December 7(Tuesday)

No. 5 [Childrearing] 'Anticipatory Project for the Elimination of Childcare Waiting Lists' Starts

 

"What has been done for child-rearing support besides the child allowance?" To answer this question, Prime Minister Kan passionately explains his plan using specific episodes, together with Ms. Atsuko Muraki, the director general of the task force team office.

 

 

Narration: At the start of the week, the Prime Minister Kan
received a basic plan of the "Anticipatory Project for the
Elimination of Childcare Waiting Lists," which is intended to
create places for children who cannot be enrolled in childcare
facilities due to overcapacity. The method and idea contained in
the plan have a strong mark of Prime Minister Kan's belief.
 

 

--- The elimination of childcare waiting lists has long been
repeated as a slogan.

 

Prime Minister: Indeed.

 

--- Will it be different this time?

 

Prime Minister: Yes. In many cases, new policy initiatives are blocked by the barriers of jurisdiction within the bureaucracy. The issue has hitherto been addressed separately by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which is responsible for overall childrearing policies, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which supervises kindergartens, and municipalities. This is why I resolved to create a task force team dedicated to eliminating childcare waiting lists.

 

I therefore asked Ms. Tomiko Okazaki, Minister of State for Social Affairs and Gender Equality, and Ms. Yoko Komiyama, Vice Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, to organize the team and tackle this as priority assignment. Normally, this kind of planning would take much longer, sometimes two or three years, as it requires inter-ministerial coordination. Thanks to the task force team, I could at least shorten it to few months.

 

Narration: By allowing diverse and flexible childcare services
while ensuring the quality, outside the existing regulatory
framework and securing necessary facilities and human resources for
the sector, this project is going to increase the availability by
35,000 in the next fiscal year for estimated 26,000 children on
waiting lists. It will seek to increase the capacity even further,
in anticipation of the future increase of children needing
childcare.
 

 

Why put so much effort into the elimination of childcare waiting
lists? The Prime Minister explains that it concerns not only
parents with children but also the future of the Japanese society
as a whole.
 

 

Prime Minister: This policy produces three major effects at once. First, parents hitherto unable to access childcare facilities can have their children looked after. Second, women will be able to continue working while raising children, which would offset the demographic decrease of the workforce. Third, this would curb the trend of declining birthrates, as women who hesitated to have more than one child would be encouraged to have two or three children if they were able to continue working.

 

Narration: A country in which families can raise children without
anxiety, supported by the whole society. To realize this, the Prime
Minister appointed her to be the director general of the task force
team office.

 

Muraki: One day, together with Minister Okazaki, I was summoned to the Prime Minister's Office, where the Prime Minister instructed me to implement measures to eliminate childcare waiting lists. My initial feeling was, "that is impossible".

 

Narration: The government has already been set to implement the
"New System for Children and Child-rearing," a comprehensive
measure including the elimination of childcare waiting lists, from
2013.
 

 

Muraki: The Prime Minister said, "It is a fine idea to build a complete system from 2013, but what about children waiting right now? They cannot wait so long." It is hard to argue against this obvious statement.

 

Narration: Hence the project was compiled. It contains a number of
breakthroughs. The first is deregulation.

 

Prime Minister: Although we need to ensure safety, regulations that do not fit the reality should be removed as much as possible. For example, we may remodel unused school classrooms and shops to have childcare facilities in convenient places. We may also treat non-authorized childcare facilities like authorized ones if they meet certain conditions. These kinds of positive deregulation should be advanced side by side.

 

Narration: Next is the breakaway from the principle of
"horizontally egalitarian principle".
 

 

Prime Minister: There is a prevailing assumption that it must be done uniformly across the nation, which tends to slow the process, since whenever a uniform action is called for there are always some who hesitate. Therefore, we decided to solicit municipalities willing to take on the challenge, and support them financially. As such, we will start from the municipalities that raised hands.

 

Narration: The idea is to support municipalities that applied for
the scheme similar to the special zone system, and then use them as
models for the nationwide application. First, something must be
done for the major cities where the situation is the most pressing.

 

Prime Minister: In Tokyo, I have seen childcare facilities inside office buildings created for the employees. This is very helpful for working parents, but they also say that it would be best if their children are taken care of near to where they live, since it is a pain to bring their children along all the way to the center of Tokyo. They say it is impossible to have their children get on fully-packed trains. I believe that large cities must be more friendly to childrearing.

 

Narration: Discussion at the task force team continued for more
than a month. The experience was new even to the experienced Muraki.

 

Muraki: Politicians in the team were very outspoken, going beyond their ministries' usual boundaries. They never backed down, insisting that there should be some way to make the impossible possible. That was an enormous pressure, and the ministries must have had a difficult time responding to all their requests. That said, there was a strong shared feeling across the ministries to advance a process to truly eliminate childcare waiting lists. So we decided to think over the issue again, and gradually the solution took shape. That was a fun experience.

 

Narration: As a result, the "Anticipatory Project for the
Elimination of Childcare Waiting Lists" was drafted at an eye-
opening speed.
 

 

Muraki: On the day that we submitted the paper to the Prime Minister, we also informed the municipalities that we have compiled such a plan. I am looking forward to having various discussions with interested municipalities.

 

Prime Minister: I would like to secure enough funds for this in the budget formulation process going forward, and start the project as expected of the Cabinet, "true-to-its-word".

 



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