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Japan health ministry to launch survey on schoolkids caring for sick family members

A man who cared for his grandmother, a dementia patient, since he was a primary school sixth grader is seen in Tokyo on March 16, 2020. He says shopping for her at a local supermarket was one of his daily chores. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is set to conduct its first survey targeting nationwide education boards to grasp the current state of minors providing home care to a sick or incapacitated family member.

    It has been pointed out that such "young carers," who look after family members while also attending school or working, risk severe consequences to their academic performance, personal development and future prospects if their nursing workload becomes excessive. However, past investigations have been limited to those carried out by some local governments and researchers. The national government's move to grasp the situation may become the first step toward implementing full-scale support measures for this group of caregivers.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is responsible for dealing with the issue, plans to ask the education board in each prefecture and municipalities about the number of junior and senior high school-aged caregivers in their jurisdiction, which family member they are providing care for, the specific nature of that care, the burdens shouldered by the child and other information. The health ministry is discussing the matter with the education ministry, and plans to start its fact-finding survey this winter. It hopes to compile the results by the end of the fiscal year in March.

    There are many cases where young caregivers become isolated, as they cannot reveal to those around them that they are nursing a family member. The children undertake a range of tasks, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, helping the person bathe and go to the toilet, keeping an eye on the person if they tend to wander, keeping them company and providing emotional support. This variety of roles makes getting an accurate nationwide picture a challenge moving forward.

    A Mainichi Shimbun analysis based on Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Employment Status Survey statistics found that, as of 2017, there were some 37,100 people aged 15-19 working or going to school at the same time as providing home care to a family member. However, the analysis did not cover individuals aged 14 or under, and the nature of the care provided was not examined.

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Special Reports Department)

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