[EDITORIALS]Child care plan a good start

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[EDITORIALS]Child care plan a good start

The Ministries of Health and Welfare, Gender Equality and Labor announced Wednesday a plan to promote child care services. The announcement came a month after President Kim Dae-jung ordered a program to improve child care. What the government has done marks a significant achievement in an area where positive action has been lacking.

The plan's focus is on the care of infants 2 years of age and younger and of children who have no one to take care of them after school and on holidays. The plan addresses an urgent social problem that has been ignored far too long. The care for infants is related to the employment situation of our society, where a women's average working life is 4.3 years.

The urgent need for after-school care for older children has been illustrated by tragic accidents and youth crime, which could have been prevented by greater parental oversight.

But the government's plan is not without weaknesses. One is the fact that the plan's primary operation has not been shifted to the public realm. When it comes to child care, public facilities supported and overseen by the government do the best job in terms of quality and affordability. The latest plan does not greatly expand public facilities.

The plan will lead to a larger burden on the users of private services, however, since it encourages greater financial autonomy in operations under the guise of improved quality.

Another important feature of the plan, the certification of housewives as babysitters after requisite training, is likely to be insufficient in increasing affordable care.

The plan must be supplemented by establishing a practical mechanism that links caregivers and parents who require their services. And it should also be modified to recognize the significant pool of caregivers trained and sent to work by various women's organizations during the last two decades.

Korea is approaching an era of a sharp decline in births, and our society increasingly requires the services of women to fill vital jobs. Child care must be recognized as an important part of the nation's foundation, and the new plan must be supplemented to make it effective and constructive in the long run.
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