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The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 3. The Public Discourse on the Quality of Daycare Centers

When I recently attended a parents' meeting at my son's unapproved daycare center located in a Tokyo ward, I was stunned to hear parents making numerous demands that ranged from more children's program activities to better communication between teachers and parents.1 The bottom line was "we pay much higher fees (as opposed to users of approved centers), so we deserve more.2" Listening to their comments, I recalled that one major research study on childcare conducted in the United States found that most parents overestimate the quality of the childcare services that their children receive despite the fact that they are mediocre.3
 
Needless to say, parents' expectations for childcare may vary in different cultural settings. Further, these participants may not represent typical Japanese parents because 1) their children were unable to enter any of the approved centers, which account for approximately 70% of the daycare providers, or 2) they opted for an unapproved center for its flexible services despite incurring higher charges. All in all, however, unlike the US system, approved centers serve to set the norm in the Japanese daycare system to a greater or lesser extent. 
 
So what is the present quality of Japanese daycare centers amid a childcare industry in transition? 
 
Background
Until recently, there existed very little comprehensive empirical work on the quality of childcare in Japan.4 Presumably, there was no need for such a study when the limited number of children needing care could enter an approved center without much trouble. Further, Japanese approved centers have been believed to offer relatively high quality childcare, as they operate under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (hereinafter, the MHLW) based on the Child Welfare Law. 
 
Rationale behind Increase in Concerns over Childcare Quality
With more mothers returning to work and an increasingly severe shortage of approved centers in some areas, the capacity of daycare centers has emerged as an issue on the political agenda, followed by widespread quality concerns for the following reasons:
 
1) Acceleration in deregulation of approved centers to reduce the number of children waiting for a vacancy (taikijidou) since the late 1990s.
2) Policy direction towards privatization of childcare centers to improve management efficiency and reduce public outlays since 2000.
3) Occurrence of many unfortunate accidents in unapproved centers.
4) Awareness of a disparity in service between approved and unapproved centers.
 
Policy Prescription to Assure the Quality of Daycare Centers
As reform of childcare industry progresses and concerns over childcare quality by vested groups increase proportionately, official endeavors to assure quality childcare coupled with a discussion of "quality childcare" have just begun. 
 
First, all unapproved centers are now required to notify the local government of their childcare services after an amendment to Child Welfare Law became effective in October 2002. Equally important, the MHLW established a committee in 1998 to discuss the method to evaluate the social welfare service by outside experts with an aim to improve the quality of care in social welfare institutions, including childcare centers, as a part of on-going structural reform.
 
The final report, submitted by the committee in March 2002, is the most comprehensive report that sets forth the standards and procedures for third-party evaluation of childcare centers. According to the report, the quality of childcare centers should be evaluated based on four categories: 1) promotion of child development, 2) childcare support for parents, 3) cooperation with local residents and related organizations, and 4) soundness of center management and operations. The report includes chapters on the procedure for disclosing evaluation results and required training for evaluators as well as survey forms for managers and users. The evaluation is conducted at each center's discretion by the government-certified independent body.
 
Though the methodologies proposed by the MHLW have been criticized, this report should serve as a basis for further discussions and improvements of quality study as well as of actual services at daycare centers.
 
Conclusion
In Japan, the government has played a pivotal role in the childcare system. However, as the demand for daycare centers accelerates and diversifies, childcare policy reform is moving in the direction of privatization and deregulation. Concomitantly, the empirical study on quality of childcare has just begun. 
 
In my next article, I will continue discussion of the quality of childcare in Japan. 
 
  1. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has certified special daycare-centers, named '(Tokyo) Ninshou Hoikusho', according to criteria tailored to metropolitan Tokyo. They are considered as "unapproved centers certified by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government." Strictly speaking, my son attends a 'Tokyo-certified' daycare center.
  2. Please refer to my previous article, Japanese Daycare Centers: Approved (ninka) and Unapproved (muninka), (April 2004), for the characteristics of approved centers and unapproved centers.
  3. Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team (1995). Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers, Public Report (2nd ed). Denver: Economics Department, University of Colorado at Denver. This study provides the first comprehensive econometric and psychometric analysis of the relationships between the cost of childcare, the nature of children's childcare experiences, and the effects of childcare on children in the USA.
  4. To put it more precisely, some studies have been conducted on Japanese childcare centers; however, most of them were based on personal experiences or specific events, focusing on program content from socio-cultural perspectives. These studies were by no means prepared for policymaking.


References:

In English

Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
http://www.esri.go.jp/index-e.html

Japanese Center of Economic Research
http://www.jcer.or.jp/eng/index.htm

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research
http://www.ipss.go.jp/index-e.html

Quality of Life Policy Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/index-e.html

Tokyo Metropolitan Government
http://www.metro.tokyo.jp/ENGLISH/

Specific Documents
Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team (1995). Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers, Public Report (2nd. Ed). Denver: Economics Department, University of Colorado at Denver.

Niimi, Kazumasa (2002). "An Economic Analysis of Market-Needs Oriented Childcare Reform." Japan Research Quarterly, Autumn 2002. The Japan Research Institute, Ltd. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.jri.co.jp/JRQ/overview/2002/200204/JRQ200204childcare.html

Noguchi, Haruko and Shimizutani, Satoshi (2003). "Quality of Child Care in Japan: Evidence from Micro-Level Data." ESRI Discussion Paper Series No. 54. Economic and Social Research Institute, Government of Japan. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.esri.go.jp/jp/archive/e_dis/e_dis060/e_dis054a.pdf

Oishi, Akiko (2003)."Chapter 4: Childcare System in Japan." In National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (ed.), Child Related Policies in Japan. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ipss.go.jp/English/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

Tokyo Metropolitan Government (2003). Social Welfare in Tokyo. Bureau of Social Welfare, Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fukushi.metro.tokyo.jp/gaiyou/t_fukushi_e.pdf

In Japanese only

Hoiku o kangaeru oya no kai
A site created by a group of volunteer parents who are concerned about childcare.
http://www.eqg.org/oyanokai/index.html

i-kosodate net
A site providing up-to-date information on every approved daycare center in Japan.
http://www.i-kosodate.net/home.html

Specific Document
Fukushi Service ni Daisansha Hyouka [The Third Party Evaluation of Welfare Service] (Nov. 14, 2003). Yomiuri Shimbun. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on May 10, 2004: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/iryou/ansin/an3b1401.htm

Haruo, Asai (2003). Kodomo no Kenri to Hoiku no Shitsu [Children's Rights and Quality of Childcare]. Tokyo: Kamogawa shupppan.

Jidou-fukushishisetsu tou hyouka kijyun kentou iinkai [Special committee on the standard for evaluation of child welfare institutions] (2002). Jidou-fukushi Shisetsu ni okeru fukushi service no daisansha hyoka kijyun tou ni kansuru houkokusho [Report on the Standards for the Third Party Evaluation of Welfare Services within the Child Welfare Facilities]. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on May 6th, 2004: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2002/03/h0329-3.html

Maeda, Masako (2003). Kosodate wa ima: Kawaru hoikuen, Korekarano Kosodate Shien [Current Situation of Childcare: Daycare centers in transitions and Support for Childcare from Now Onward]. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.

Quality of Life Policy Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2003). Hoiku Service Shijyou no Genjyou to Kadai: Hoiku Service Kakaku ni Kansuru Kenkyukai Houkokusho [The Current Situation and Issues of Childcare Services Market: Report by a Study Group on the Cost of Childcare Services]. Quality of Life Policy Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved May 6th, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/price/hoiku/honbun.pdf

Shiraishi, Sayuri and Suzuki, Wataru (2002). "Hoiku service kyoukyuu no keizai bunseki: NinkaNinshougaihoikusho no hikaku [Economic Analysis on Child Care Supply: A Comparison of Licensed and Non-licensed]". JCER Discussion Paper No. 83. Japanese Economic Research Center. Retrieved May 6th, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.jcer.or.jp/research/discussion/discussion83.pdf

Tokushu Iza Start "Daisansha Hyouka" [Special Series: Third Party Evaluation has just begun] (2002, 2003). Sagami Aiiku-kai Jyouhoushi. [Information publication of Sagami Aiiku-kai]. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on May 6th, 2004 : http://www.aiikukai.or.jp/topics/tokusyuu/index.htm

Zenkoku Hoiku Dantai Renrakukai and Hoiku Kenkyusho [Institute of Child Care Research](2003). Hoiku Hakusho 2003 [White Paper on Childcare 2003]. Tokyo: Soudobunka.

 


Profile

Teruko Kagohashi
Teruko Kagohashi is a researcher in the field of education/international development. She received a dual master's degree from the Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York in 2000. Ms. Kagohashi has extensive overseas studying and/or working experiences in the United States, Germany, Australia and Bolivia. She currently resides in the Tokyo area with her husband and three-year-old son.
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