National / Social Issues

Kindergartens to accept 2-year-olds from April to address day care shortage

Kyodo

The government plans to let kindergartens accept 2-year-olds from fiscal 2018 starting April 1 to address the severe shortage of day care centers, government officials said.

Kindergarten pupils are normally between 3 and 5. To accommodate 2-year-olds, the education ministry and the Cabinet Office plan to add a “temporary care” service and create subsidies for caregivers and operational expenses.

Children 3 to 5 normally stay in kindergartens until around 2 p.m. and in some cases until around 5 p.m. That is shorter than day care services and makes it difficult for working parents to enroll their children in kindergartens.

Under the government’s plan, kindergartens will take care of 2-year-olds for around eight hours per day. Day care will also be provided during summer holidays and after children turn 3 so parents will not have to look for day care centers. Fees are expected to be kept on par with day care services.

Around 26,000 children were on waiting lists for day care slots as of last April and nearly 90 percent were 2 and under. In that age group, 2-year-olds were viewed as capable of adapting to kindergarten life relatively easily, prompting the change, the officials said.

Amid the day care shortage, 5,081 facilities in the country were functioning as both kindergartens and day care centers as of April, up 1,080 from the previous year.

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