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Kobe to launch support dept. for young caregivers in Japan first

A young caregiver is seen in Umeda, Osaka, in this March 6, 2020 file photo. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

KOBE -- The Kobe Municipal Government will create a department in April specifically to support "young carers" -- young people or even children studying or working at the same time as providing care to a family member.

    Young care providers and their hardships are often almost invisible to broader society, so the new department will set up a consultation desk for them to get advice. The desk will also accept reports of potential difficulties noticed by people close to these young people. The department will furthermore provide backup for schools, social welfare departments and other agencies providing support.

    The Kobe Municipal Government believes the new dedicated department will be the first of its kind in Japan.

    In October 2019, a 22-year-old former kindergarten teacher in Kobe killed her grandmother, whom she had been caring for nearly single-handedly and who needed help with even the most basic daily routines, including eating and going to the toilet. The woman was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years.

    It was in-depth Mainichi Shimbun reporting on this case in October 2020 that prompted Kobe officials to look into support measures for young care providers. The city interviewed school social workers, young care providers themselves, and others close to the issue.

    What emerged from this research was how hard it was to link up organizations that dealt with different aspects of the problem, and the need for a one-stop consultation desk. The municipal government then decided to create a dedicated department.

    The new department will provide support not only to care providers aged under 18 (the definition of a child under Japan's Child Welfare Act), but also to those in their 20s. It will be based in the city's social welfare bureau, and be led by a dedicated department head.

    The consultation desk is scheduled for a June launch, with three professionally certified staff including social workers. The desk will be open to young care providers themselves, as well as schools or other bodies that identify children or young people who may need support caring for a family member, and provide telephone consultations and gather information from them. It will furthermore bring relevant organizations together and instruct them to propose appropriate support measures for each young caregiver, and also hold regular meetings to consider individual cases.

    The new department will furthermore run training sessions for primary and junior high school teachers as well as people connected to welfare services. Starting in autumn this year, it will also create a space where young care providers can interact with each other.

    Staffing the consultation desk and other associated costs have been budgeted initially at 15 million yen (a little under $142,000) for fiscal 2021, and a support manual is set to be put together by the end of March.

    "Taking expert opinion into account, we would like to improve the situation (of young caregivers) if even by only a little," Kobe Mayor Kizo Hisamoto told a Feb. 17 press conference.

    (Japanese original by Kimi Sorihashi, Kobe Bureau)

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