The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has announced a plan to promote a system in which children placed under hardships such as abusive parents are to be raised in a home-like environment by foster or adoptive parents, rather than placing them in welfare facilities, as currently over 80 percent of children who cannot live with their own parents for reasons such as child abuse are placed in foster care facilities or infant care facilities.
Under the ministry plan, preschool age children will not be placed in such welfare facilities in principle. The ministry has stated that its goal is to raise the percentage of children put under the care of foster parents to 75 within five years for children under the age of 3 and within seven years for those aged 3 and older. This is because building a close and affectionate relationship with particular adults as early as possible is believed to be important for the healthy development of a child. At foster care and infant care facilities, a worker looks after an average of three to six children. It is difficult for children to develop a sense of trust or attachment to the staff who work rotating shifts, and it's been reported that there are cases where such an environment could affect children in various ways in their future.
Over the past two to three decades, there has been a shift in foster care in other developed countries from facilities to homes. Although belated, Japan introduced a general rule in 2016 under the revised Child Welfare Act that children are to be raised in homes and a law regulating adoption businesses was also enacted in the same year.
The problem now is the number of potential foster parents. While there are roughly 30,000 children currently placed in foster care or infant care homes, there are only 10,000 households registered as families willing to become foster parents.
It is believed that in addition to strict requirements to become foster parents, those who take in children as foster parents tend to become isolated due to a lack of support measures and burn out, even if they were initially enthusiastic about caring for children. This only makes screening for potential foster parents even stricter, creating a vicious circle in which the number of foster parents remains low.
As adoptive parents receive the same treatment as a family consisting of parents and their biological children, there is no special public support. While private welfare groups have programs to support adoptive parents, they do not receive government funding, leaving them unable to provide adequate care for families and their adoptive children.
The welfare ministry has announced a plan to establish a government organization for foster and adoptive parents by strengthening cooperation with local child consultation centers and private sectors, but it is obvious that without sufficient financial resources, the plan will not be realized.
Debate over the establishment of a "child insurance policy," where social security costs paid by taxpayers and companies will be allotted to a fund to make early childhood education free, is being held within the ruling coalition. Discussions on support measures for children who need help from society should also be included.
In addition, foster care and infant care facilities need to reconsider themselves and become organizations that not only care for children under their watch, but also for children who live with foster and adoptive parents. Children who are placed under harsh environments need to be supported by society as a whole.