Fixing day care
The government and legislature are devising various measures after a cascade of complaints about negligence and mistreatment of children in day care centers. The Ministry of Health and Welfare in reporting its goals for the year to the president said the government will raise the payment of child care allowances for parents who do not send their children under the age of two to day care centers. The legislature passed a bill making CCTV installations compulsory in all day care centers. The actions came amid growing anxiety about day care services after CCTV footage of a teacher in one institution in Incheon showed her smacking a four-year-old girl for not finishing her kimchi. The government and legislative response was swift, but they have failed to seriously address the fundamental problems.
The root of the controversy over day care centers is in a hastily devised free day care policy. On Dec. 31, 2011, the legislature out of the blue came up with a bipartisan bill to make day care for infants under the age of two free for all families. The plan was rushed through without answering why it was so urgent to make day care free for infants and toddlers when that service is more practical for children aged three to four. Obviously, the politicians were clueless about child care. In 2013, the plan was expanded for all preschoolers under the age of five. The president campaigned for the bill and the opposition helped.
Even in the best welfare states like Denmark and France, governments do not subsidize day care regardless of income, age, and employment backgrounds of the parents. Our policy even surprised the rich country group of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. The government and politicians went overboard with the concept of a universal welfare system. The system went in force for two years at a cost of 10 trillion won ($9.23 billion). And yet, it made few people happy.
To raise the standard of day care, the top 30-percent income bracket should be excluded from the benefit. This decision can only come from the chief executive, the president herself, since free day care was her campaign promise. The Saenuri Party should help her come to this difficult decision. The president has scaled down her ambitious welfare promise to senior citizens by excluding the higher-income population from senior allowances. That will save 3 trillion won. That money could be spent to improve the quality of day care services. Public day care centers should be increased. Work conditions for teachers and staff and measures to prevent child abuses should be improved. The legislative must not think installing CCTVs is the end of its work. The government and politicians should work together to redesign the day care policy from scratch. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 24, Page 30