[From February Issue 2013]
Public Interest Incorporated Foundation, National Foster Parent Association, Vice Chairman,
In Japan there are some 40,000 children who are unable to live together with their families. This happens for a variety of reasons; sometimes because it would be inappropriate for them to live in an abusive environment. Many of those children live in care homes or nurseries. Only 10% live with foster families.
While UN guidelines recommend foster care for children who’ve been taken into care, it’s not yet very common in Japan. The government has just begun efforts to help support foster parents and is aiming to increase the percentage of children in foster care to 30% within the next ten years or so.
There are four kinds of foster parent in Japan: “child rearing foster parents” take care of children who, for whatever reason, can’t live with their parents; “specialist foster parents” take care of children who have been abused, or are mentally or physically handicapped; “parents hoping to adopt” who are aiming to adopt a child but haven’t yet done so; and “relations who are foster parents” – grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so forth. With the exception of relations who are foster parents, one becomes a foster parent with the approval of the governor of the prefecture. To become a “child rearing foster parent” or a “specialist foster parent,” training is obligatory.
In Japan, foster care isn’t very common yet, but why isn’t institutional care good enough? One reason is that life in care homes is centered around group activities. That makes it hard for children to develop individuality and to learn about family life and social rules, which they need to know about to become responsible members of society. Also, it’s hard to develop an emotional relationship with individual caregivers, attachments which children need.
So why is it that, in Japan, institutional care is so well established and has continued for so long at the expense of foster care? Some people point out that the public is generally unaware of the need for volunteers, but I think one of the reasons is the lack of government support for children who need care. Compared to institutional care homes, foster families require a lot of support from the system, but this support is sadly lacking.
As institutional care is the norm in Japan, we are hosting an IFCO (International Foster Care Organization) World Conference in Osaka in September this year in order to promote foster care. It’s an opportunity to discover what can be done to promote foster care and with this in mind, experts from around the world will be invited to participate.
The year before last, about 280 children lost both parents in the Great East Japan Earthquake. Most of them are living with relatives. They are being cared for by relying on the institution of “relations who are foster parents,” but some relatives are reluctant to register as foster parents as they themselves are struggling to get by.
After the Great Earthquake at the IFCO World Conference in Canada, we talked about the Japanese custom of making senbazuru (a thousand paper cranes) for disaster victims. Following this, Wanslea, an Australian foster care association sent 5,000 of these cranes together with messages of support to the National Foster Parent Association. And we sent these on to the people in the areas affected by the disaster; this made them very happy.