Written by the CWLF.
In order to counter the declining birth-rate in Taiwan, in August 2018 the Executive Yuan enacted new childcare policies to support families with children aged zero to five. The new policies mainly consist of expanding the scale of public childcare services, establishing a set of mechanisms for quasi-public childcare providers, and raising childcare subsidies. However, in March 2019 The Child Welfare League Foundation (CWLF) surveyed parents all around Taiwan and found that up to 30% of parents whose children are in the care of quasi-public nursery schools or quasi-public day care centres have ever encountered situations where childcare providers violate government rules. For example, the fee charged by providers was beyond the government-approved range, the fee was raised after the contract was signed, or where providers would create various ways to ask parents to pay for services they hadn’t paid for before, and so on. Although the government promised to expand the scale of public childcare services by increasing the numbers of public nursery schools, quasi-public nursery schools that are under the collaboration of the government and private schools, and also non-profit schools, there remain some issues of concern. Here we discuss four of them.
First, childcare subsidies should be given to all families with children aged under five years old, regardless of how or from whom the children receive care.
According to the current policies regarding childcare financial support, the amount of subsidy that every family receives differs depending on how or from whom their child receives care. For example, a monthly allowance of NT$2,500 per child is paid to families which have a stay-at-home parent to care for their children and whose children are aged under four, while families whose children are in the care of a nanny or nursery school that is under quasi-public childcare program can choose to either apply for monthly child allowance of NT$6,000 or pay the nursery schools only up to NT$4,500 per month. The CWLF suggests that all policies regarding childcare financial support should be integrated. Childcare subsidies should be equally and widely paid to all families with children under five, regardless how or from whom their children receive care, so that all child-rearing families can receive equal support from the government. Moreover, two types of childcare subsidies from the central government must not be mutually exclusive so as to assist families more in raising their children, which means families should be able to gain both types of childcare subsidy from the government.
Second, a bonus should be paid to families when they have a second child instead of a third. The more children a family has, the higher the bonus the family should receive.
Among all Taiwanese women who gave birth in 2017, 50.52% gave birth to their first child, 37.82% to their second, and only 11.66% to their third. According to the current policy, only when a family has a third child will they receive a bonus of NT$1,000 per month. However, this does not seem to encourage those with two children to have a third because the bonus is not large and not appealing enough to most families. Therefore, the bonus should be given to families starting from the second child. Also, the bonus should be raised as a family has more children.
Third, there have been many problems since the quasi-public childcare program has come into effect. The government should fully review this program and step up efforts to control quality of childcare services.
In 2018 the Executive Yuan proposed criteria for managing the quality of quasi-public childcare services, including that quasi-public childcare providers pass evaluation and receive inspection and coaching from the government, and they should establish a system for daily management as well as an exit mechanism. However, there have been many problems since the new policy was implemented. For instance, some quasi-public childcare providers would fabricate excuses to charge extra fees from parents. Some would not follow the contract with the government to adjust their teachers’ and caregivers’ salaries or purchase new facilities after receiving the subsidies. Some have even hired teachers or caregivers who have no professional certification. All these problems have dented the government’s good intentions. From our perspective, the government should fully review the quasi-public childcare program in respect of the childcare providers’ operational system and execution. Furthermore, governmental inspection and monitoring of providers must be enhanced and exit mechanisms should be carried out in order to ensure that the quality of quasi-public childcare services has not been sacrificed.
Fourth, the child-to-caregiver ratio for toddler day-cares should be reduced to 1:4. The student-to-faculty ratio for nursery schools should also be decreased upon further discussion.
There have been many child abuse incidents in toddler day-cares or nursery schools lately, which mainly resulted from the heavy workload endured by caregivers and preschool teachers. According to the current law in Taiwan, the child-to-caregiver ratio for toddler day-cares that provide children aged two and under with care is 1:5. The student-to-faculty ratio for nursery schools that take care of two to three year old children is 1:8, while for the ones that look after three to six year old children it is 1:15. The relatively high ratios do not allow caregivers and nursery school teachers to get enough rest, so it is hard for them to take good care of every single child. In the long run, the long working hours caused by such heavy workloads will make the caregivers and teachers emotionally unstable or cause them to lose control of their temper, which will also affect the quality of childcare. Therefore, the government should reduce the child-to-caregiver ratio for day-care to 1:4 and also decrease the student-to-faculty ratio for nursery schools upon further discussion, so as to improve the working condition of caregivers and nursery school teachers, promote the quality of childcare services, and enhance the safety of children who are under the care of day-cares or nursery schools.
The government’s release of the policies for raising Taiwan’s falling birth rate was well-intentioned. However, these policies are not working well in easing families’ burden of raising children and effectively boosting the birth rate. These policies have been ineffective for the following reasons. First, families can not apply for two types of childcare subsidies from the government; they can only choose monthly child allowance or the subsidy for paying quasi-public nursery schools. Second, some quasi-public childcare providers run their business without really following the government’s regulations. Third, caregivers and nursery school teachers are overworked and burned out. From our point of view, the government should not only face up to the problems actively but improve the policies as soon as possible. Moreover, supporting measures should be added to complement these policies. For instance, the government should provide families with more economic support and diverse choices of childcare services that are convenient to families (these services must be of a good quality and at a reasonable price). Also, the government should create family-friendly workplaces for parents and work on the problem of high housing prices so that families can afford their own houses or apartments. Only when these various approaches are applied to expand the scope and depth of childcare policies can Taiwan’s declining birth rate be possibly improved – parents would feel at ease and less stressed when raising children and, importantly, children would receive good care as well.
Child Welfare League Foundation (CWLF) is a local non-profit organization in Taiwan; we have been promoting and advocating a wide range of child welfare services in relation to children’s rights. These include indirect services such as improving children’s rights legislation, advocating for children’s rights and providing direct services to children. Furthermore, the direct services consist of adoption, family relationships advice, missing children search, children’s hotline and so on. Image credit: CC by Jay Hsu/Flickr