Uncover Causes of Abuse, Address Relevant Issues

It is absolutely unacceptable for childcare workers to be violent or verbally abusive toward children. The central and local governments must strive to ascertain the situation at problematic childcare facilities and take measures to address the issues.

The Children and Families Agency announced that there were 914 cases of “inappropriate childcare” that had a negative impact on children’s mental and physical health at day care facilities nationwide from April to December 2022. In particular, there were 90 cases of “abuse,” including the violent shaking of children’s bodies, and 20 cases of sexual abuse.

The survey was conducted for the first time following the revelation in 2022 of an incident at a day care in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, in which a child was held upside down. The significance of the survey is not small, as it exposed the reality of childcare facilities, which until now had remained unseen.

However, this survey’s findings are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Such incidents as a “lack of respect for a child’s personality” and the “use of threatening language,” which were cited as examples of inappropriate childcare, were probably difficult to interpret for local government officials in charge of day care facilities, making it challenging for officials to respond in the survey.

By prefecture, cases of inappropriate childcare remained in the single digits in 27 prefectures, compared to 173 cases in Tokyo. Even if abuse occurs at a childcare facility, there is no obligation for that facility to report such information to the local government. This deficiency in the system may have contributed to the large differences between prefectures.

In conjunction with the announcement, the agency has compiled guidelines to prevent inappropriate childcare. The guidelines specifically identify behaviors that constitute abuse, such as locking children outside, not changing their diapers or loudly scolding them.

A detailed investigation should take place to determine the extent to which cases such as those specified in the guidelines have occurred in day care facilities throughout Japan. There is also an urgent need for legislative reforms to make it mandatory to report abuse cases to the authorities.

The reality is that day care facilities are facing a labor shortage, with each day care worker taking care of many children. This can lead to such behavior as hitting a child to rush them to the bathroom or when hurrying them up during mealtime.

The government is considering a review of the criteria for assigning childcare workers. The government must aim to create a workplace environment where there is more leeway.

As at day care facilities, kindergartens that take care of small children have also seen acts of violence by teachers toward their charges. However, kindergartens are under the jurisdiction of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, and therefore they were not covered in the survey. Future surveys should be expanded to include kindergartens.

Many childcare staff take their work with children very seriously. The problem of inappropriate childcare behavior could hurt them as well. Solutions must be devised as soon as possible.

The government advocates an “extraordinary level of measures to address the declining birth rate” as a key policy. If parents cannot leave their children in the care of day care facilities with peace of mind, this policy will not be effective.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 21, 2023)