The Executive Yuan this week turned its attention to the nation’s low birth rate and proposed nationalizing private kindergartens.
Over the past few years, the central and local governments have been searching for a solution to the issue and have come up with a range of different approaches.
Taichung is promoting a “all-in-one childcare” policy, which provides childcare subsidies in addition to integrating babysitting, in-home nanny care and kindergarten services while controlling prices.
The system seeks to provide a comprehensive and seamless care system for children up to age six, giving parents access to reasonably priced childcare while also creating jobs.
In addition, as these services need to be outsourced to local nannies, childcare centers and kindergartens, the benefits go exclusively to Taichung households, thus preventing the issue of phantom populations registered in the city, but living elsewhere.
Last year, Taichung became the nation’s second-largest city, largely due to an influx of young people. One reason for this was the number of job opportunities, but another was the degree of support the childcare policy provides young families.
From 2014 to last year, the number of children cared for through in-home services or at centers increased from 8,407 to 14,718, while the number of children aged from two to four who were sent to kindergartens increased from 34,345 to 49,324, with the admission rate growing to 8.3 percent.
The number of jobs being created by the all-in-one policy is also on the rise, with 48 percent more childcare centers, 29 percent more childcare staff and 14 percent more kindergarten staff.
With inadequate public childcare throughout the nation, many parents have little alternative but to send their children to private institutions that charge higher fees.
Two years since the all-in-one system was implemented in cooperation by the government and private companies, parents are finding that the costs of private services are no longer beyond their reach.
The municipality now plans to devote its efforts to opening public spaces and expanding the number of nationalized kindergarten and preschool education services, so that these reasonably priced services will be available for more families.
For example, the Taichung Social Affairs Bureau is to apply to the central government for Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program funding to set up public childcare centers, while the Education Bureau is to repurpose unused campus facilities into government-run and non-profit kindergartens.
These would provide for at least 150 more classes by 2020, providing places for 4,500 more students and setting the course for achieving the city’s goal of having 40 percent of kindergarten classes government-run and evenly distributed.
Taiwan’s low birth rate is a major issue. A robust childcare system is an essential part of the solution, but the task of expanding public kindergartens and childcare services is not something that can be completed overnight.
The question of how to put private-sector resources to good use to set up effective childcare services is essential for local governments nationwide to pursue.
Lue Jen-der is director of the Taichung City Government’s Social Affairs Bureau. Peng Fu-yuan is director-general of the Taichung Education Bureau.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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