SHANGHAI — As his grandson giggled gleefully while playing nearby, Shanghai resident Feng let out a deep sigh of relief.
With qualified caregivers looking after the boy in the "baby house", Feng could proceed with other important tasks.
"While my little grandson is under proper care, I can conveniently attend classes at the seniors' university or read books and newspapers at the library," he said.
"Baby house", a homonym for "hold me" in the Shanghai dialect, aims to provide convenient and temporary child care services for families with children ages 1 to 3.
Last year, China had approximately 32 million infants and toddlers under age 3, with over one-third of them coming from families seeking child care. In metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, over two-thirds of families have a need for child care, according to data from the National Health Commission.
In Shanghai, the baby houses were launched as a pilot project last year. The city plans to expand the facilities to all 16 districts this year, adding no less than 3,200 community child care spots.
These centers are usually located within communities, making them easily accessible for parents. With colorful, spacious interiors resembling kindergartens, the facilities offer children engaging activities and designated spaces tailored to various developmental needs. "The baby houses are an integral part of residents' daily lives," said Yu Wenjun, director of the Jiangning Road subdistrict office in Shanghai.
The subdistrict, with around 900 infants and toddlers under age 3, has five baby houses. Since last year, it has been offering three-hour reservation-based child care services every weekday in the morning and afternoon.
Inside one of the baby houses in the subdistrict, the children's play zone features soft cushions, with separate rooms designed for different activities such as crawling and balancing exercises. Enhancing the experience for the children, the corridor features vibrant magnetic and graffiti walls, as well as colorful tactile panels.
The baby house currently has two caregivers and two childminders, all of whom are certified, as well as a health worker.
Chen Chen, a local parent, said that parents have set up online chat groups and often bring their children together to the child care facility.
"When children of a similar age gather, they adapt faster and create a familiar environment, which is helpful for their growth," Chen said.
Between 2021 and 2025, Shanghai plans to achieve a child care coverage rate of no less than 85 percent for its more than 200 subdistricts and communities.
According to Yang Hanjia, who runs a baby house in the Jiangning Road subdistrict, they are tasked with nurturing what they call the "most tender group" of children.
"We hold ourselves to the highest standards when dealing with this group. Even though it's temporary care, we hope to help them grow with our love and ability," Yang said.