Bringing to zero the number of children waiting to get into day care centers is a crucial challenge for promoting women’s participation and advancement in society and overcoming the decline in the number of children. Repeated postponement of this goal cannot be allowed.
The government has mapped out a new plan to resolve the issue of wait-listed children. It calls for making arrangements to accept an additional 220,000 children over three years from fiscal 2018 and sets the goal of eliminating the need for waiting lists by the end of fiscal 2020 at the latest.
The current plan, aimed at resolving the issue by the end of fiscal 2017, was meant to secure facilities capable of accommodating about 500,000 children. The new plan essentially puts off the deadline for achieving the goal by three years.
If there are more day care facilities able to accept children, more parents can look for work, as they will be able to leave their children in the care of such facilities. However, development has not kept up with the rise in demand around major urban areas. There is no denying the demand projection was optimistically low.
Anticipating an increase in the number of working women, the new plan also proposes developing facilities capable of accommodating an additional 100,000 children by the end of fiscal 2022, thus bringing the total to 320,000 children. With the planned expansion, it will apparently be possible to meet demand even if the employment rate for women age 25 to 44 rises to 80 percent from the current 73 percent.
It is reasonable that the new plan is aimed at encouraging women’s participation and advancement in the workplace by boosting the capacity of day care centers. This time around, the government must seriously listen to the voices of child-rearing households and devise an adequate plan to expand day care facilities.
Discuss fiscal resources
The number of wait-listed children came to 23,553 as of April 2016. That number tops 90,000 if the so-called “hidden wait-listed kids,” children whose parents were forced to extend child care leave because their children were denied entry, are added to the calculation, although they were not included in the past.
An important aspect of the new plan is creating more day care facilities for infants ages 1 to 2, who account for 70 percent of wait-listed children. Expansion measures include transforming kindergartens for children ages 3 to 5 into “nintei kodomo-en” where child care is also provided for the younger age group, and flexibly and expeditiously increasing the number of small-scale day care centers that can be opened by utilizing facilities such as vacant stores. Such measures should prove effective.
Some municipalities show reluctance toward creating more day care centers, citing fiscal difficulties and a shortage of available land plots. Unless day care facilities are improved, the number of children in Japan will continue to spiral downward. The government needs to strengthen assistance to local governments.
Securing child care workers is an urgent task to be tackled as well. There are many cases in which even if facilities are created, the number of children to be accepted will have to be curtailed due to a lack of qualified staff.
Starting this fiscal year, the government raised the monthly average wage for child care workers by 6,000 yen and adopted a system to add up to 40,000 yen a month, depending on their career stage. But the wage gap between this field and others remains vast. Further improvements are called for.
New fiscal resources are indispensable for implementing the new plan. A plan is being floated within the Liberal Democratic Party to introduce a “child insurance system” in which premiums will be collected from people of working age.
Discussions must be deepened regarding how society, as a whole, will be able to cover the cost of fostering the next generation.