2009 / 9月
Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Geof Aberhart
In April 2009, Taipei City was shocked by the death of a baby girl, and by her subsequent treatment by her nanny and the nanny's husband. Neither of the couple were trained in first aid, and both also had criminal records, and so when the three-month-old infant choked to death after vomiting milk in her sleep, the couple put her body in the freezer of their own home for six days before dumping it in front of her parents' house and fleeing. Not only did this case shock and frighten many families with children in the care of nannies, it also shone a light on the problem of unlicensed, untrained nannies.
According to the Child Welfare Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior, there are currently almost 60,000 licensed nannies working in Taiwan, but it is estimated that they account for only 40% of the total number. Add to this the fact that the number of nannies that have joined government-run community networks around the island and thus are subject to regular inspections is roughly 13,800 and it becomes clear that the traditional idea of unlicensed "neighborhood nannies" still holds substantial sway.
This is beginning to change, however, with the government beginning to offer childcare subsidies in April 2008 and a continuing stream of alarming incidents happening under the watch of unlicensed nannies. Parents-particularly younger parents-are increasingly turning to trained, professional, and devoted nannies to be a "second mother" to their children.
It is July, the height of summer, just after 10 a.m. The sky is clear as far as the eye can see, and a gentle breeze blows through the buildings. Lin Yuelong, a resident of Chenggong Housing Estate in Taipei City's Da'an District, is busily looking after three children, helping them put on appropriate clothing and hats in preparation for a stroll outside in this brilliant weather.
The oldest of the three is the energetic two-year-old An'an, followed by 11-month-old younger brother and budding climber Xiao Yi, and finally the youngest, Nana, who still can't quite roll over on her own and needs a lot of hugs. With the three in such vastly different stages of development, if Lin can't quickly and correctly respond to their needs, these smiling little angels can quickly become bawling, screaming hellspawn.
Looking after these three, ensuring they grow up in a happy, healthy, and safe environment, is far from easy.Clear eyed and sharp minded
Lin Yuelong, though, is not like most people-she is a nanny with six years' childcare experience and is professionally trained and certified. This training and experience shines through as she skillfully gets her little assistant An'an to help get Xiao Yi and Nana to sit calmly in their stroller before the four head downstairs to the playground.
Little An'an, who is already running and jumping about on her own, is fine to play by herself, but Xiao Yi, still in his climbing phase, needs adult help to enjoy the thrills of the slide. As he clambers back up it with great effort, An'an excitedly eggs him on. Meanwhile Nana can only look on from the stroller for now, and even as Lin keeps the two older children company as they play, she never forgets to make funny faces at little Nana to keep her entertained. From time to time An'an and Xiao Yi will smile and call out to Nana; the three children get along so well that passersby can easily mistake them for siblings.
But Lin's day doesn't end here. Once they get home, the nimble Lin has to bathe the two older children before little Nana gets too antsy-a testing task, to say the least.
Lin has everything organized down to a T, from stories to games to feeding, and thankfully the three children are polite and obedient, with An'an sharing her storybooks with the younger children and getting Xiao Yi to help clear up the toys, and even the impulsive Xiao Yi knows to keep his fun and games away from Nana's bed.
"Don't think that just because a child is very young they don't understand anything. Kids have more in them than most adults could even imagine. When kids of similar ages play together, it helps them learn the rules of social interaction earlier, as well as teaching them to share and, through imitation, make massive progress in their linguistic and physical development," says Lin.Training+experience
While Lin is now a doyenne of childcare, she started out as a specialist at an international trading firm. Now 45, she left her job six years ago to take care of her then two-year-old son, who had a congenital cleft palate. She quickly realized that the one-on-one way she was looking after him not only left her son with little stimulation from others his own age, but also led to him becoming overly dependent on her. It was then she figured, "Why not take on a couple of other kids so he has some play pals?"
"But looking after other people's children is a serious job," says Lin. "It's not like looking after your own child, when you can do it however you think is right and there's no-one else involved to nitpick." And so she signed on for training classes run by Mommy Bear Nanny Association, then went on to pass the national accreditation examination, becoming a qualified nanny and a part of the "Mommy Bear" community network, regularly being visited by inspectors.
People like Lin, who make a career of childcare, are deserving of the same confidence we place in teachers, lawyers, and architects, and they are growing in number.
Step into the offices of any of the most recognizable nanny training organizations-such as The Peng Wan-Ru Foundation, the Taipei County Nanny Association, or Mommy Bear-and it seems like the staff are constantly on the phone taking enquiries.
Chair of the Taipei County Nanny Association Liao Sulan explains that in recent years qualified nannies have become a hot commodity, with many housewives looking for a second job coming in for training and others-including grandparents taking care of their grandchildren-coming to them to brush up on childcare skills they've long since forgotten. Even a number of "traditional" neighborhood nannies have begun realizing that training is their best weapon against being squeezed out.
Bringing up children is part of human instinct, and certainly mothers of the past, raising families with children numbering in the teens, got on fine despite never hearing anything about having to be professionally trained. So what exactly is it that these 15,000-plus people per year (of which 60 to 70% pass) are being tested on for their nannying certification? And what exactly makes them "professionals," even after certification?Certification first
The roots of nanny certification and testing in Taiwan can be traced back to 1998. It was then that the Ministry of the Interior and the Council for Labor Affairs laid out the plan for the examination, primarily in the hopes of improving the skills of traditional nannies, giving parents a means of choosing nannies that met an objective standard and encouraging those nannies to grow in their profession and improve their social standing.
Those wanting to take the examination not only need to have at least a junior high level education, but also to have completed a total of 126 hours of training and earned seven credits each in the Children and Youth Welfare Act, early childhood development, health and hygiene, and childcare methods. Included in this is a test on infant and toddler care, which is acknowledged by the examinees to be the hardest, but also most useful, part of the training; in this test, aspiring nannies are tested in a set time on bathing children and monitoring water temperature, correct tooth-brushing technique, infant CPR, what to do in the event of choking or asphyxiation, and food preparation methods such as dicing vegetables and making juice.
Rao Xiuzhen, chief executive of the Taipei County Nanny Association, who has taken the exam herself, explains that during these tests, not only do the examinees have to not put a foot wrong once, they also have to recite the instructions from memory, and only then are they able to pass. For example, during the tooth-brushing section, students must recite the following: "Start at the top right gum and clean to the left, then clean from the bottom left rightward ... and use a cloth soaked in warm water to gently wipe the child's tongue every day to keep their tongue clean." All this is recited as they complete the process of cleaning a dummy child's teeth and tongue, and if a single line is flubbed or they make a mistake with the dummy, they may lose marks.
One of the leading proponents of nanny licensing in Taiwan and dean of the Institute of Infant and Child Care at National Taipei College of Nursing, Duan Hui-ying explains that while such tests cannot guarantee the examinees are suited to being nannies, they can provide a basic level of quality control.
"Infants are fragile, and if anything should happen it has to be handled immediately. Through intensive training, nannies can learn to keep their cool in emergencies and almost instantly pick the right method of treatment."
As an illustration of the importance of this, Duan points to a recent case involving a four-year-old boy whose family ran a beef noodle restaurant. The boy accidentally tripped on something lying around the store and bumped into a boiling pot of broth. His father's immediate reaction was to strip the boy's clothes off before getting him to cold water, which caused his skin to peel, leaving him dehydrated and more susceptible to infection.
"If a nanny trained in handling burns were to encounter that, they should know that they right course of action is to immediately get the child into cold water, and after soaking him in the water for at least 30 minutes to lower his body temperature, then remove his clothing. Meanwhile, paramedics should be called as quickly as possible. If all caregivers were trained like this, the chance of avoiding such tragic deaths would be greatly increased."Community intermediaries
In addition to basic training and certification, another aspect that has been strongly advocated by organizations in both the civic and public sectors in recent years is monitoring and management of nannies through community networks.
These "community nannying networks" first began in 2001, and oversee nannies nationwide. Previously joining this network was open to all in the field, but as of this year all new members must be accredited. Those who are already members but lacking accreditation are required to pass the exam before the end of this year.
Nannies who join the network not only enjoy benefits such as job agents and 20 hours of free occupational training, but can also get assistance from the network in negotiating contracts with parents and other occupational protection. They even get accident insurance, so that should a child under their care have an accident, the insurance can cover medical treatment even if there are disputes over blame or the nanny cannot afford to cover the expenses.
But at the same time, the nannies themselves must also uphold their end and do their duty. They must, for instance, supply a Certificate of No Criminal Record, as well as undergoing a biannual comprehensive health check. Four times a year, inspectors from the network will pay unscheduled visits to nannies to ensure their homes are safe and to check on the linguistic and physical development of the children under their care.
"The involvement of these people from the local government puts an objective third party in between the parents and the nannies," says Liu Jie, chief executive of Mommy Bear, one of the organizations that is part of this network.
She notes that it can be difficult for parents to find nannies that are not only professional, caring, and responsible, but also reasonably priced and conveniently situated. "At least with a government-recognized intermediary like this the first step in selecting a nanny is already handled, so they can be confident that unlike the parents of the child that was put in the freezer, they won't be putting their children into the hands of someone with a criminal record!"
Once an arrangement is made, if there should be differences in child-rearing philosophy between parents and nanny but the parents are either too embarrassed or just don't have the time to discuss them with the nanny, they can pass it on through the network. And for nannies, should the parents slack off on year-end bonuses or be often late picking their children up, the nannies can use the network to help them fight for their rights. "It's an excellent way to avoid serious conflicts over childcare," says Liu.Good intentions, limited effect
However, despite the good intentions behind the certification system and community network, over their past 11 and eight years of operation respectively there has been a lack of promotion and only a small number of parents have been both aware of them and willing to use them.
According to statistics from the Child Welfare Bureau, there are currently almost 60,000 certified nannies in Taiwan, but research conducted by National Taipei College of Nursing in 2006 revealed that only 40% of nannies in employment were certified, and only a total of some 13,800 were even willing to sign on with the community network.
Meanwhile according to a survey released by the Child Welfare Bureau in 2005, 8.1%-approximately 56,000-of children under three years old are under the care of nannies. If statistics from the community network, which state that on average 1.7 children are under the care of each nanny, are correct, then a total of 32,000 children are under the care of qualified nannies, leaving 24,000 in the hands of nannies either not part of the network or not even certified.
"Some certified nannies feel that the biannual checkups and having to get a certificate from the police is too much hassle, and they don't want to always have someone coming in to check up on them," says Wu Meiying, head of the Child Welfare Bureau. "And if they've got a constant stream of clients, why would they have any interest in joining the network?"
Between a lack of promotion and a lack of incentives, the network system has stagnated even as numbers of certified nannies grow. This situation has only recently begun to be rectified by the introduction of childcare subsidies on April 1, 2008.Carrot and stick
Under the Child Welfare Bureau's subsidy plan, double-income families with annual income up to NT$1.5 million and with children under the age of two under the care of a network-registered nanny will receive a monthly stipend of NT$3,000.
Daycare-usually around 10 hours a day, with the children picked up after a parent finishes work-can vary widely in price between city and country, averaging from NT$12,000 to NT$20,000, while full-time care (24-hour childcare from Monday to Friday, with the children picked up in the weekends) can cost between NT$20,000 and NT$28,000. For the average double-salary family, this can be quite the financial burden.
Since the introduction of this stipend, the nanny network has become the first choice for many parents. With this boost in competition, more and more nannies are willing to go through the certification process and sign up with the network.
"Two years ago we signed up only 7,000 nannies, and last year it was up to over 13,000, a 86% rise in signups," says Wu.
If these stipends are the "carrot" encouraging parents to choose qualified network nannies, the "stick" is undoubtedly the proposed Child Care and Education Act, the draft of which is currently in the Legislative Yuan. This act also signifies Taiwan's move toward a more comprehensive training, certification, and supervision system for nannies.
According to the draft, only certified nannies will be allowed to provide home-based childcare, with uncertified traditional nannies given three years to earn certification after the passage of the act. Any nanny caring for a child under the age of two without certification will be subject to a fine between NT$6,000 and NT$30,000. Additionally, within six months of the passage of the act, certified nannies will have to register with their local county or city governments in order to be allowed to continue their work, otherwise they will be subject to heavy fines-from NT$60,000 up to NT$300,000. The act in its current form was sent to the Legislative Yuan in March this year, and quickly became a hot topic of discussion.
"Each and every child is the most precious thing in the world to their parents, and they shouldn't be just lightly fobbed off on any old unlicensed nanny," says supporter of the act Duan Hui-ying. She also believes that childcare and management of caregivers should not just be left to the whims of the free market. "People responsible for the care of children should absolutely be subject to regular supervision and inspections. This is a duty the government should not shrug off, and when looking for nannies in future, parents should give it serious thought."
With the subsidies and strengthened legal support, Taiwan's childcare industry is facing a new era. Will this new carrot-and-stick combination effectively stem the seeming tide of nannying-related tragedies and protect the next generation by providing them with caring "second mothers" to grow up with? Only time will tell.