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Section 2.Promotion of Measures to Support Child Care

Thus, the number of children has grown increasingly smaller while dual-income families have become common. In the meantime, child-rearing functions of families and communities have become weaker. In light of such changes in environment around children and families, "Basic Direction for Future Child Rearing Support Measures (Angel Plan)" was formed in December 1994, according to agreement by the four Ministers of Education, Health and Welfare, Labor and Construction. This plan aims to allow the society as a whole to endeavor to support child rearing in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Based upon this plan, the whole government is promoting measures in various sectors including welfare, employment, education and housing.

As part of embodiment for the realization of the Angel Plan, a project titled "Basic Views for the Promotion of Urgent Day-Care Measures, etc. for the Time Being" (a Five-Year Project on Urgent Day-Care Measures, etc.) was mapped out in December 1994, according to agreement by Ministers of Finance, Health and Welfare and Home Affairs. The project aims to help mothers to reconcile jobs with child rearing, coping with increased and diversified nursery care needs attending on the recent increase in women's participation in the society. Nursery care for infants, extended nursery care, etc. are being promoted under this project.

In addition, the Child Welfare Law was amended in 1997 to introduce a scheme to let users select nursery centers. This amendment aimed to contribute to the provision of environment where parents can bring up their children without difficulties and support sound development of children who would be the support and driving force of the next age. The amended law was enforced in April 1998.

1. Improvement of Nursery Care Measures

(1) Absorption of waiting children mainly in cities

The number of users of nursery centers has tended to increase year by year, as dual-income families have become common. As a result, there are many so-called waiting children, who satisfy the conditions for entering a nursery center but cannot enter any, particularly in cities. The number of such children is 39,545 as of April 1, 1998. The absorption of such children has surfaced as a serious problem in the nursery care administration.

As for the nationwide supply-demand situation of nursery centers, the total capacity of nursery centers as of the same date is 1.92 million while the number of children actually going to nursery center is 1.69 million. This represents the occupancy rate of 88.3%, which means that supply exceeds demand on a national level. For the absorption of waiting children, it is necessary to nationally promote nursery care for small children and introduce deliberately considered measures in consideration of actualities in respective regions to eliminate regional imbalance between supply and demand.

Figure 5-2-1. Child Care Map of Japan - Fiscal 1998

Child Care Map of Japan - Fiscal 1998

To that end, efforts have been made for the expansion of nursery centers' capacity for small children. The measures implemented in fiscal 1998 are 1 the revision of staff placement system to enable all nursery centers to provide day care for babies, 2 the introduction of flexible full number system into nursery centers to permit excessive acceptance, and 3 trial introduction of the sub-center method. In addition, the costs for the expansion of facilities for nursery care for babies and the utilization of unoccupied classrooms at school were reckoned in the supplementary budget for fiscal 1998. Thus, both soft and hard measures were introduced for the absorption of waiting children. Furthermore, the capacity for small children will be significantly expanded under the fiscal 1999 budget (from 535,000 to 584,000), in order to completely absorb waiting small children. In addition, one hundred new "urban style small nursery centers" that can be easily established in cities will also be constructed as part of the budget. At the same time, the full number of each nursery center will be made even more flexible.

(2) Promotion of diversified nursery care services

The diversification of employment forms, including an increase in full-time female workers and the expansion of part-time works, has made it necessary to expand and improve various forms of nursery care services to satisfy varied demands of users.

To that end, various nursery care services including extended and temporary nursery services have been systematically improved under the Five-Year Project on Urgent Day-Care Measures, etc. formed in December 1994. In addition, the Child Welfare Law was amended in 1997 to introduce a scheme to let users select nursery centers according to their needs. In fiscal 1998, the systems for extended and temporary nursery care services which had been provided under traditional uniform and inflexible municipality projects were revised, to allow respective nursery centers to provide nursery care services spontaneously and subjectively. In addition, the budget for fiscal 1999, which is the last year of the five-year project, aims at significant expansion of respective projects and the relaxation of required conditions. At the same time, holiday nursery care, which is strongly required by dual-income families engaged in distribution service industries, etc., will be introduced into one hundred day-care centers on a trial basis.

(3) Cooperation between nursery centers and kindergartens

Nursery centers are child welfare facilities to provide nursery care to children who cannot be taken care of by their parents, or children of dual-income families, etc. On the other hand, kindergartens are school education facilities to provide children under school age with preschool education. Nursery centers and kindergartens have been organized and improved under different systems.

Nevertheless, both nursery centers and kindergartens are playing important roles as facilities to support child rearing. To satisfy varied needs of users reflecting actualities of respective districts, efforts are being made for the sharing of facilities, joint projects between them, and the coordination of the contents of nursery care and education.

2. Other Measures to Support Child Rearing

(1) Child Rearing Support Fund

To promote carefully designed child rearing support that reflects unique ideas of the private sector, the "Child Rearing Support Fund" was founded under the 1st supplementary budget for fiscal 1998. Part of the investment profit of the fund is used as subsidies given to private organizations. In the concrete, subsidies are given to 1 projects that reflect unique ideas in the private sector and are likely to produce national effects, 2 original, pioneering and universal projects conducted by the public sector, and 3 carefully designed local-level projects that are conducted by nonprofit foundations mainly within each prefecture or designated city. In fiscal 1998, seventy projects received such subsidies.

(2) Tax reduction in consideration of child rearing, etc.

As part of the reforms of tax system in fiscal 1999, deductions for child dependents were revised as follows, to reduce economic burden upon child rearing households. The amended system will be applied to income tax for 1999 and the following years and individual inhabitants tax for fiscal
2000 and the following years.

- Raising of deduction for dependents under 16
Income tax \380,000 \480,000
- Raising of deduction for specified dependents aged 16 or older and under 23
Income tax \580,000 \630,000
Individual inhabitants tax \430,000 \450,000

(3) Information Exchange Conference on Educational and Child Welfare Measures

Various problems involving children, e.g. delinquencies, are seriously troubling the Japanese society. Thus, it has become necessary to improve the environment to support sound development of children who will be the driving force of the next age. To that end, we thought it necessary to promote close cooperation between the educational and health & welfare administrations and contribute to the realization of effective measures. "The Information Exchange Conference on Educational and Child Welfare Measures" was organized jointly with the Ministry of Education under such circumstances. At the conference, "Joint Project by the Ministries of Education and Health and Welfare to Support Children and Their Families" was mapped out (revised in March 1999), which covers various measures including the distribution of child-rearing support booklets in cooperation by the two ministries ("You're O.K. As You Are" prepared by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and "Handbook for Family Education" prepared by the Ministry of Education). Thus, cooperative efforts are vigorously promoted.

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