SAITAMA -- Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, is set to implement Japan's first ordinance to support minors who take care of their sick or disabled family members while going to school or work, spearheading the initiative to tackle the issue of young carers who face risks of missing out on education and other opportunities.
The ordinance to support at-home care providers was proposed by members of the Saitama Prefectural Assembly. It defines "carers" as those who provide nursing and everyday care without pay to family members or people close to them in need of assistance due to their old age, disability or illness. The ordinance sets the basic principle that these carers need to be supported by society as a whole.
Specifically, it defines those aged 17 and younger -- a group considered "children" under Japan's Child Welfare Act -- as "young carers," and states that as they are at a crucial period in their lives for building the foundations to become independent in society and to develop fundamental human qualities, the prefectural government "must support them" to ensure appropriate education opportunities and sound growth, both physically and mentally, as well as to help them foster their independence.
The ordinance also requires schools and education boards in the prefecture to support such care providers, such as securing opportunities for them to gain an education. The prefectural government will draw up a promotional plan, which includes concrete measures. It demands that schools and education boards -- institutions that potentially have contact with young carers on a day-to-day basis -- check on their circumstances regarding their education and livelihoods and determine whether they need support. Such institutions then will consult with the carers on education and welfare, and pass on cases to support bodies.
Under the ordinance, the prefectural government is required to draw up a promotional plan to support at-home care providers including the young carers. As a first step, the local body is considering studying the reality of such caregivers.
Possible support measures for young carers to be incorporated in the plan include having homeroom teachers and other officials interview or visit homes of young carers, information sharing within school guidance counselor associations and cooperation with school counselors and social workers.
The ordinance will likely be passed and adopted by the prefectural assembly during a meeting on March 27, and it is expected to come into force on March 31.
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka and Taiji Mukohata, Special Reports Department)