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Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012
Baby steps toward better child care
Anew program in Osaka City will begin to help relieve the waiting list for child care centers by providing more individual care for young children. The plan will establish a resource bank of workers available to look after children up to the age of 2 in the children's homes.
The program will be run by the health and welfare centers of Osaka's 24 wards and will be the first of its kind in Japan.
The program stems from a campaign promise by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto to improve day care in Osaka. Whether the plan is simply a political stunt to appear to keep that pledge or effective relief for parents needing day care will depend on how well the first stage works and whether the program can be expanded.
A total of 235 male and female caretakers applied for training when the system was first announced. That was more than double the number expected, a good sign that the supply of providers may eventually match the demand for care.
However, the new program will only cut the number of children waiting in Osaka by an estimated 250 a year. As of April, 664 children in Osaka were waiting to be accepted. Across Japan, 46,000 children are currently on waiting lists for day care.
Problems with the program will be the same as those with the staffing of day care centers, primarily supervised training and monitoring. New applicants should undergo a period of carefully supervised training before they can be considered a licensed care provider. That training is especially important because the care providers will be going into individual homes to care for children or offering care in smaller groups than most day care centers.
The program is a positive, though limited, step in the right direction for a chronic problem too long overlooked. The government, both national and local, is right to proceed with a certain degree of caution. The need for trained, experienced care providers and for careful monitoring cannot be overestimated. On the other hand, mothers urgently need options.
As with children learning to walk, the first steps are exciting, but it takes a long time to really get up and walk on one's own. The demand for day care has increased recently as more and more mothers have to work because of financial need.
That demand should be met not with stopgap measures and half steps, but with a fully realized program that covers the entire country. This program deserves support, but is far from enough.