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Maternity care centres – a new mainland service sector is born

High demand, unsuitable candidates and a lack of official oversight have created considerable problems in the mainland postnatal care market, inspiring the emergence of new "club-style" maternity care centres in many cities.

Photo: Professional tranining for potential nannies. (Xinhua News Agency)
Professional tranining for potential nannies.

Amid growing concerns over the difficulties of finding suitable full-time nannies, maternity care centres have been to emerge as a popular and viable alternative for many new parents. The move comes against a background of increasing demand for postnatal services and products.

With post-80s or even the post-90s generation now coming to the fore as new parents, the provision of care for newborn babies has become an increasing challenge. This is particularly in light of lifestyle and urbanisation changes that have seen many new parents cut off from traditional family support networks.

Typically, full-time nannies have been the preferred option for this new generation of parents. Depending on experience and qualifications, the different grades of nanny available cost between Rmb4,000 and Rmb10,000 a month. The dramatic upsurge in demand, however, has caused a notable shortage of suitable candidates, particularly at the mid-price level where uptake has been the highest. Currently, there is a six-month waiting list for such nannies.

Increased demand, combined with a lack of legal oversight, has caused considerable problems within the sector, particularly in terms of inappropriate personnel entering the profession. Among the other problems identified by prospective clients are high service quality variations, lack of a standard qualification regime and unskilled/unsuitable applicants.

In response to this, one urban authority – Qingdao, one of the larger cities in the eastern Shandong province – has issued local guidelines aimed at introducing greater regulation to the sector. The city's Domestic Services Promotion Unit and its Occupational Skill Testing Authority have jointly issued the Occupational Standards for Mother and Baby Caregivers, the first set of such industry standards in the region.

The new regulations establish postnatal care as an extension of hospital care, requiring nannies to be properly qualified as both a nurse and a dietician. This requires any individual employed in this capacity to have both a high level of vocational skills and a high level of professional commitment.

These ordinances have proved a boost for the city's emerging maternity care centres. Such "club-like" facilities have the advantage of access to a high-level of facilities and a comprehensive care regime. This sees them clearly offering a range of services not accessible to individual nannies.

As well as providing accommodation (when required) for new parents and their offspring, these centres also have a dedicated staff of caregivers and professionally-qualified nannies. All of their employees – whether nurses, health advisors or dieticians – have to meet a high level of qualification before they are considered for employment.

Given the high levels of care available, the fees payable to the city's maternity centres are – perhaps understandably – high, with monthly costs said to range from Rmb10,000 to Rmb60,000 a month. At the very top of the scale, one Singaporean-backed centre is reportedly charging as much as Rmb120,000 per month for its dedicated one-on-one service.

As an emerging industry, maternity care clubs have not only succeeded in meeting the needs for high-end services, but have also created substantial job opportunities, while raising the quality threshold of the entire sector. In terms of premium-priced service extensions, many of these centres also offer a number of lucrative add-on services, including early education and health monitoring.

Jessica Jiao, Qingdao Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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