Why was shocking abusive behavior left unchecked?

Cases of horrible abuse have been revealed in childcare facilities. Why did this happen? The actual situation must be clarified, and efforts made to prevent a recurrence.

Three female teachers who worked for a private certified nursery school in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, were arrested by the prefectural police on suspicion of committing assault. The three, who were in charge of a class for 1-year-olds, are suspected of abusive behavior including grabbing a child by the legs and hanging him upside down, and hitting another on the head.

In August, the city government received a report of “inappropriate childcare practices” at the school, and 16 types of abusive behavior were confirmed in an investigation conducted by the school. It is also alleged that the three repeatedly brandished a box-cutter in front of children in a threatening manner and told children, “You’re dead,” after putting them to bed.

All of these abusive actions have put in doubt the aptitude of the three women as nursery school teachers. They have already left their jobs at the school, but there are concerns that the children’s mental and physical well-being may have been seriously affected.

Although the abusive actions had also been reported to the city, neither the nursery school nor the city government made them public until they were revealed in the media in late November. The head of the school allegedly made staff members sign a pledge to keep secret what they had learned at the school. The city considers it problematic that the head of the school attempted to conceal the abuse, filing a criminal complaint against him on suspicion of shielding the perpetrators.

It is impossible to overlook the nature of the school’s cover-up and the city’s slow response that allowed the problem to be left unresolved for more than three months. Since the children were too young to complain about the damage themselves and had no external injuries, both the school and the city appear to have thought they could handle the problem internally.

Why did as many as three nursery school teachers repeatedly engage in such problematic behavior? What was the purpose of the head of the school making staff members sign pledges? Why has the city been so slow to respond? There are many points to examine.

According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were 345 cases of inappropriate childcare practices nationwide in fiscal 2019, including verbal abuse and violent acts by nursery school teachers.

Recently, a nursery school teacher who forced a preschool child into a storeroom in the city of Toyama was referred to prosecutors on suspicion of assault. In Sendai, another case was revealed in which nursery school teachers made children eat in their underwear.

One of the three arrested in Shizuoka Prefecture reportedly told her lawyer that she felt burdened by the increased workload due to the coronavirus pandemic. That does not excuse the abusive behavior, but it may be true that the pandemic has increased the staff’s workload, such as checking body temperature and disinfecting toys.

The number of nursery schools has been increased in order to eliminate the number of children on waiting lists. As a result, there is a higher demand for nursery school teachers, which has caused a chronic labor shortage on the front line of childcare.

The central government said it will launch a nationwide survey on the actual situation at nursery schools. It is important to change the current circumstances in which one nursery school teacher is required to take care of a large number of children, and to create an environment in which teachers can work with some breathing room. There is also a need to improve training sessions for them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 8, 2022)