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Editorial: Support network for abused children must be expanded

Child welfare consultation centers handled 133,778 cases of child abuse during the 2017 fiscal year according to the health ministry's preliminary data -- the highest number on record and the 27th consecutive annual increase since the statistics began being collected in fiscal 1990.

The government has rolled out a number of emergency countermeasures, including increasing the number of child welfare specialists by some 2,000 at child consultation centers by fiscal 2022, and the introduction of new policy that allows case workers to conduct compulsory inspections of households to confirm the safety of children.

It is only natural that efforts are made to prevent abuse and rescue children in need. Providing care for children and an environment where they can feel safe should also be a goal requiring a swift government response.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, as many as 63 children per year were unable to leave the hospital after being admitted for one month or more due to abuse. A shortage of facilities that could accept them in place of returning to the abusive home was the main reason for their inability to leave. Some children had to stay more than a year at a hospital after their treatment was complete. Many children also cannot leave the hospital to avoid any contact with their parents or guardians. This situation is said to have a negative impact on the growth and development of these children.

But the rescue homes that the children go to after their release also report violence and sexual abuse among the kids under their care, a condition caused in part by the stress of group life. We should quickly improve this situation so that abused children are not being hurt at facilities that are supposed to protect them.

The health ministry is pursuing a policy of providing a familial environment, not life at a child support facility, for abused children. The number of registered foster parents is on the rise. These efforts are appreciated; however, many children end up returning to facilities after their foster parents give up on them for their violent behavior or abusive words that originate from their turbulent past.

Child counseling centers, which match children in need with foster parents, are essentially responsible for supporting the new families, but staff shortages prevent the centers from offering sufficient help. This has led to an ongoing vicious cycle of broken foster families and child counseling centers becoming more and more negative toward providing matching services.

Of the reported cases of abuse in fiscal 2017, 54 percent were cases of psychological abuse, including indirect domestic violence, that is, children witnessing spousal violence. This form of abuse is said to leave deep scars on a child's psyche and trigger a number of problematic behaviors later in life.

Child counseling centers, children's nursing homes and foster parents must work together to expand the sphere of places where abused children can receive loving care. The government must provide greater support, including the assignment of more experts to these spaces.

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