Survey: Fewer children are waiting to enroll in daycare

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Fewer than half of children were on waiting lists for centrally-authorized kindergartens and daycare centers in 60 municipalities last spring compared with a year ago, according to a survey by Asahi Shimbun.

The decline is likely due in part to a declining birth rate and in part to a decline in demand for child care placements during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Under-enrollment is also increasingly common in child care centres. Daycare officials have raised concerns about finances with municipal government employees.

The survey was conducted in 62 municipalities, including Japan’s ordinance-designated major cities and Tokyo’s 23 wards. A total of 782 children were on waiting lists in spring 2022 in the 60 municipalities that responded, compared to 2,013 a year earlier.

A similar survey by The Asahi Shimbun last year showed that the number of children on waiting lists had dropped significantly, from around 5,000 in spring 2020 to just around 1,700 in spring 2021.

Although the two studies did not cover an identical set of municipalities, this year’s survey shows that the downward trend has continued.

It should be noted, however, that the number of so-called “hidden children on waiting lists” remained high at 41,235 in the last survey, suggesting that action is needed more carefully designed child care policies.

“Children hidden on waiting lists” refer to children who are technically not on waiting lists but who still need a place in child care, for example when their parents have to extend their parental leave because that they could not obtain a slot in an authorized day. care center they had wanted.

Besides ordinance-designated cities and Tokyo wards, the latest survey also covered 19 municipalities that had 50 or more children on waiting lists in April last year.

Children on waiting lists dropped to a total of 32 in ordinance-designated cities, down 112 from last year; 32 in the 23 districts of the capital, down from 256; and 718 in municipalities with 50 or more similar children in 2021, down from 863.

An anonymous blog post titled “I didn’t get a place at daycare. Grave dead, Japan!!!” brought the issue of children on waiting lists to public attention in 2016.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Affairs show the total number of similar children across Japan fell from 23,553 that year to just 5,634 in April last year, a record high since the statistics became available. .

Meanwhile, some day care centers are under-registered, and the Asahi Shimbun survey showed that day care managers had told city government employees about their financial anxiety.

“We are worried about whether we will be able to stay afloat because we are getting less money to cover our operating expenses as fewer children are enrolled with us,” municipal government workers from Sapporo and Kawasaki reported. .

“The operating grant cuts are weighing heavily on us; we can’t just lay off our child care workers,” said the government of Kita Ward in Tokyo, according to a child care official.

Childcare centers should maintain excess capacity so that parents can have a place there any time of the year, which means they can give birth to a baby and return to work whenever they want – not only at the start of the new school year in April.

Excess capacity is also needed when there is an urgent need for child care, such as when a parent is concerned about child care or needs to be hospitalized.

The concern over finances stems in part from the fact that central and local government grants to cover operating expenses are not paid based on maximum childcare capacity, but based on the actual number of children. registered.

Child care centers are staffed based on capacity, so staffing costs to keep them on payroll and other costs can strain the facility’s finances. This could encourage daycares to reduce their maximum capacity.

“Demand for child care has declined due to declining birth rates and job loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shintaro Yamaguchi, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo. .

“Day care centers play a major role as contributors to child development and to households raising young children,” Yamaguchi added. “Childcare resources, such as childcare workers and preschools, shouldn’t be cut so easily just because there are fewer children on waiting lists this year.

(This article was written by Natsumi Nakai, Shiori Tabuchi, and Haruna Ishikawa.)

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