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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Youth ageing out of child welfare facilities need support

Rika Kayama

There was an incident recently in which a young man who had formerly lived at a child welfare facility for children unable to live with their parents stabbed the head of the facility to death. The young man reportedly told investigators that he harbored resentment toward the facility, and that he didn't care who at the facility in particular he hurt. Details have yet to emerge.

The act of public bodies taking the responsibility to protect and nurture children who do not have guardians or have guardians who are unable to care for them is referred to as the "public advocacy of children." At its center are child welfare facilities, like the one where the young man used to live. The problem, however, is providing "aftercare" for those who, once they hit the age of 18, must leave these institutions as a general rule. The rate of young people from these facilities who go onto college is about one-fifth the national average. Suddenly becoming independent when one has little knowledge or experience out in the real world is not easy.

Still, efforts are being made to provide training for those who age out of these institutions. The nonprofit organization Bridge For Smile (B4S) provides support to young people -- who are leaving child welfare facilities and going out into the world -- in many areas of their lives, such as furthering their education, finding work and securing housing. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government dispatches specialized "self-reliance support coordinators" to child welfare facilities, to offer support to former child residents after they leave.

What appears to be crucial in supporting these young people after they leave the facilities is honoring their intentions. Others could recommend that these young people learn a trade at a vocational school. But if they say that their dream is to become a professional athlete, the adults around them can help mull over what they should do to make that dream come true. Instead of telling them, "That's impossible given your circumstances," consider all options, whether it's researching sports scholarships for college, or corporate athletic teams. Whatever it is, the adults must aid young people explore paths toward making their dreams come true.

Life opportunities are apparently guaranteed under British social welfare policy. It's not just assistance in securing food, shelter and clothing, but support for attaining the chance to undertake something that one has great interest in. Admittedly, unless such support were available, it would be very difficult for a young person to become independent and live the life that is theirs and theirs alone.

In Japan, a framework of support for young people who grew up in public advocacy institutions to become independent has only just begun. It is necessary to think about why the tragic stabbing incident happened amid such efforts.

Many youths at child welfare facilities are doing their best, trying to grab at the chance of their lifetime. We must put our strengths together as a society to continue supporting them.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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