The Yomiuri ShimbunHow should parents’ wish to entrust their small children to childcare facilities be fulfilled? To deal with the issue, it is necessary to adopt a flexible way of thinking based on their needs.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were 16,772 children on waiting lists for admission to childcare facilities as of April, despite their parents’ wish to place their offspring in the care of such facilities. The figure marked a decrease of 3,123 from a year earlier and the second consecutive annual decline.
Progress has been made in creating facilities for accepting children in urban areas, where there are many children on admission waiting lists. This seems to show that the efforts being accelerated by local governments and corporations to build such facilities are bearing fruit.
At a time when the working generations are shrinking due to a population decline in society, it is necessary to increase the number of working women. To achieve this, efforts should be continued to facilitate an environment in which working women find it easy to leave their children with day nurseries.
The capacity of childcare and other facilities for children is about 3.06 million, more than the about 2.78 million applications for admission. Nonetheless, the number of children on waiting lists has not yet been brought to zero. This is because applications for admission are concentrated on childcare centers in easily accessible places, such as near railway stations. As a result, some applicants go unchosen.
This contrasts with day nurseries in suburbs and areas with poor access to transportation, where more than a few such facilities fall below their quotas.
Promotion of the construction of childcare facilities should be brought into line with the development of housing land. In many cases, however, it is difficult to secure tracts of land, as childcare facilities are built following an increase in the number of parents raising small children. This has resulted in a discrepancy between the status quo and the needs of parental guardians.
Better utilize existing facilities
An effective prescription for the problem is trying to encourage parental guardians to use existing day nurseries that still have vacancies for admission.
In 2017, the Machida municipal government in Tokyo started a project to pick up children in front of railway stations and bus them to and from childcare facilities in the suburbs of the city. This has the advantage of lessening the burden on parental guardians of taking their children to and from day nurseries on their own. When the system was introduced, there were 229 children on admission waiting lists, but the figure decreased to 127 this spring.
Similar efforts are being promoted by about 20 local governments. The city government’s project should be studied as a good model case.
There is no overlooking the fact that the shortage of childcare workers is adversely affecting efforts to facilitate day nursery construction. There is a noticeable number of childcare facilities that cannot accept applicants due to a labor shortage.
It is indispensable to improve the treatment of childcare workers through such means as wage hikes. Another point concerns people who have left childcare work despite possessing qualifications for such services. It is important to rearrange shift rosters and make other changes to the working environment of day nurseries, thereby supporting such people in their attempts to return to work.
However, some have said that sharply increasing childcare workers amid the ongoing drop in the birthrate may lead to an excessive number of such personnel in the future. If childcare workers can also have qualifications as nursing care workers, it will promote effective utilization of personnel.
In the early 1990s, Finland created a qualification that is commonly valid in the areas of health and welfare services, including childcare and nursing care for elderly people. It is also essential to consider ways to secure necessary personnel from a medium- and long-term perspective, based on taking a hard look at the aging of society.