By Prossy Nandudu and Shamilla Kara
When Rose Achiro discovered that her maid used to leave her two-year-old daughter with the next door maid, she did what any mother would do — sack her maid.
Achiro lost trust in maids and has since embarked on a search for a suitable daycare centre for her daughter. Achiro’s dilemma is becoming a norm for many young parents in urban areas throughout Uganda. This is a cue for prospective entrepreneurs to start daycare centres.
According to the Uganda Investment Authority’s (UIA) market analysis, daycare centres have become a profitable venture since it is illegal for parents to take their children to workplaces.
Why daycare centres are a lucrative business
It is estimated that about 60% of mothers in Uganda, who have children below the age of five, work. Professional childcare is, therefore, needed in every community, from small towns to large cities.
The need for daycares is expected to increase as even a greater number of parents enter or rejoin the workforce. According to UIA, the business idea is premised on keeping a minimum of 30 children for a start.
Need for daycares
Tony Masembe, a business development manager and a daycare proprietor, says due to changing economic times, many mothers of pre-school age children are forced to find jobs to supplement the families’ income.
There is also a high divorce/separation rate or as it is in many cases, negligent fathers, which leaves many young single mothers to play both the father and mother’s, necessitating daycare centres.
Due to universal primary education, more girls in the villages are going to school instead of seeking work as house-helps in urban centres. This has reduced manpower available for domestic housework, hence increasing the demand for daycare centres.
The productivity of mothers also increases at their workplaces when they know their children are in places they consider safe and secure. Daycare centres are increasingly becoming those places.
Increasingly, young mothers are being forced to work away from home. In the absence of alternative places to leave their children, daycare centres are filling in the gaps.
“Many parents are looking for a place that exposes their children to the world in which they live. They want them to interact with other people and receive instructions that a maid or a babysitter may not be able to provide,” says Feb Ninsiima, a proprietor and teacher at a daycare centre in Kalerwe, a Kampala suburb.
“This has an effect on the child’s ability to learn and adjust as he progresses through his years of education. Therefore, more parents are considering daycare centres. That is an opportunity for business.”
Ninsiima says mothers of today, who are usually better educated and more exposed than their own mothers, are keener on “keeping up with the times” and want the best for their children.
“They want a structured pre-school education and learning stimulation. That is the environment modern daycare centres provide.”
Also in your favour as a potential investor in this area is that even though many large companies finance and operate daycare centres for their employees, at or close by their premises, studies show that most working parents prefer to leave their children closer to home than where they work. Thus, privately-operated daycare centres in residential neighbourhoods are the preferred choice.
With the increased cases of child kidnap, sacrifice and torture, especially in the hands of housemaids, many parents are frantically searching for safer places where they can keep their pre-school age children.
What are daycare centres for?
The Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), in their guidelines for establishing a daycare centre, define them as “an early childhood daycare service to the parents, who may be working and may not be able to keep their children with them during working hours and possibly with no person capable of looking after the child at home. Toddlers are taken to the centres by their parents and later picked up in the evenings on their way home.”
There are several types of daycare centres, the most common being independent home daycares, licenced home daycares (also known as day homes), stand-alone daycare centres, drop-in or child-minding centres for a church and community centre or fitness clubs.
Daycare centres take care of children ranging from two months old to about four years. There is no academics at this stage. The children learn to open picture books and reorganise different items, especially animals. They listen to soft music and watch cartoons.
At the centre, the children are grouped according to age. Activities, which usually comprise of playing, are organised per age group. Some children can play on their own, while others need assistance.
The toddlers are received by the attendant at the centre, who inquires about their condition from the parents. The child may need a bath, a drink, a meal or sleep at the daycare centre.
Feeding at daycare centres is largely dependent on the child’s age. However, some children are fed according to instructions from their parents. Children may generally be fed twice in the morning. After lunch, they sleep up to 3:00pm. They bathe upon waking up and take a drink, They later continue to play as they wait to be picked.
Children’s health and behaviour need to be constantly monitored at daycare centres. That way, a child found to have a contagious disease can get help fast.
Daycare centres often take into consideration the age of the child as not all of them can handle the needs of certain age groups. They are also mindful of their capacity to handle the number of children.
Key players in the industry, as listed by UIA, include Kampala Day Care Centre, Little Birds Day Care Centre in Kampala and Waterford Daycare Centre in Najjanakumbi, among others.
According to UIA, to set up a daycare centre of international standards, one requires an estimated fixed capital investment of at least $3,974 (about sh10.5m) and operating costs of $21,894 (sh58m). This investment will generate revenue of $54,000 (sh143m) in the first year of operation.
The above figures assume four years’ life of assets with depreciation (fixed asset write-off) of 25% per year for all assets and direct costs such as materials and supplies. Such a daycare centre admits a minimum of 30 children.
However, you do not have to start with a daycare centre of international standards. Most daycare centres in the suburbs begin with a bare minimum of sh3m (largely dependent on area and rent charges) and population of less than 10 children.
Basic start-up requirements
Regardless of what level you intend to enter this business, there are basic requirements that you must fulfill.
l Child-friendly staff. You need to look for trained caregivers who have a passion for children and are patient. It is also wise to invest in children experts to help you structure timetables and modes of learning.
l Since daycare centres deal with an extremely curious and naive age group, it is vital that you put emphasis on safety.
You need to have a first aid kit, fire extinguishers and smoke alarms.
You also need to child-proof the building and play areas to protect children from accessing harmful objects. You should also check with the daycare on their response when an emergency occurs. Do they wait for the parent or rush the child to the hospital and then notify the parent? Do electrical outlets have safety plug covers?
Of paramount importance is security. For example, what security policies do they have regarding who picks up children? Does the space seem safe? Is the environment child-oriented? Is there a safe place for outdoor play? Is there a guard at the gate?
Choose which education approach you will follow. Are you into Montessori teaching? Will you follow the British, American or local curriculum? This is a vital pillar that will determine your clientele.
Games and amusement facilities are a must. Items such as a TV set, music system, merry go-rounds, slides and swings fall into this category. Play toys are also necessary.
Materials that entertain as well educate the children such as picture books, crayons, children’s music and tapes are also required.
Beds and bedding, carpets and furniture fittings are required.
A daycare centre is like a hotel. Children do not only play and watch cartoons, they must also relax and sleep.
Since children must eat, a kitchen and kitchenware are necessary. Child-friendly (preferably plastic) cutlery and utensils are a must-have. A fridge would be an added advantage since children must take fresh fluids (water or juice) and fruits.
Cleaning, laundry facilities and potties are essential to maintain hygiene and cleanliness. A potty is used by those who are not yet ready to use latrines.
Like in other businesses, there are other overheads, which include salaries/wages and fuel (for a van service).
One of the biggest challenges of running a daycare centre is ensuring the security of the young ones.
“Some people can easily claim they are parents of the child, yet they want to harm them,” warns Ninsiima.
She advises proprietors to issue cards only to parents of the children.
Some parents are also difficult to deal with.
Margaret Muhanga, the owner of Teddy Bears Kindergarten in Bugolobi, Kampala, says some parents order teachers around.
Another challenge is poor staffing levels. “Children hurt themselves a lot; while playing they fall, they fight or even scratch themselves. Caregivers need to take extra caution and follow a child from the moment they set foot in the daycare centre,” adds Muhanga.
She advises that a caregiver be assigned to eight children for optimal care.
Alice Ibale, the director of Petals Child Centre, says: “Often, the staff referred to you from training centres need a lot of training and orientation.”
She adds: “Since children come from different backgrounds, caregivers should not apply a set way of doing things as this does not help a child who is also learning. We need to be flexible and adjust to be able to handle and have an impact on these children.”
Requirements from the education ministry
Feb Ninsiima, a proprietor and teacher at a daycare centre in Kalerwe, a Kampala suburb, says the ministry of education requires daycare centres to have a land title or tenant’s agreement.
“This is to ensure that the children stay in a stable place and also to prove that the centre is genuine,” she says.
Another requirement is an LC3 letter (for security reasons) and a recommendation letter from the local school inspector in which the centre is located.
The recommendation letter is issued after the inspector thoroughly checks and confirms that the centre fulfils all the required conditions to offer the service, that is, necessary teaching materials, school facilities and standards as set by the ministry of education.
A letter from the local health inspector is also required. The letter must ascertain that the inspector has checked and is satisfied with the hygiene standards and location of the school (must not be near hazardous site like industrial area, stone quarry or in a swamp, among other places).
The inspector must also ensure that all facilities that enhance good sanitation and promote good health of the children in the daycare centre are available and in good condition.
Also important is that proprietors of the centre carry out their activities according to the “Early Childhood Development Education Policy”. The policy provides guidelines to protect children, uphold their rights and guarantee them a good future.
Recommendation letters from three referees of good conduct in the area where the centre is located are also required. These work hand-in-hand with the LC3 chairperson of the area to monitor activities of the centre and also act as whistle-blowers in case anything goes amiss.
Qualified teachers in pre-nursery and nursery training with at least O and A’level certificates are a must. In Kampala, the most common training for pre-nursery training is at YMCA in Wandegeya and Kyambogo University.
How to mint money
Daycare centres have different packages to offer parents. These include charging attendance per day, per week or per month.
Helen Ntambi, the proprietor of Pio and Pretty Nursery and Daycare Centre in Lyamutundwe, Entebbe, says most daycare centres charge according to the child’s age. The younger the child, the more expensive they charge because they require more nursing.
According to Ntambi, most daycare centres in Entebbe, charge between sh7,000 to sh10,000 per day on average. This is for attendance from 7:00am to 4:00pm.
For a child below one year, they charge between sh80,000 to sh100,000 per month.
In Kampala, the average amount is between sh15,000 to sh35,000 per child per day and goes as far as sh1.4m per term for daycare centres that follow foreign curriculums.
A daycare centre is a platform for you to advertise any child-oriented services or goods. You can rent out space for dealers in children’s items such as clothes, diapers and shoes to cater for parents who are too busy to buy them.
You can also start up a children’s party service for functions such as birthdays. The more enterprising daycare centre proprietors can put up a fruits and vegetable stall.