July 30, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nagoya and nine other municipalities that had the most children on waiting lists for day care centers last year have decided to join a plan mapped out by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce the number of such children to zero, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

About 25,000 children were on waiting lists nationwide as of April last year. But the decision by the 10 municipalities, which are home to nearly 30 percent, or 6,800, of the children on waiting lists, is likely to provide momentum toward the solution of this longstanding issue.

Abe unveiled the plan in April to lower to zero the number of children who cannot enter day care centers because their parents cannot find places for them, using methods implemented by the city of Yokohama. Under the plan, the government hopes to accommodate 200,000 more children at day care centers in two years starting from this fiscal year.

The Yokohama municipal government had the most children on waiting lists for day care centers in April 2010, but reduced its number to zero in three years through such measures as increasing the number of city-certified day care centers and assigning officials as advisors on day care services.

The central government plans to reduce the number of children on waiting lists through 19 measures in five areas, including building new day care centers on state-owned land and subsidizing the cost of upgrading day care centers that provide child care for extended hours.

These measures, designed to help municipalities establish a desirable day care environment, are incorporated into the government’s growth strategy.

Municipalities hoping to join the program are asked to create their own plan to speed up efforts to reduce the number of children on waiting lists. They must choose at least one of the 19 programs, and set numerical targets, before having their plan screened by the government.

The national government began inviting municipalities to join the plan in June. Of the about 350 municipalities with children on waiting lists, the 10 cities and Tokyo wards in the most serious straits decided to join the program. They included Nagoya, which as of spring last year had 1,032 children on waiting lists, and Sapporo, which had 929.

 

The Sapporo city government plans to accommodate at least 1,200 more children by increasing the number of small day care centers in rental properties and elsewhere. The Kawasaki municipal government plans to certify privately owned small day care centers as authorized ones, drawing on national support.

Some observers were initially dubious about the effectiveness of the plan, since local governments are obliged to shoulder financial burdens. But it was eventually welcomed, as municipalities apparently became strongly concerned about the issue after parents whose children could not enter certified day care centers in areas including Tokyo’s Suginami Ward filed administrative appeals against their respective governments earlier this year.

The national government is set to publicize the municipalities’ intentions and ideas after compiling them.

 

Largest hurdle

By Ikuko Higuchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The step taken by the 10 municipalities suggests the start of their full-scale efforts to do away with the long waiting list of children.

The central government had made efforts to reduce the number of children on waiting lists, including a plan under the administration led by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but it fell far short of eliminating such lists, as its primary measures were to either increase the number of children that each existing day care center was allowed to take in, or to build more small day care centers.

Under Abe’s plan, the number of day care centers meeting the national criteria for such facilities will be increased, utilizing revenue to be derived from tax increases.

The largest hurdle will be securing the necessary number of nursery staffers. To accommodate 400,000 more children at certified day care centers around the nation, used by 2.18 million children as of April last year, 74,000 nursery teachers are necessary. The Yokohama municipal government, which has had trouble securing enough nursery staffers, has been engaged in recruiting activities outside the prefecture.

One factor behind the lack of nursery teachers is the low salaries they earn. Nursery teachers make an average of 214,000 yen a month, 100,000 yen less than the average salary for all occupations. As a result, many qualified people do not work at day care centers, or quit after a short period of time.

The national government has launched measures to improve work conditions for nursery workers and secure enough such staff this fiscal year, spending 43.8 billion yen. The measures also were incorporated into Abe’s plan.

There is a pressing need to draw in “inactive day care workers,” who are said to number 600,000, and provide them support to continue their job.