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33% less children waiting to enter certified day care than last year: survey

Young children play at a day care center in Chiba Prefecture. (Mainichi)

The number of children waiting to enter authorized day care facilities in 87 municipalities nationwide as of April stood at 11,342, down 33 percent from the figure recorded a year ago, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The decrease is due apparently to efforts by local governments such as opening new child care centers. But waiting lists became longer in some cities, and it is still not clear if the central government's stated goal of accommodating all children at such facilities by the end of fiscal 2020 can be met.

The survey took place from May to June targeting 20 major cities, 23 wards in Tokyo and 44 cities, towns and villages where more than 100 young children were waiting to be accepted at local day care centers authorized by prefectural governors.

The total capacity of certified day care centers in those communities stood at 984,395 persons as of April, marking an increase of 7 percent, or 59,868 persons, from a year earlier.

In contrast, the number of children on waiting lists dropped in 63 municipalities, or about 70 percent of the total. Twelve municipalities, such as the city of Toyonaka in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan, had no children kept waiting to enter facilities. The number was nine the previous year. Of the 12, six, including Tokyo's Suginami Ward, had no children on waiting lists for the first time this year. This trend could mean that the nationwide number of children waiting to enter such facilities may decrease this year, after increasing for three consecutive years until 2017.

Nevertheless, the number of new applications for child care centers grew by 2 percent in 79 municipalities where such data is available. This means that the demand for such spaces is still growing. At 18 municipalities, the number of children on waiting lists grew, and 43 local bodies had at least 100 kids keen to attend day care.

In the city of Saitama just north of Tokyo, where no children were waiting for day care spots in 2017, 315 young children await entrance to day care facilities this year. The spike is due in part to a change this fiscal year in the definition of children awaiting entry, according to the city. Similar increases were observed in cities like Sagamihara and Kawasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture, where the figures shot up from zero to 83 and 18, respectively. Officials of the two cities explained that the increases were because of more applications and regional mismatches between demand and supply, although they are increasing the overall capacity of their day care facilities.

Aki Fukoin, who heads a group of parents concerned about the prevailing shortage of child care facilities, said that some cities and towns ended up having more children waiting in line because of their tight budgetary situations or failure to plan ahead on demand levels. "Even areas with no waiting kids may lose that position the next year, so you have to be prepared," said Fukoin, adding that local governments should carefully grasp day care needs in their areas and try to improve the quality of such services.

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department)

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