Quality, efficient day careThe quickly cobbled together universal free day care system for toddlers is raising concerns for its efficacy due to many loopholes. The budget is already leaking due to a mechanical and rigid financing system. About 390,000 children who use day care centers for an average of seven hours are subsidized with funds for a full 12 hours, according to an investigative report by the JoongAng Ilbo.
According to the report, the leaks cost 350 billion won ($329 million) from national coffers and another 350 billion won from local governments. That is 10 percent going down the drain out of a total 7 trillion won in this year’s budget to finance a free day care service for all toddlers under five.
The government raised the problem when the system went on trial last year and tried to fix it by providing for half-day instead of full-day care. But the National Assembly ignored the government proposal and went on rubber-stamping the original bill.
The extension of free day care also has not been accompanied by a better service standard. Child day care jobs in private centers or nursery schools pay about 1.14 million won a month, compared with a 1.53 million won average wage at state-run or other public facilities. Parents naturally prefer public facilities because of better service and care. The government subsidization program can worsen the imbalance in the day care service market.
The system should be revised and reformed if the receiving end is not satisfied despite the immense cost. The main problem is that the government subsidizes day care for children without consideration for the income and working condition of their family. Social welfare benefits should be enhanced, but need not be equally shared regardless of their needs and demand. Social welfare and security should be given first to the people who need them in order to prevent budgetary waste and moral hazard.
The government could benchmark the Australian support program where it subsidizes day care for 24 hours per week for stay-at-home mothers and 50 hours for working mothers. The government said it will carry out the program in March as planned and make revisions afterward. But obvious problems should be fixed first to make the system work and prevent waste.