The Welfare Ministry on Monday said 30,000 more assisting nannies will be assigned to public day care centers suffering from a chronic workforce shortage, as part of the long-term measures to enhance child welfare and prevent abuses.
Currently, a single assisting nanny is appointed for every four day care workers caring for children aged from 3 to 5 at state-run centers. Under the Child Welfare Law of Korea, a single day care worker is allowed to take care of a maximum of three babies aged less than a year old at a time. One nanny is allowed to care for up to five 1-year-olds, seven 2-year-olds, 15 3-year-olds and 20 children aged four or older.
Many experts in the field have said that the current law is putting too much pressure on day care workers, claiming it is especially difficult for a single nanny to take care of three to seven babies at the same time.
“Even mothers say it’s difficult to take care of a single child all day long,” said Park Chun-hwa, a day care worker in Seoul. “But day care workers have to care for as many as seven babies to 20 children, all at the same time. The maximum number of children a single worker is allowed to care for should be cut to half of what it is stipulated in the laws now.”
Overseas studies have long shown that stress influences a care worker’s behavior toward his or her patients or children. Most institutional abuses are the result of difficult or stressful working environments, according to a 1997 study by Cornell University. In overstressed situations, power over patients or children can bring feelings of control and importance to care workers, according to the same study.
To tackle the issue, the Welfare Ministry plans to increase the number of assisting nannies to help day care workers, particularly those looking after babies aged up to 2. Up until now, workers who take care of infants aged up to two were not eligible to receive help from assisting nannies. There are currently some 6,600 assisting nannies helping day care workers care for children aged 3 to 5 nationwide. The Welfare Ministry plans to expand the number to 36,600.
The ministry will also hire some 3,000 more substitute nannies to replace staff when he or she is required to attend a job training session or situations of emergency arise. Up until now, substitutes were only allowed to fill in when a staff worker is on his or her honeymoon or on their vacation. In emergency situations, coworkers, not a substitute, had to fill his or her space.
Currently, there are only about 450 substitute nannies employed nationwide.
The government has been preparing measures to curb child abuse following a series of controversial cases that rocked the country earlier this year.
In January, a daycare worker in Incheon was caught on CCTV footage beating a 4-year-old for not finishing her meal. Nationwide concern about child abuse by child care workers erupted thereafter.
Last week, the National Assembly passed a bill requiring all child care centers to install surveillance cameras and keep the recordings for at least 60 days.
The bill also states that the government should provide counseling services and increase the number of day care workers, as their heavy workload and stress together have been often cited as a cause of child abuse at child care facilities.
The Welfare Ministry estimates some $190 billion won ($176.1 million) would be needed to hire substitute and assistant nannies.
Day care worker Park, however, said installation of surveillance cameras may make it harder for the child care staff to discipline the children.
“Since many parents are extremely anxious after the Incheon abuse case, a lot of them already tell us not to make things that their children don’t want to do, even if it’s about cleaning the table after finishing an art class,” she said.
“I don’t know if this is necessarily a good thing for children and their development.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)