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Editorial: Boost quality of child care, preschool education in Japan

Day care centers, with the help of the central and local governments in Japan, need to step up efforts to improve the quality of their services as preschool education and day care services became free from October.

What is most worrisome is that unauthorized day care centers that do not meet government standards, such as the number of workers, are subject to the free day care program for now. The measure is aimed at giving consideration to those who have no choice but to use unauthorized facilities because there are no slots for their children at authorized centers. However, children's lives could be threatened if the number of day care workers is below the minimum standard. Roughly 60% of fatal accidents at child care centers over the past four years occurred at unauthorized facilities.

Some local governments occasionally conduct surprise on-site inspections of day care centers during the nap period when the death risk of children increases. These visits are helping to produce positive effects in improving child safety. Those with experience in the field such as people who previously served as day care center managers are hired to give advice to day care staff on how to ensure the safety of children. These efforts should be further increased.

There is room for improving the quality of child care even at authorized facilities. This is because efforts to secure enough human resources cannot keep pace with the rapid increase in the number of child care facilities to eliminate long waiting lists.

Concerns remain that the number of people wishing to use day care services will further increase because of the introduction of the free program, making it more difficult to secure enough workers.

If child care facilities lose their flexibility because of a shortage of personnel, workers may not even be able to take children under their care to nearby parks for walks. As the number of inexperienced child care workers has increased, some people involved in the industry point out that there are some workers who shout at infants. These problems take a toll on children. Some critics say that the quality of day care services is in freefall.

To ensure a high standard of child care services, it is essential to enhance workers' expertise and secure a sufficient number of employees at such facilities.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who have child care licenses but do not work at day care facilities. Efforts to encourage these people back to the child care field are necessary to secure sufficient staff numbers.

Although it is necessary to improve wages and working conditions for day care employees, it has been pointed out that there are facilities that are struggling to secure enough money to cover their personnel expenses. The Setagaya Ward Government in Tokyo withholds subsidies for day care facilities if their personnel expenses account for less than 50% of their total revenue.

Child care facilities do not just look after children. Workers at such centers are required to check if those under their care are in poverty or subject to abuse at home and extend assistance to children facing such problems in cooperation with concerned administrative organizations.

The central government is promoting a policy of eliminating day care waiting lists and taking steps as an effort to tackle the declining birthrate. Instead of leaving the problem of child care quality entirely up to local bodies, the national government should take the initiative in tackling these issues.

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