|▲ Children Group Members and citizens asserting the introduction of children's allowance
Child welfare is defined as economic, social and emotional support to create basic conditions that permit children to lead a happy life and make harmonious growth and development (Article 3.2 of Child Welfare Act [CWA]). And a child is defined as one aged less than 18 (Article 3.1 of CWA). The range of children in social welfare is relatively shorter than adults or seniors. Still, childhood is separated to form an area of child welfare probably because of their developmental characteristics. That is, society needs to give desirable environmental support so that immature children in terms of development can make normal development. Moreover it is necessary to give sub-divided support based on children's developmental age or characteristics since childhood may see the most rapid physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development. This article focuses on welfare for infancy and early childhood as a part of childhood.
Welfare for Infants and Young Children
The period from birth to preschool age is called infancy and early childhood. Welfare for infants and young children involves diverse policies, such as financial support for childcare, livelihood support, health support, and adoption and commission. Of these, the most universal type of welfare is childcare welfare, which includes financial support for childcare. The childcare environment for infants and young children has gone through lots of changes and growth for a short period of 25 years since the Child Care Act (CCA) was established in 1991. The environment for childcare in infancy and early childhood was very poor in South Korea by the early 1990s. Then, the establishment of CCA rapidly increased the number of nurseries. Specifically, the number of nurseries increased approximately ten times from 1,919 in 1990 to 19,276 in 2000 and has since continued to increase: 38,021 in 2010 and 43,742 in 2014.
While the establishment of CCA has increased concerns about childcare and made a quantitative increase of childcare facilities, the issue of lower quality of childcare has appeared. The existing act specifies a benefit principle, causing criticisms about the absence of public childcare; as a positive effort to solve this problem, CCA was totally revised in 2005. The revised act specifies the idea of childcare based on universalism, children's right to be cared and national responsibility for childcare and introduces new systems, such as the childcare teacher qualification system and the childcare center accreditation system, giving a chance for contributing to the higher quality of childcare.
Public Childcare Policies
The Baby Love Plan (2009-2012) made by the Lee Myeong-bak administration, first of all, aimed to reinforce national responsibility for childcare. As part of its effort, the program for giving the total amount of childcare fees for 0- to 2-year-olds and the childrearing subsidy system were introduced. Since the year of 2012, very positive public childcare policies have been performed, including Nuri Curriculum commonly applicable to five-year-olds using both kindergartens and nurseries.
The Park Geun-hye administration expanded Nuri Curriculum for five-year-olds to cover three- and four-year-olds and give financial support with childcare for all children using nurseries. The administration also expanded the target for childcare subsidies from 0- to 2-year-olds using no childcare facility in the lower-income bracket to all the age groups in every income bracket. As a result, the universal childcare and free-of-charge childcare on totally national responsibility was achieved. The childcare budget has significantly increased, with public childcare programs 11 times up in ten years from 43.8 billion won in 2004 to approximately 4 trillion won in 2014.
What does infant and young child care need to involve after lots of changes in such a short period of 25 years. The greatest task with which the childcare has recently been faced might be “kindergarten-nursery integration,” which can be very novel to anyone not majoring in paedology. This means integration of kindergartens and childcare facilities (nurseries) as a collaboration among governmental departments. Childcare and education institutions for infants and young children in Korea are now divided into kindergartens for children aged three or older and nurseries for 0- to 5-year-olds. While both types of institutions are used by children in the same age group, kindergartens are controlled by the Ministry of Education and nurseries by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Such a binary control can give differences in relevant programs and regulations as well as in the budget and cause inconvenience for consumers.
The Kindergarten-Nursery Integration Committee formed in 2013 has gradually proceeded with the integration through evaluation association, common application of financial and accounting rules, and the increase of the contents for information notification between kindergartens and nurseries. Reporting that it starts to unify the cards for education and childcare fees, allow 0- to 2-year-olds to use kindergartens (pilot), and revise the teacher qualification and training systems in 2015 and is going to finish narrowing the gap in teacher treatment between kindergartens and nurseries and integrating monitoring departments and resources in 2016, the committee is making efforts to create a systematic and excellent education and care environment for infants and young children. However, opinions about notification of evaluation and integration for kindergartens and nurseries and integration of the criteria for teacher training course and qualification still differ significantly between early childhood education and childcare, compromise and discussions should be made about the issue.
Childcare Paradigm Shift
The childcare paradigm in Korea has been shifted from selection to universalism, from private to public one, and from supplier-centered to consumer-centered one. If free-of-charge childcare for all the age groups in every income bracket is the realization of universalism and public childcare, it is now necessary to make more efforts to create a consumer-centered childcare environment. Article 1 of the CCA provides that the Act shall aim to "give physical and mental protection to infants and young children and give them sound education so that they can become a healthy member of society and to allow their caregivers to make economic and social activities well... ." While cultivating sound members of society is a macroscopic idea for social maintenance and contribution to home welfare is a microscopic idea based on parents, it is now hoped that welfare and polices for more desirable childcare can also be made from the focus on the happiness of children. Either kindergarten-nursery integration or any other childcare policy in future is expected to give the best welfare for infants and young children to lead a happy life.
By Lee Joo-yeon, Associate Professor, Dept. of Family Environment and Welfare