TOKYO -- The number of children on waiting lists for day care facilities nationwide declined to 19,895 as of April 1 this year, down 6,186 from last year and the first drop in four years, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced on Sept. 7. The figure marked the first dip below the 20,000 mark in 10 years.
The ministry attributed the improvement in the long waiting lists for day care to the development of child care facilities in urban areas including Tokyo.
However, it remains unclear if the government can achieve its goal of eliminating the lengthy waiting lists for day care spaces by the end of fiscal 2020, as the number of applicants for such spaces may rather increase due to the start of the government's program to make day care services and preschool education free of charge from October 2019.
As of April 1, there was a record high of about 2.71 million applicants for authorized day care centers and other child care facilities, up around 60,000 from the previous year. Meanwhile, the total capacity of child care facilities grew by nearly 100,000 from a year earlier to somewhere around 2.8 million children. While the overall capacity at child care facilities rose above the number of applicants, the waiting lists have yet to be eliminated due to the concentration of applicants in city centers.
By prefecture, Tokyo saw the largest number of children on waiting lists for day care spots at 5,414, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total figure across the country. This comes despite the fact that the children on such lists in the capital substantially dropped by 3,172 from the previous year.
Other prefectures with more than 1,000 children on waiting lists for day care spots were: Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan at 1,988, the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa at 1,870, Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo at 1,552 and Chiba Prefecture east of the capital at 1,392.
Nationwide, the number of municipalities with children on such waiting lists climbed to 435, up 15 from a year before. The city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, topped the list of such municipalities with 571 children, followed by the city of Okayama in western Japan with 551 children and Tokyo's Setagaya Ward with 486.
Meanwhile, the number of children who were not officially listed on those waiting lists due to reasons including their applications targeting only specific child care facilities of their choice dropped to 67,899, down 1,325 from last year.
The welfare ministry also announced that it has secured the prospect of accommodating 293,000 more children wishing to be enrolled at day care facilities by the end of fiscal 2020, or March 31, 2019, based on plans drawn up by municipalities across the country. However, the figure is still short of the government's goal of accommodating an additional 320,000 such children by the target date.
(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department)