Government Childcare Service: Is it Safe from Child Abuse?

한혜원, 김건희, 서채원l승인2019.05.22l수정2019.05.22 18:39l370호 1면

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▲ Geumcheon-gu ‘Idol Bo-mi’ incident video clip (Photo from edaily.co.kr)

On April 1, 2019, parents of a 12-month-old baby submitted a petition regarding child abuse to the Cheong Wa Dae website. The family who lives in Geuncheon-gu, Seoul, had recently discovered the babysitter they had hired in December 2018, from the government program ‘Idol Bo-mi’, was physically abusing their young child. After noticing some unusual behavior by the infant, such as hitting himself with force on the forehead, the parent’s suspicions were aroused and they wanted to know what was going on when they were not around.  They installed a CCTV and watched in horror as they saw the babysitter smashing the hands of the small child for refusing to eat or for simply crying.
 The babysitter who committed the abuse was hired under the government’s childcare program which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The childcare workers were hired after submitting some personal data and passing a quick interview. The goal of the program is to keep children safe and take care of them while their parents are at work. In fact, the Minister promotes the childcare system by stating “We will provide childcare services at children's homes while considering the individual family characteristics and child development”. A babysitter in this program usually takes care of a child for a maximum of 720 hours a year and it is aimed at parents raising children from 3 to 12 years old. Under the terms of this program, the government supports a percentage of the babysitter’s fee in accordance with the parent’s income. Parents wanting to take advantage of this service, must register on the service website and complete an application form. 

▲ A Petition, to strengthen punishment and establishment to prevent recurrence of government childcare service babysitter’s infant and child abuse is being progressed on online blue house petition board. (Photo from taglive.net)

 While this childcare service is managed by the government, it has been unable to stem the tide of reported child abuse incidents. There are several reasons for this. First, the increase in quality of caregiving service is not keeping up with the increase in service demand. The number of households seeking the government childcare service has been increasing. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 63,546 households used the government provided caregiving service in 2017 and that number rose to 64,591 households in 2018. To keep up with the increasing demand for babysitters, the government announced an increase in the number of caregivers from 23,600 to 30,000 this year. However, the internal stability of the program is growing slower than the increase in the number of babysitters. There is no age limit for the recruitment of babysitters and everyone apart from drug addicts, mental patients and ex-convicts can apply.  Applicants must successfully complete a job interview and 80 hours of education training followed by 10 hours of teaching practice. While this may sound reasonable, it is clear that the interview process is inadequate.  In fact, the process lasts no more than 5 minutes as interviewers ask simple questions about the applicant’s personal information and career, nothing regarding their previous experience with childcare. To make matters worse, the education program is managed poorly. It was reported that some applicants left their seats during their training session, but their completion certificates were issued to them anyway. Furthermore, only 2 hours of child abuse prevention education is required. As a result, more and less qualified babysitters are being sent to households, just to keep up with the growing demand. Moreover, the punishment for abusing a child is too light. A person found guilty of the crime receives a maximum of 3~8 months suspension and after 16 hours of remedial education, they can be reinstated as a childminder again. A babysitter under this program is only disqualified if they have been suspended more than 3 times, but there is no penalty for reemployment with another childcare agency. 
 The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family recently announced measures to improve the safety of their childcare services after the stories of abuse came to light. The government agreed to implement personality tests, strengthen the education system and toughen up punishment for perpetrators. The goal is to prevent any future cases of child abuse and to improve the working conditions of childcare and institutional workers. First, in terms of selection and training enhancement, the interview manuals are being revised in order to verify a candidate’s personality, qualifications, and competence during the interview, and psychological experts were asked to take part in the interview process. In addition, the government set up a plan to improve the effectiveness of their education training by expanding the field practice from 10 hours to 20 hours. Second, a user participation care system was established and on-going monitoring of the caregiver was strengthened. The head of the Healthy Family Support Center in Cheonan City, the local government supporting their local childcare services, emphasized that service monitoring can be used by parents at any time and it will be strengthened in the future. In fact, apart from the ongoing satisfaction survey delivered to parents each year, this year's app will allow parents to evaluate their childcare directly after using the service and to enter brief comments. Third, the government promised a more thorough prevention plan to deter child abuse backed by strict and fair punishment. For abused children, follow-up care such as continuous healing prayers and psychological counseling will be conducted. In addition, if child abuse is suspected, suspension of the babysitter in question will be implemented immediately. Finally, public management of the childcare system will be strengthened. Program directors will conduct ongoing reviews of the latest methods in child care and will actively seek out ways to improve their childcare training and strengthen their qualifications management to address various childcare needs. In addition, a local counseling agency will take control of counseling victims and educating the offenders.

▲ Jin Sun-mi who is a manager of Gender Equality and Family, which established a child care system, apologized for the child abuse that occurred in Geumcheon-gu, Seoul while child used that system. (Photo from khan.co.kr)

 The DanKook Herald conducted interviews at daycare to learn more about the challenges in program delivery. Workers there believe the government needs to start listening to its field workers and start addressing the real problems they are facing.  One representative said it was important for every adult to make sure the environment for childcare was safe.  She stressed that it was not just a matter of expanding services provided, but that daycare centers should be allowed to operate as a national program. Daycare centers currently in operation should be treated like every other public government facility with better pay and treatment of its employees. The daycare center official also stated that field operations are quite poor. She asserted that not only is an audit important, but also improved teaching and guidance on how to provide service parents can trust.  
 Many people use government childcare because they believe it is safer than private facilities. However, the recent child abuse case that caught the public’s attention proves this is not the case. As a result, parents lost the confidence and trust in the government program. In order to restore this trust, the government is planning to adopt a one-strike policy and will cancel the babysitter’s qualifications immediately, if they are found to be abusing a child. They will also expand the caregiver monitoring system and conduct an urgent inspection of babysitting households. The government introduced these childcare services to reduce the burden on parents and encourage childbirth. If they want it to work, they are going to have to ensure stricter management of childcare services. 


한혜원, 김건희, 서채원  dankookherald@gmail.com
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