The government plans to increase the number of counselors at child consultation centers to counter a rising number of abuse cases. But is this measure alone enough to tackle complicated incidents of abuse?
In some cases, even when abuse is reported, the parents deny it and refuse to let their children be interviewed by counselors. Children also often deny they are abused because they want to protect their parents. Judging the risks and the timing for taking youngsters into protective custody is no easy task. Multiple abuse cases are dealt with by lone counselors at many child consultation centers. This is the current reality of the situation.
About 3,200 welfare counselors work at 210 child consulting centers nationwide. The central government intends to deploy 2,000 more counselors during a four-year period starting in fiscal 2019. Such an increase is vital as child abuse cases have shot up 3.3 times in the past 10 years.
But child welfare counselors do not have nationally sanctioned licenses for child protection. They are people who studied psychology or education at university or are licensed social workers hired by municipal governments. Many cities, towns and villages temporarily name ordinary administrative employees as child welfare counselors and have them work in that capacity for around three years before transferring them to other positions.
State standards on the organization of child counseling centers and their management are far from strict, and large disparities exist among municipalities. At some centers, most of the workers are ordinary administrative officials of their municipalities.
Experts say it takes at least 10 years for social welfare counselors to develop the necessary expertise to respond to difficult child abuse cases. But only 17 percent of them have at least 10 years' experience in the field. As the number of abuse cases increases, the job of tackling such incidents falls on the shoulders of experienced counselors, and many of these consultants end up leaving the job because of stress. This results in increasing difficulties training young counselors.
The job of child welfare counselor includes separating parents from their children for the protection of the youngsters. It is, therefore, completely different from ordinary administrative services. The required qualifications for child welfare counselors should be defined more strictly and their employment and assignment policies should be separated from general administrative workers.
People experienced in handling child abuse cases for many years can be found at nonprofit organizations. Such groups have close contacts with lawyers and medical institutions with relevant expertise. Tapping the experience of the private sector should be considered.
The number of cases involving serious legal issues is on the rise. The Child Welfare Act was revised in 2016 to post a lawyer at each child counseling center, but there are only a few centers with lawyers, including those who are part-time.
We must strengthen the function of child counseling centers by not only increasing the number of welfare counselors but by also improving their quality.