In a nation struggling to increase its population, and amid strong demand for day care centers operated in conjunction with children’s clinics, such facilities are fighting for their own financial health.
Hug Room, a facility in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, is operated by a pediatric clinic located downstairs in the same building.
The facility was established based on the notion that the clinic’s medical staff could care for sick children who have been dropped off.
During a recent weekday visit by a reporter, a 1-year-old girl was enjoying an early afternoon snack next to a 5-year-old girl who was playing house.
“Our role is to keep them calm until their parents pick them up,” a staff member said.
Besides one nurse, Hug Room operates with one staff member for every two children, exceeding government guidelines for such facilities.
“Under the government’s guidelines (for day care centers for ill children), the only explicit requirement is that sick children receive care,” said Hug Room’s operator, Makoto Inami.
“A system where one staffer looks after two children is needed to provide utmost care, such as holding children in one’s arms or taking care of children who have contracted chickenpox in a different room.”
Although the center is subsidized by the national and local governments, it is hard for such facilities to become profitable. The service costs only ¥2,000 a day for Setagaya Ward residents who are registered.
“She’s had a fever for the second day running, but I can’t take another day off work, so it’s really helpful,” said a 35-year-old insurance company worker who came to the facility at around 5:30 p.m. to pick up her 2-year-old daughter.
Another woman who often sends her three sons to the day care center said she trusts the facility’s staff because she has come to know them.
Inami, who also heads a committee comprising operators of nursing care facilities for sick children, has called on the government to introduce solutions that can better respond to public demands.
“As community networks no longer play a pivotal role in child-rearing, I would like to contribute to creating an environment where parents can bring up their children without stress,” Inami said. “But it won’t be possible if day care centers for sick children are forced to operate on a voluntary basis, deep in the red.”