The demand for baby sitters in Japan is soaring amid a shortage of public day care services for preschool children.
“It is very hard to book a good baby sitter. It is a hard-fought battle,” said a 33-year-old working mother who has used them for 1½ years in Yokohama.
Her two children, aged 5 and 2, are looked after by a baby sitter every Monday night, allowing her to balance work with life.
“I cannot imagine my life without a baby sitter,” she said.
As of April, the number of children nationwide waiting to enroll in an authorized public day care facility came to 26,081 — a tally caused by a lack of facilities and nursing staff.
Baby sitters used to considered a luxury viable only for the wealthy. But that view is changing.
“Women used to be asked, ‘Do you really want to bring a stranger home and leave your children with her?’ ” said Chiho Yoshikawa, 51, who manages Japan’s first baby-sitting company, which began in Tokyo in 1972.
Baby sitters are in great demand nowadays because they are more flexible and can handle urgent requests from working parents who find themselves unexpectedly forced to work overtime.
Poppins Corp., a leading supplier of baby sitters, hires 30 to 50 new ones every month.
“We want to hire more people, but we have to maintain quality of service,” said Poppins’ public relations officer.
Baby sitters are being used to cover the day care shortage by places like Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, which hires them to care for children whose applications to authorized day care centers have been denied.
For four straight years, Chiyoda Ward had no children waiting for day care thanks to dispatched baby sitters. In fiscal 2017, the ward office allocated a budget of ¥360 million ($3.2 million) for the service.
This year, however, the number of people using the service reached its limit of 25 for the first time.
“Other municipalities began to take the same approach, and we are competing in recruiting nursery staff,” said a Chiyoda Ward official. “We will not be able to accept all applicants to day care facilities next spring if the current situation continues.”
Websites focused on freelance baby sitting are becoming increasingly popular because no kind of certification is required.
But it is not without its problems. In 2014, a 2-year-old boy was suffocated to death by a baby sitter who got hired through a website.
“You have to talk directly to your baby sitter and elaborate your requests and concerns beforehand. Do not depend solely on emails when you ask someone to take care of your children for the first time,” said Mayumi Nagasaki, 52, secretary-general of All Japan Childcare Services Association.