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Childcare Concierge to Help Families Explore Options

In Japan, the search for a daycare center becomes an even more grueling experience every year. Commonly referred to as the hokatsu mondai (daycare center search dilemma), it is turning into a significant barrier in Japanese society where parents regularly work while raising children. Every family that begins the balancing act between working and raising children will have to grapple with the serious problem of whether their child can get into a daycare center. Additionally, returning to work from maternity and childcare leave has a particularly significant impact on a woman's career.

Since 2018 the Recruit Group has operated a specialized daycare center search consulting service called the Childcare Concierge to help its employees working in Japan find daycare centers for their children.
Now, this service which began as an initiative for our employees is set to make a major leap into use by society at large. We want to be there for everyone who is working while raising children, to help as many people in Japan as possible to never have to lament being unable to get their child into a daycare center. Here we will tell you about the efforts Recruit is making to assist parents in their search for a daycare center.

The Childcare Concierge proposes strategic searches according to the needs of each employees

Recruit has been making specific efforts to help employees balance their work with childcare since 2008. Now, one in five female Recruit employees in Japan are working mothers, and large numbers of women at the company take maternity and childcare leave each year. Many of them work in the Tokyo metropolitan area where many children end up on waiting lists for daycare centers. And as the search for a daycare center has intensified as a social phenomenon in recent years, one in three women who took childcare leave have needed to extend their leave due to being unable to enter their child into a daycare center.

It is not hard to imagine how much stress employees must be under having to anxiously search for a daycare center on top of the everyday whirlwind of raising an infant or toddler. On top of that, the careers of those employees themselves, as well as their working arrangements, and the job that awaits them upon returning from leave, are all influenced by whether their child is admitted to a daycare center. Recruit operates on-site daycare center And's at its worksites, forms business partnerships with outside daycare centers, and makes other arrangements to help its employees whose children were not accepted to daycare center return to work. However, Recruit then saw the need to assist with the actual daycare center admission process, and in 2018 established the Childcare Concierge.

The Childcare Concierge is an in-house initiative created from scratch mainly by Recruit employees who themselves struggled searching for daycare centers. They had the idea that circumstances involving admissions to daycare centers are a social problem that impacts careers and decided that they wanted to solve it. First, they focused on compiling information. For example, every different municipality has its own admissions rules for its licensed daycare centers*1 which parents must understand for admission. This shows how gathering information is one particularly essential part of the search for a daycare center. Applicants must read the daycare center admissions guide issued by each municipality, then organize the information to understand how many daycare centers there are in each municipality, their operating rules, and the adjustment indexes*2 that comprise the daycare centers' admissions criteria.

From there, the Childcare Concierge began by developing a database that aggregates information, with the goal of enabling mothers and fathers with infants and toddlers to learn the admissions rules for daycare centers of each municipality in five minutes. They received actual copies of the daycare center admissions guides of various municipalities, read all of them and compiled the information, from which they developed the Hokatsu no Kotsu Book (book about keys to daycare center searching) and the adjustment index calculation table (listing the adjustment indexes for each municipality, for making calculations by oneself).

In addition to basic information about daycare center searching that is commonly applicable throughout Japan, the Hokatsu no Kotsu Book also provides key perspectives for developing searching strategies for each municipality, as well as specific searching advice. Employees can now come up with their own tailored daycare center search strategies by extracting the adjustment indexes for each municipality and combining them with the adjustment index calculation tables where they can make calculations and comparisons by themselves.

For concerns that are still cannot alleviated, they also established a counseling desk that employees can contact directly. Before the counselling desk was established, daycare center search counseling by HR department personnel only dispensed vague advice for the general masses such as "it's better to start early" and "you should apply to as many daycare centers as possible," but the information gathered by this database made it possible to offer better suggestions. Employees can now get specific, strategic, individualized suggestions according to circumstances such as where they live, where they work, expected date of birth, and when they want to return to work.

Consider the example of Recruit Group Employee A who used the Childcare Concierge. Employee A is expecting to give birth in October, and initially planned on returning to work in April the following year. However, the licensed daycare centers in the area where Employee A lives accept applications in November, and if the employee could not make it to apply for the age-zero (infants) class immediately after the child was born, she would miss any opportunity to return to work in April. She was anxious about having to apply for daycare centers immediately after giving birth.

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A cover of the Hokatsu no Kotsu Book

At the same time, Employee A lives in an area known as a daycare center battleground, where many children end up on the waiting lists for daycare centers every year. Even for the number of children that are admitted to the daycare centers, parents must also apply for an age class, which presents another major challenge. After facing the difficulties of making the decision about when she would be able to return to work, Employee A decided to consult the Childcare Concierge.

In her consultation, the concierge simulated the application procedure to apply for the age-zero class and to the age-one class while looking at the number of children admitted and the borderline admission score (minimum adjustment index of children who were accepted) the previous school year specifically in the area where she lived.
The results of the simulations showed that she only had two options for daycare centers that were close enough from her home and offered environments that matched the circumstances of her lifestyle. One option was to apply for the age-zero class. The other was to enroll her child at Recruit's on-site daycare center And's midway through the following school year for about six months, and after earning enough points in the adjustment index she could then apply for the age-one class that starts in April the year after next.

Employee A discussed with her family, then decided to apply for the age-zero class. Her child was then admitted to a daycare center, and she was able to return to work the following April as she had originally intended. About her consultation with the Childcare Concierge, Employee A said, "I received objective advice that goes beyond just my relation to the company. Based on my daycare center search, I was also able to receive counseling about how my husband and I plan to raise our child while working. The concierge was more sympathetic to my situation than anyone else who gave me advice, and I'm really grateful."

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On-site daycare center And's

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Copies of the daycare center admissions guides of various municipalities

Diversity is all-inclusive

Including Employee A, the Childcare Concierge has provided counseling to at least 150 employees regardless of gender since it was launched in August 2018. The response has been outstanding, as many have raved about the advice they received.
Employees can mitigate the hardship and struggle of searching for a daycare center by finding the approach that suits them individually. After around two years of experience internally, Recruit is confident enough in the Childcare Concierge to begin providing it to society at large. Launch is planned for fiscal year 2020.
Through experience with the concierge, Recruit has also learned through numerous comments that people want to do something about how rigorous the search for a daycare center has become. Working together with various parties including companies and municipalities who are sympathetic to this initiative, we want to turn the opinions of individuals into social innovations.

Diversity is all-inclusive. The Recruit Group wants to work toward changing society and empowering individuals from the perspective of diversity & inclusion as well.

*1 Licensed daycare centers: Childcare facilities operated in conjunction with municipal offices, which meet all criteria specified by the national government (facility size, number of childcare workers and other staff, meal preparation facilities, emergency preparedness, sanitation and hygiene, etc.)
*2 djustment indexes: Numerical indexes uniquely designed by each municipality to express the need of each resident family to receive childcare services. Children from families with higher index scores are given priority in admission to daycare centers, making these the most important indexes when searching for daycare centers.

Mar 19, 2020

This article is based on information available at the time of publication.