Parents’ worries about child care

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Parents’ worries about child care

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[Lemon Tree]

Prior to the birth of her baby last August, Choi Hyun-jin, 32, was worried.

“My parents and in-laws both live in Seoul,” said Choi, whose home is in Suwon, Gyeonggi.

This meant Choi, an advertising professional, was going to need child care for her son once she finished her three months of maternity leave.

“I looked for a well-trained nanny through job agencies, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of them. To be honest, I wasn’t happy about leaving my baby in the care of a stranger anyway,” Choi said.

Eventually she came across a child care agency run by the Gyeonggi regional government. The agency puts families with kids under 24 months old in touch with nannies trained by the agency. The provincial government began the program earlier this year in response to increasing demand for higher quality child care services.

Lee Gil-sang, a spokesman for the Gyeonggi provincial government, said parents pay on average 1.3 million to 1.5 million won a month for child care specialists in Korea.

But if families hire a nanny through the Gyeonggi agency, they pay 1 million won. Lower-income families are subsidized through the agency’s annual 6.3 billion won ($6.03 million) fund.

The agency guarantees that the nannies are experienced and well trained, Lee said. This year it estimates that some 370 professional nannies trained by the agency will be caring for 2,770 babies in Gyeonggi. So far 30 nannies have been dispatched.

In addition, the local government automatically subscribes families to an insurance scheme that protects against nannies harming children in their care.

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“I’m not so worried now because I can leave my baby with a knowledgeable nanny,” Choi said, who signed up for the scheme.

Choi may count herself lucky. The state of the child care industry in Korea is far from satisfactory, according to the head of a child care support group.

“Most parents are worried about a nanny’s identity and professionalism, but it’s difficult to check nannies out because the current nanny industry is so unorganized,” said Bae Hye-sook, the founder and head of Korea Baby-sitter’s Association.

(While in other countries a babysitter is someone who looks after a child for a few hours in the evening, in Korea, the title can be used interchangeably with nanny, or a regular child care specialist.)

In fact, earlier this year, “Dissatisfaction Zero,” a consumers’ complaints program on MBC TV, aired a story about unprofessional nannies who failed to look after their charges properly.

In one case, a nanny got a five-day-old baby’s umbilical cord stump wet during bath time. The stump turned black, according to the program. The program’s investigative reporters also found that the training sessions for would-be nannies at a postnatal care center in Seoul were poorly conceived. The center even granted one trainee a certificate even though she had not completed the course.

The problem in Korea is that private agencies running nanny operations are not regulated by the government. This year alone there have been 20 cases lodged by families dissatisfied with the services of their nannies, according to the Korea Consumer Agency.

For example, a working mother, who asked to remain anonymous, complained that she made a deal over the phone with a nanny agency. But after one week of employment, the nanny sent a text to her employer that read: “My father-in-law passed away so I’m leaving. Please find another nanny.” Two weeks later, the nanny called and asked for her monthly pay.

“She [the nanny] had only worked for a week,” the mother said, adding that the nanny threatened her over the phone. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t any written contract.”

The KCA said it had also received complaints that the quality of the training that agencies say they provide is questionable. Another mother, who also requested anonymity, said the nanny she employed was “ignorant.”

However, Lee Sung-joo, 53, who looks after a 10-month-old baby in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, said she feels uneasy about the way society views her.

“I retired several years ago,” she said. “But at this age, I’ve found a new job. It’s beneficial for all three ? the mother, baby and me.”

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Although women like Lee might feel satisfied with the current situation, people like Bae of the child care association want to see changes.

She said the child care situation in Korea is less mature than in some Western countries. In the United States, Canada and England, nannies receive professional training and there are government regulations and standards, she said.

In the United States, for instance, you have to be over 18, a high school graduate, a nonsmoker and have a first-aid qualification if you want to be a nanny. You also need three references from people other than families you have worked for. And you need to submit a criminal background check.

To get a job in England, a nanny has to undergo two years of training, or have more than two years’ experience bringing up children.

There are no such regulations in Korea, Bae said, though there are laws and public policies regarding nursery or kindergarten teachers.

“The government doesn’t find any reason for a change,” she explained.

Currently, the nanny business is looked after by the Ministry of Labor, but Bae thinks it should come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

“Officials at the Ministry of Labor will be unaware of the inherent problems,” she said.

Also, nannying is “relatively new to Korea,” said Lee Hyo-jung from Babysitter Korea, an agency founded in 2000, four years after Korea’s first child care agency was set up.

The agencies are responding to the growing number of working women in Korea, Lee said, and the lack of relatives to help look after a child.

Nannies are a must, she said.

“To encourage more women to work and take part in society, it is important to first create a social atmosphere where they can work without feeling anxious,” Bae said.

Currently, there are some 102 nanny agencies nationwide. The majority are in the districts of Seocho or Songpa in southern Seoul.

“There is a greater demand for nannies,” Bae said. “The situation is not the same as for nursery schools where three children are looked after by one teacher. Parents want specialized child care.”

The YWCA also said that it receives 10 requests for nannies a day. The association gives its nannies two weeks of training, sessions which are run by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea. Some 40 nannies are registered.

“There aren’t many well-developed public agencies and parents are very cautious,” Bae said.

Some parents look for a nanny by themselves, which Bae considers “very dangerous.”

“Mothers aren’t experts so they select nannies who are humane but aren’t professional,” Bae said.

The Seoul metropolitan government is promoting its own child care service business, which started this year. Nannies on this scheme charge 5,000 won an hour.

“The city has recognized increasing demand for child care,” said Ko Seon-joo from the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family.

Yeungjin College in Daegu and Daegu city government opened programs for training professional nannies last year.

The Bucheon Senior Club, within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, offers people over 50 two weeks of training.

“They’re very experienced,” said Kim Mi-hee, one of the organizers of the club. “They’ve raised their own kids.”

In 2003, the club dispatched some three or four nannies, but this year that number rose to 40.


By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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