Small nurseries may receive more leeway in bid to shorten waiting lists


The government plans to let small authorized nurseries accept children aged up to 3 as part of an emergency package of measures aimed at shortening nursery waiting lists, it has been learned.

Currently, most nurseries have a cutoff point of 2 years old, in principle.

The government is also considering raising the upper limit on the number of children each small nursery can accept from the current 19, informed sources said Saturday.

The emergency package, to be announced by Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki on Monday, will include deregulation steps, a survey on steps taken by parents to get children enrolled, and financial support for nursery renovations.

The government will prioritize support in 114 municipalities where children on waiting lists total 50 or more and municipalities are actively working to solve the problem, the sources said.

How to deal with the nationwide nursery shortage is becoming a major issue for the House of Councilors election this summer. The issue drew more attention recently after an angry blog post by an unidentified woman who complained she was at risk of losing her job because the nursery application for her child was rejected went viral.

As part of the steps, the government will think of easing rules that require a set number of nursery teachers based on children’s age.

For children aged 1 to 2, for example, a nursery is currently required to have one teacher for about every six children. The emergency package will call for increasing the number of children per teacher.

Some municipalities with stricter standards have nursery capacity limits that are lower than the government’s. They will be asked to be more flexible, the sources said.

In urban areas where waiting times are longer, the government plans to boost subsidies for shuttle buses to encourage parents to use nurseries in areas outside their own municipalities.

The emergency package will also call for consultations with parents seeking nurseries in municipalities with 50 or more children on waiting lists, the sources said.

In addition, the welfare minister and heads of municipalities where 100 or more children are on such lists will hold an emergency meeting in April to jointly discuss countermeasures, the sources said.

As any emergency package will most likely increase the burden on nursery teachers, the government will separately compile measures for the medium term, including steps to promote nursery construction and a hike teacher salaries, the sources said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is slated to explain his administration’s efforts to address the problem on Tuesday, when the fiscal 2016 budget is expected to be enacted, the sources said.