About this Study
1. Status of night nurseries and children needing night childcareNote 1
1-1. Actual conditions of night nurseries
First of all, childcare facilities offering night childcare services have two categories: certified facilities (night nurseries and ECEC centers providing night childcare) and uncertified facilities (such as baby hotels). According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), there are 81 night nurseries (as of April 2018) and 1,473 baby hotels (including unauthorized baby hotels; as of March 31, 2018) across Japan.
Most night nurseries are certified childcare facilities offering childcare services from 11:00 until 22:00 per dayNote 2. In other words, they provide both day-time and night-time childcare services.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Mizuho Information & Research Institute, Inc., about 90% of night nurseries provide extended day-time childcare services before 11:00 in the morning, and about 60% provide extended night-time childcare services after 22:00. For baby hotels, the MHLW defines them as facilities usually providing (1) night childcare services after 20:00 or (2) overnight childcare services, or (3) temporarily accepting 50% or more of service-user children. Therefore, not all baby hotels provide night childcare services.
Figure 1: Breakdown of certified night nurseries and baby hotels (by operating hours)
Figure 1 shows the numbers of certified night nurseries and baby hotels, respectively, according to their operating hours based on the most recently published data. The chart indicates that 628 baby hotels (42.6%) operate until 20:00, while 845 baby hotels (57.4%) provide night-time (after 20:00), midnight, or overnight childcare services. For the certified night nurseries in Figure 1, we analyzed the data of 59 night nurseries (whose opening hours have been recorded in the National Night Childcare Federation's register) selected from 81 night nurseries across Japan. Even if we included the remaining 22 night nurseries in our analysis, it is apparent that the number of uncertified baby hotels exceeds the number of certified childcare facilities in all operating time zones (i.e., night-time, midnight, overnight, and 24 hours). In other words, the number of certified childcare facilities offering night childcare services is very low.
1-2. The problems of baby hotels and children's family welfare
The Japanese government implemented a new childcare policy for night childcare in 1981. This initiative stemmed from a series of fatalities at baby hotels. These fatalities were recognized as a social problem by the beginning of 1980.
Sociologist Kakiuchi (1981) stated that "Many fatal accidents to children occurred at baby hotels. This issue of uncertified childcare facilities was caused by a structural deficiency arising from the national and local governments' childcare policies." He suggested; "We should re-examine the concept of baby hotels considering that they are "unauthorized for-profit childcare service providers (facilities)" (it should be noted, however, that there are some baby hotels that are non-profit and conscientious; they should not be included in the above category). He also pointed out that the definition of baby hotels as "facilities providing night-time, overnight, and/or hourly childcare services" specified by the then Health and Welfare Ministry would not identify the root cause of problems in baby hotels.
Meanwhile, child welfare sociologist Yamagata (1983) stated that "The issue of baby hotels is the issue of children in need of protection, particularly children in need of childcare." He also pointed out that "These affected children (in particular, babies) were obliged to use baby hotels because they could not receive necessary childcare support." Therefore, we should thoroughly investigate whether childcare facilities provide sufficient childcare support from the standpoint of child welfare. We also need to examine whether children are not victimized for the convenience of adults such as childcare workers, working mothers, and for-profit companies. Ultimately, we should address the problems of baby hotels by re-evaluating the quality and inclusiveness of childcare policies.
To secure the best interest of all children, the quality of childcare services should be the same in all operating time zones. We should not permit any social environments harmful to children's human rights.
According to a survey conducted from April 2017 to November 2018 by the Administrative Evaluation Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2018), more fatalities occurred at uncertified childcare facilities than certified facilities. In contrast, the number of serious accident reports (apart from fatalities) was very low. These facts indicate that the majority of serious accidents at uncertified childcare facilities are more likely to go unreported and remain unknown.
This survey also revealed one accident case where a child aged zero was sent to an uncertified childcare facility in the evening and slept there at midnight. Two hours later, when his mother arrived, the child was found in a state of cardio-respiratory arrest. The medical record indicates that the cause of death was unknown; that the facility did not provide adequate measures to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome); and that information sharing was insufficient among all childcare workers of the facility.
Furthermore, according to "Statistics on accident reports from educational/childcare facilities in 2019" which report incidents between January and December 2018 published by the Office for Children and Child-rearing under the Cabinet Office (2019), the number of fatalities at uncertified childcare facilities was significant. In particular, the number of deaths during nap time was considerable. Therefore, improvement of the quality of night childcare services from the standpoint of child/family welfare is an urgent requirement. If we fail to do so, more and more children and single-parent families will continue suffering from the current inadequate childcare system.
"The weak and vulnerable always suffer. If this rule kills children, we should protect them by ourselves. We should push the government to remedy the current administrative deficiency."
The above words appear in an official report submitted by the "Association for studying childcare issues to prevent little Keiichi's death having been in vain." The association was established by the parents who lost a little child at an uncertified childcare facility in 1972. This incident occurred before the problems of baby hotels became a social issue. The parents and other members prepared the above report, hoping for sufficient improvement of childcare environments whereby the loss of children's lives will never occur.
For families needing the services of childcare facilities to maintain a family life with children, the most important and fundamental requirement is to secure a safe and healthy childcare environment in society. The introduction of certified night nurseries aims to secure the welfare of both children and child-rearing families.
About 40 years have passed since a pilot project for night childcare was implemented as one of Japan's childcare policies in 1981, and 25 years have passed since the project became official in 1995. According to the survey report on the actual conditions of uncertified childcare facilities published by the MHLW, the average number of children receiving night childcare services after 20:00 (including midnight and overnight childcare) between 2007 and 2017 was 4,387 per year, while the average number of children receiving 24-hour childcare services was 302 per year (Ohe, 2019). These results indicate that the need for night childcare services solidly exists to a certain degree. Nevertheless, the number of certified night nurseries remains at the same level of 81. This means that most night childcare services are provided by uncertified childcare facilities.
2. The issue of family support revealed by the National Night Childcare Federation's survey
The National Night Childcare Federation, established in 1983, is an organization to which many of the licensed night childcare facilities are a member of. The federation aims to "enhance the quality of night childcare services through collaboration among night nurseries duly certified under the Child Welfare Act, thereby contributing to the development of child welfare" (National Night Childcare Federation, 1984). Accordingly, it has been conducting field surveys and research studies to improve the environmental conditions of night childcare, as well as the quality of entire childcare and the government's childcare policies.
When looking into its past surveys and research studies, the issue of "family support" has been presented continuously since 1988 (Ohe, 2019). In addition, it is revealed that children needing night childcare are more likely to come from a single-parent family (especially a single-mother family) with low income and use longer hours of childcare services. These data indicate that, to ensure children's best interests, night childcare workers are required to implement necessary childcare services and family support with a long-term perspective.
In addition, according to a research study on the effects of night childcare on children, the development of children is strongly related to child-rearing environments at home, parental confidence in child-rearing, and the availability of family support, instead of the style and time of day of childcare (Anme & Oh, 2000). Therefore, family support from night nurseries is considered to be particularly important to ensure the development of children.
However, the reality is that most night childcare services are provided by uncertified childcare facilities where public assistance is difficult to obtain and staffing for family support is poor. Therefore, I decided to examine the conditions of family support needed from night nurseries based on the field survey of the National Night Childcare Federation, which was conducted after an interval of about ten years from the previous survey.
- Anme, T. & Oh, J. (2000). Study on the effects of night childcare on children. Japanese Journal of Human Sciences of Health-Social Services, vol.7, no. 1, pp7-18.
- Kakiuchi, K. (1981). The characteristics of recent childcare policies and the issues of baby hotels. ed. by Suzuki, M. The actual conditions and issues of baby hotels. Sasara Shobo, pp 138-167.
- Association for studying childcare issues to prevent little Keiichi's death having been in vain. (1982). 130 little cries: Report on the study of accidental deaths at day nurseries. We Want Keiichi Back No.9. Tokyo.
- Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (2018). The establishment status of night childcare facilities in 2018 (as of April 1, 2018).
https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/11900000/H30tyousakekka.pdf (in Japanese, Accessed April 26, 2019)
- Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (2019). A survey report on the actual conditions of uncertified childcare facilities in 2017.
https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/11907000/000522194.pdf (in Japanese, Accessed July 22, 2019)
- Mizuho Information & Research Institute, Inc. (2019). Research survey on the operation status, etc. of night childcare facilities.
https://www.mizuho-ir.co.jp/case/research/pdf/h30kosodate2018_04.pdf (in Japanese, Accessed April 24, 2019)
- Office for Children and Child-rearing under the Cabinet Office. (2019). Announcement of the "Statistics on accident reports from educational/childcare facilities in 2019" and measures to prevent future accidents.
https://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/shinseido/outline/pdf/h30-jiko_taisaku.pdf (in Japanese, Accessed January 30, 2020)
- Ohe, M. (2019). The historical transition of night childcare and the environment surrounding night childcare: Through literature review of night childcare. Journal of Human Environmental Studies, vol.17, no.2, pp.127-138.
- Administrative Evaluation Bureau under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. (2018). Report on the administrative evaluation and monitoring for child-rearing support, focusing on safety measures at childcare facilities.
https://www.soumu.go.jp/main_content/000583885.pdf (in Japanese, Accessed January 30, 2020)
- Yamagata, F. (1983). Evaluation on measures for baby hotels and other night childcare facilities. Journal of Social Welfare, vol.24, no.2, pp.127-152.
- National Night Childcare Federation. (1984). National Night Childcare Federation's Regulations: Survey on children attending night childcare facilities and the conditions of their family. Material IV 109.
All data reported in this article were compiled based on the "2019 survey report on children using night nurseries: the actual conditions of night nurseries under the latest support policies for children and child-rearing families" published by the National Night Childcare Federation. The analysis and reporting of the above survey were conducted jointly by the author and Professor Emeritus Keiichi Sakurai at Bunkyo University, who serves as advisor for the federation.
This article was prepared based on the presentation material used at the 16th Conference of the Japanese Society of Child Science held between October 26 and 27, 2019 at Tokyo Metropolitan University.