Public childcare services need to be universal rather than provided as “favors,” the Childcare Policy Alliance said yesterday, calling into question the government’s policy of increasing the number of daycare centers, which the alliance says are expensive to build and benefit few families.
With long waiting lists for daycare centers, most people welcome the establishment of more childcare centers, the alliance said.
However, the alliance called the promise made by officials to build more facilities “a mistaken policy that would crowd out the majority of people in need of such services.”
The alliance said the public needs to realize that is it not just that “supply does not meet surging demand,” and face the core of the problem, which is that the supply system is flawed.
Alliance convener Liu Yu-hsiu (劉毓秀) said that the 55 public daycare centers established across the nation in the past two years can only enroll 2,640 children aged up to two years, while the number of newborns during the same period was 428,594.
“From government data we also found that 50 percent of newborns were cared for by mothers who did not work, and that left us with 50 percent of the newborns, or 214,297 babies, potentially in need of child care services when their mothers go to work,” Liu said.
The coverage rate of public childcare centers, or the proportion of children younger than two years for whom there is a public childcare space, is a mere 1.2 percent, she added.
“The benefits enjoyed by the 1.2 percent of the families with young children, or the 55 centers, cost the central and local governments nearly NT$1.2 billion [US$39.6 million] in two years,” Liu said.
“That means that to raise the coverage rate to a universal level you need to multiply NT$1.2 billion by almost 100, which equals NT$120 billion,” Taiwan Labor Front representative Chang Feng-yi (張烽益) said.
“Universal coverage simply cannot be achieved by the costly policy of ‘building more,’ but people cheered when they saw a few centers being set up. It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes,” he said.
National Alliance of Parents Organizations president Gordon Hsieh (謝國清) agreed, cautioning the public not to be “deceived by appearances.”
“We do not want a policy that only helps boost politicians’ reputation, and leaves future generations deep in debt,” Hsieh said.
The alliance is also opposed to subsidizing private childcare centers, saying that the move would fail to cover families that leave their kids with caregivers, and profits the private facilities without proper supervision.
“What we are advocating is similar to what the Greater Taichung Government is doing, which is subsidizing and supervising the community child caregiver system, thereby stabilizing the price of childcare services,” Liu said.
Liu added that in Greater Taichung, childcare providers are to be employed in each community, with the price and management of services overseen by the government and community childcare committees which include parent representatives and ombudsmen.
“Not only can this system benefit more people, it can also steer clear of the problem of urban-rural disparity in access to childcare services that bedevils the policy centered on building more facilities,” Liu added.
Under this system, employment opportunities are increased, and both parents can retain their jobs, “another plus in terms of women’s empowerment,” Awakening Foundation policy director Chyn Yu-rung (覃玉蓉) said.
“It should be noted that in Taiwan, the traditional conception that women should be the main caregivers in the family still dominates the public mindset, according to which women are usually the ones to quit their job if no affordable childcare services are available,” she said.