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Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2012

Osaka to create country's first 'child care bank'


OSAKA — Under the leadership of Mayor Toru Hashimoto, Osaka is launching a new program to significantly cut the waiting lines for children at day care centers.

The plan involves establishing a "human resource bank," a pool of workers who will go to homes to look after children up to the age of 2 — the first program of its kind in Japan.

The providers will be registered after completing a training program. The heads of health and welfare centers in Osaka's 24 wards will then match them with parents requiring their services.

A total of 235 male and female care providers applied for training when the municipal government solicited candidates in May — roughly double the number it anticipated.

The elimination of waiting lists for day care centers was one of Hashimoto's campaign pledges during his mayoral campaign last November.

While an estimated 46,000 children across Japan are on waiting lists, the new program is projected to cut the number in Osaka by 250 annually.

"We must have an abundance of child care services so they can be provided to all those in need," the popular Hashimoto was quoted as saying by Katsuya Tada, head of the Osaka Municipal Government's section for child care planning.

Under a program launched by the municipal government in fiscal 2006, companies operating certified day care centers for children are commissioned to provide services for children up to 2 years old by a group of care providers, for instance at their homes.

Parents initially voiced dissatisfaction over the program due to the lack of available places for the children in day care centers. However, they have begun to appreciate the home environment that the new system promises to provide.

A total of 100 children in Osaka were looked after by just 20 home-based child care providers in fiscal 2011, compared with 723 children and 283 teachers in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The respective figures in Yokohama, meanwhile, came to 370 and 119 last year.

In addition to the group-oriented program that commenced in fiscal 2006, Osaka will introduce the new plan based on individual care providers at 50 locations in the city during the current fiscal year, hoping to eventually eliminate the waiting list altogether. As of April, 664 children in the city were waiting to be accepted.

Nevertheless, some have voiced concerns about the nature of the new program.

In 2007, for example, a girl was found to have been ill-treated by a female child care provider at her home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

The Osaka Municipal Government has therefore drawn up a set of countermeasures: Nursery homes will provide support for child care providers and colleagues with 10 years or more experience in the field will visit them at least once a week, while problematic care providers will be stripped of their certification, among other steps.

Osaka hopes to provide "high quality child care services" by creating environments in which care providers can receive advice from their peers, Tada from the city's planning section said.

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