When several videos on alleged child abuse cases at two Kinderland childcare centres went viral, parents in Singapore stood together in their anger.
As a mother of two preschoolers, I was aghast by the violence I saw in the videos. It made me wonder how parents of the mistreated children must have felt upon seeing their own child suffer like that, and whether the perpetrators would be taken to justice.
Surely we must protect the innocent young children, who are powerless to defend themselves, and who are too young to articulate how they are being treated in school.
But what was more shocking to me was how this case developed into a clear crisis for not just the affected centre, but eventually exposed the problems underpinning the culture at Kinderland.
Here’s a quick recap of the timeline of events:
|27 – 30 June||– Teacher B raised the issue of Lin Min’s actions towards the children to the centre management, but no action was taken|
– Teacher B then discreetly recorded the videos to submit as evidence after her departure
|29 July||– Teacher B resigned from Kinderland|
|30 July – 10 August||– Teacher B reported the case to the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) for investigations and submitted the videos as evidence|
|17 August||– ECDA contacted Kinderland about the case|
|28 August||– Videos were posted online and quickly went viral|
– Within hours, teacher Lin Min was dismissed from Kinderland
– A separate video of another alleged abuse case (this time in Kinderland CCK) emerges and gains online traction
|29 August||– Police arrested both preschool teachers|
– The second teacher (at CCK) was suspended
– At 11.20pm, Kinderland issued a 7-page long press statement, which included remedial actions to install more CCTVs in the two reported centres
– There was no mention of expanding the CCTVs to other outlets as well
|30 August||– Lin Min was charged in court for child abuse|
– Parents called for the principal, Ms Mahirah Yasid, to be fired and barred from the pre-school industry
– Kinderland issued a public notice on barring personal devices at work
– The public went livid over Kinderland’s lack of remorse, and viewed the notice as an attempt to prevent further whistle-blowing cases
– At 8pm, 15 affected parents (whose children were taught by teacher Lin Min) uploaded an online statement claiming that Kinderland had lied in their press statement, and that never once had Kinderland reached out to them to apologise nor had they indicated to Kinderland that they had accepted any apology
|31 August||– Kinderland removed the principal from her duties and said she has been redeployed to other roles|
– Kinderland issues an apology statement, but only for “the worry and anxiety that the…videos have caused”
– ECDA announced that CCTVs will be made mandatory in preschools by July 2024
However, I noticed several glaring incongruencies in the matter.
The abuse had reportedly been flagged out from as early as 2021
First, let’s talk about how long the abuse had been ongoing.
One of the affected parents (whose son was seen being beaten in the videos) said that his child had returned home with bite marks, scratches and bruises on multiple occasions in late 2021. However, when he raised the matter to the principal, she denied that anything had happened in school.
According to the father, he had reported it to ECDA as well but there was “nothing done”.
If these are true, then it means that the abuse had been occurring for at least 1.5 years prior to the videos blowing up online.
So why was nothing done since then? Why did it have to take social media and collective public fury, before actions were taken against the teacher?
Multiple issues in Kinderland’s press statement
I cannot help but wonder, if not for social media, would Kinderland have fired the teacher in question?
Was it a mere coincidence that Kinderland took 11 days (or 7 working days) to complete their Disciplinary Inquiry before dismissing teacher Lin Min, within hours of the videos going viral online?
Next, surely I was not the only one who noticed the contradictions between points 7, 8 and 22 in Kinderland’s press statement.
According to Mr Teo’s Facebook comment, he withdrew his son from Kinderland Woodlands Mart as his son returned from school with “multiple signs of injuries and bruises on multiple occasions”. I doubt that the affected parents would have said their children were “behaving normally” — a mother reported that her daughter woke up screaming at night, which she attributes to the incident.
My suspicions grew stronger when, within 24 hours of Kinderland’s press statement being released, the affected parents uploaded an online statement debunking Kinderland’s claims in the press release.
In their letter, the parents stated that Kinderland did not reach out to extend their apologies, nor had any of them indicated to the centre that they accept any apology.
So, who is speaking the truth?
The case is still developing, so the facts may change.
There are more claims of abuse emerging online, including children being belted to their chairs and infants being scalded. These must surely be investigated as well.
What is clear is that this is not a rare or isolated incident like what Kinderland claims.
The pieces of the puzzle are coming together slowly, and they are revealing a case of a centre with subpar management who allowed the abuse to continue for at least over a year.
It is not only the teacher who should be held accountable. The principal should also be taken to task.
And if the father’s claims are true, then ECDA needs to also explain to the public what was done (or why nothing was done) since the first report in late 2021.
This incident shakes the core of parents’ trust in not only a long-standing childcare operator, but also that of ECDA and its role in regulating the early childhood sector in Singapore.
We await the answers, and the truth.
P.S. I have also penned a separate commentary on my blog on the press statement that I feel Kinderland should have issued instead. In there, I list four corrective actions that Kinderland should undertake.
Dawn Cher is a working mother of two preschoolers. She strongly believes that society must protect the young and vulnerable, and hopes that ECDA and all preschools will learn from this incident by enhancing their security and screening measures.