SINGAPORE: The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has initiated a review on the current requirements for pre-schools in managing food allergies among children.
In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a spokesman for ECDA, which oversees the pre-school sector, said: “As part of any review, we will need to work with and consider the views of relevant experts and stakeholders, such as parents, pre-schools and early childhood professionals, to ensure that any requirements or guidelines are necessary and sustainable.”
She added that ECDA regularly reviews regulatory requirements and guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of children in pre-schools.
Dr Chiang Wen Chin, president of the Asthma Allergy Association of Singapore, who is involved in the review, said: “We expect to have toolkits available for teachers and schools by 2018 to equip our pre-school teachers (so they are) able to better safeguard children with food allergies in their charge."
A team of doctors, parents, dietitians and nurses will be working closely with ECDA to formulate toolkits for schools to help address issues pertaining to safety in classrooms, she added. The association deals with asthma, as well as other allergic disorders.
Dr Chiang, who is also a paediatrician at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said the review is timely.
"By raising awareness, teaching school staff learn how to respond in an emergency and give appropriate treatments in a timely manner, creating safer school environments to minimise risks for children with food allergy," she said.
According to guides currently available on the ECDA website, parents are required to inform centres about any food allergies their child may have. The list of kids with their respective allergies is to be displayed near the dining area too, for ease of reference by all staff.
Such guidelines are timely as they are already standard in many parts of the world, including Australia, United Kingdom and United States, Dr Chiang said.
Ms Vanessa Yeo, who has a six-year-old daughter who is allergic to dairy, nut products and raw eggs, went to her then-MP Teo Ser Luck in July this year to appeal to ECDA to have regulations in place when it comes to such allergies.
ECDA then contacted her and set up a meeting. The management consultant went armed with a presentation that showed the practices oversees and how dangerous life can get for pre-school children with allergies if schools do not have knowledge and standard operating procedures.
Sometimes, she said, parents may not even know that their children are allergic, and the first time they react to the allergen could be dangerous.
Of the meeting, “they showed a willingness to understand the risks and offer constructive mitigation strategies", she said.
PRE-SCHOOLS WELCOME MOVE, SAY THEY HAVE PROCEDURES IN PLACE
While many pre-schools have their own guidelines in place, they welcomed the review. They counted peanuts, eggs, dairy and bean allergies as among the common ones they encounter.
Standardised policies across all ECDA pre-schools will equip staff to manage food allergies effectively, said EtonHouse's senior principal Josephyne Ho and principal Tina Stephenson-Chin.
At their pre-schools, where there is a no-nut policy, a full list of children and their allergies is displayed prominently, including in the kitchen, dining area and in the child’s classroom, they said.
The list includes a photo of the child for ease of identification, the child’s name, class and specific allergy or food intolerance.
"We also monitor children closely, especially the young ones, for signs of emerging food allergies," they said.
They suggested that the Health Promotion Board, which currently promotes animal milk to be served in pre-schools, include soya milk as an alternative to dairy.
At Learning Vision centres, meanwhile, the cook will make a separate dish or snack for children with allergies first, said assistant district manager Marlina Sarkan at Busy Bees Singapore which operates the pre-school.
“For example, if the child has allergies with eggs, we will prepare food without eggs before preparing food for the rest of the children,” she said.
She said that a possible change could be to include more comprehensive coverage on healthy meal planning, including training on dietary restrictions for gluten-free, wheat-free options, for example, and food safety.
"The use of specialised healthier ingredients could also be more expensive than normal ingredients, and a groceries grant to defray the costs and marketing can be considered," she added.
PCF Sparkletots, the largest pre-school operator with over 360 centres islandwide, welcomes changes to the current requirements and guidelines that can help "better ensure" children’s well-being, a spokesperson said.
"When we receive information on allergies obtained from parents upon enrolment, this will be shared with all teachers and kitchen staff. We also have staff that are first-aid trained in every pre-school, to assist and manage allergic reactions quickly," she added.
A parent, Yvonne, who has a child with food allergies, said that the review is "fantastic". It will assure parents who have children with severe allergies that centres and schools are taking steps to make the environment safe, she said.
"I think having this in place will also help us feel that people are increasingly aware, and that they do care and know that the issues aren't trivial," she said.