention centres for the underprivileged”, by Senior Researcher at IDEAS, Tamanna Patel, provides a case study of the experiences of establishing the IDEAS Autism Centre (IAC), a child care centre which provides full-day care services, education and therapy in order to prepare children with autism for mainstream school.

The research paper looks at the two main challenges of setting up and running such a centre: the registration process and the financial sustainability. The paper tells how the procedures of setting up a centre are too cumbersome and bureaucratic. Legislation and requirements do not focus enough on children with disabilities. As such, the government needs to create a more straightforward and transparent process.

IDEAS’ experience shows that operators have to meet many requirements stipulated in the Child Care Centre Act 1984 (Act 308) such as care-taker to child ratios and ensure all permissions from three other authorities were secured for the premise. At first glance, while these requirements seem appropriate for the safety of the children, much of the focus is actually just on the technical requirements rather than the quality of services delivered for the children and the improvements in their behaviour and skill levels.

Additionally, the age limit stipulated by the Child care Centre Act is not suitable when dealing with children with special needs. The Act limits the age to just four years old, whereas IDEAS’ experience shows that a child with special needs may require support until they nine years old, if not longer, before they can go into a primary school. While the IAC were lucky to be granted an exemption, it highlights the need for the laws to be re-examined.

There was also an issue with government financial support. When the IAC applied for a grant from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the processes were found to be arbitrary and unclear. The paper suggests that such arbitrary decision making practices should be stopped and the government must institute a more transparent and consistent funding processes.

The paper also suggests that, in order to help underprivileged families with a special child, the government should introduce a mechanism, similar a “school voucher” scheme. This will create not only more incentives for the creation of more similar centres, but parents will also receive an opportunity to afford the quality care, education and therapy that their children so desperately need.

“Having spoken to a few other centres that provide early intervention and special needs services, I found that many faced similar issues to the IAC and a whole host of other issues as well. For one it was an issue of not being given the appropriate advice by Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) officers on registration. For another it was the inability to register with JKM even after several attempts were made, limiting their access to any financial assistance provided for special needs centres. Basically, there are many rules that prevent many from setting up centres and registering with JKM regardless of the fact that they may already be providing or want to provide much needed services for the underprivileged. JKM should remove such barriers so more centres are able to easily provide early intervention services. JKM should also focus on quality of care and therapy these children get not just the type of building they are situated in,” reflected Tamanna Patel.

Commenting on the release of the paper, IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan says “While we appreciate that the government has the well-being of children in mind, they seem to be missing out on the bigger picture. The rules and regulations seem to have become hurdles. There is also the bigger issues of multiple jurisdictions within government, with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community as well as the Ministry of Education both having jurisdictions on pre-school education simply by calling the providers different names. They even have different rules to channel funds. This is unnecessary bureaucracy that should be simplified for the sake of our special children.”

To download the paper please click here

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Tamanna Patel is a Senior Researcher with the Education Unit at IDEAS.

IDEAS is Malaysia’s first think-tank dedicated to promoting market-based solutions to public policy challenges. We are an independent not-for-profit organisation. As a cross-partisan think tank, we work across the political spectrum. Our purpose is to advance market-based principles, and we are not bound by party politics, race or religion. Our mission is to improve the level of understanding and acceptance of public policies based on the principles of rule of law, limited government, free markets and free individuals. For more information, please visit

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