The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is understandable that a free childcare plan is intended to reduce the financial burden on child-rearing households, but pork-barreling of budgetary appropriations should be avoided. It is essential to promote the plan while solving the pressing issue of children on waiting lists to enter nursery schools.
The government has decided on concrete measures to realize free preschool education and childcare plans. The measures will apply widely to unlicensed day care facilities in addition to licensed day care centers and kindergartens. The plans are scheduled to be implemented in October 2019 for children aged 3 to 5 and also for infants of low-income families younger than 3.
As for unlicensed day care facilities, the free service will be limited to children whose parental guardians are required to work or children with other difficulties. A ceiling will be set for subsidies because some facilities set expensive fees under a system in which they can be set freely. The ceiling will be adjusted in accordance with the requirements for being admitted to licensed day care centers and other facilities and the average fees charged.
The government originally planned to apply free preschool education and childcare only to licensed facilities. But there are many cases in which users of unlicensed facilities are those who find themselves left with no alternative after they are unable to enroll their children in licensed facilities. As long as free day care is promoted, inclusion of unlicensed facilities for coverage under certain conditions is reasonable from the viewpoint of fairness.
Considering that unlicensed facilities are regarded as substitutes for licensed ones, it is unavoidable that requirements or limits will be set regarding reasons for utilization and fees.
The problem is how to ensure the quality of unlicensed facilities. Compared with licensed ones, the quality of their care varies greatly because the requirements for staff assignments and the demension of a facility are more lax. Many fatal accidents have happened at unlicensed day care centers.
Secure nursery teachers
As a transitional measure, the government plans to apply free day care also to substandard facilities for five years. This should not lead to the government certifying poor facilities. Strengthening supervision and supporting a shift to licensed facilities will be indispensable.
Free preschool education and day care were included in campaign pledges by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for last year’s House of Representatives election.
With a shift to a social security system serving not only the elderly population but all generations, the government aims to support a wide range of child-rearing households.
The idea behind this objective is proper, but amid dire fiscal straits there are many objections to the provision of free preschool education and day care without setting income limits for child-rearing households.
Utilization fees for day care facilities, including nursery schools, have already been reduced or waived depending on the income of child-rearing households. The planned uniform adoption of free service would provide greater benefits for high-income families and thus lack fairness as a measure to reduce financial burdens on child-rearing households. Free service should be limited to households that truly need assistance.
The number of children on waiting lists who have not been accepted by day care centers tops 90,000 if those not usually covered by statistics are included. Resolving this issue should be a top priority. If the expansion of day care facilities is delayed because fiscal resources are allocated to realizing free preschool education and day care, it would be a topsy-turvy result.
To ensure the recruitment of nursery school teachers, it will be required to accelerate further improvement in their treatment, including a pay hike and reexamination of staff assignment.
As for licensed facilities, there is a deep-seated concern that improvement of their quality may be left unattended due to the effect of free childcare services. A perspective of sustaining the healthy growth of children should not be forgotten.