“Japan drop dead!” Could the anonymous blogger who compressed into that short sharp phrase her smoldering rage at being unable to place her child in daycare have imagined the galvanizing impact it would have? Suddenly the entire nation, from the government on down, is focused on the chronic shortage of daycare facilities and the consequences for working parents – working mothers in particular; the blogger herself is a single mother who needs daycare backup in order to earn a living.
But this is the mere periphery of Japan’s “childcare crisis,” says Spa! (April 5). Worse than the difficulty of getting children in are worries about the quality of care they receive once they are in, the entire system being badly overstrained by staff shortages, low pay, long hours and, sometimes, the negligence and irresponsibility of inexperienced, careless, frivolous or hyper-stressed staffers.
The worst-case scenario is rare but not unknown – Spa! cites a four-year-old who drowned in a Kyoto daycare wading pool and 9-month-old in an Aichi Prefecture facility who choked to death on a bit of cake.
More frequent are parental suspicions, unproven but persistent, that their children are being abused. At a Tochigi Prefecture center, a nine-month old suffering from fever was left outside on the veranda. Three days later she died. Cause and effect? The parents think so, the center denies it, and official investigation, when it occurs at all in such cases, generally proceeds only following advance notice, which gives the facility time to clear away any incriminating evidence, if any.
In Saitama Prefecture, a five-year-old boy came home from daycare one day looking bruised and battered. The teacher had “shaken” him, he said, and he’d fallen on his head. The teacher denied the shaking and said the boy had fallen while playing. Small children can’t express themselves in the sort of detail that would convince a court of law, and allegations of this sort more often than not peter out unaddressed.
What might be thought of as the lighter side of daycare slackness is its sexual undertone – not child molestation but, most commonly, staffers flirting with parents – single parents mostly, married parents sometimes. “People who work here are all women; I’ve no chance at all to meet guys,” says one young woman who boasts of having played up to, got pregnant by and finally married the divorced father of one of her little charges.
Then there’s this episode which Spa! relates of a facility in Kanagawa Prefecture: A female administrator coming back after hours for something she’d forgotten happened upon two young staffers using the center as a trysting place, lying on the very mattresses the children used for their naps. The administrator reproached them. Not at all fazed, they retorted, “On our salaries we can’t afford a love hotel!”
To that the administrator had no ready answer.© Japan Today