TOKYO -- Nearly 6% of second-year students at public middle schools and some 4% of second-year students at public high schools have said they look after family members, a first-time Japanese government survey of students nationwide on the reality of young caregivers has revealed.
The Japanese government announced the survey findings on April 12. "Young carers" are minors who look after and provide home care to family members while often also attending school. The survey offers for the first time nationwide proof that children in those situations tend to become isolated because they have no one to turn to for advice, and that the nursing care has negative effects on their health and academic performance.
The online survey, conducted between December 2020 and January this year, targeted some 100,000 second-year students at 1,000 middle schools, and some 68,000 second-year students at 350 high schools -- about 10% of the total number of students as based on the population of all 47 of Japan's prefectures. In all, 5,558 second-year junior high students and 7,407 second-year senior high students responded to the survey.
About 5.7% of second-year public junior high students, as well as 4.1% of second-year public high school students, answered that they had "family members they were taking care of," raising the possibility that every classroom has one to two young carers.
Based on a simple calculation converting the findings into the number of second-year middle school and second-year high school students nationwide, it can be estimated that Japan has around 100,000 young carers.
In answer to a multiple-response question asking children what kind of care they give, 61.8% second-year middle school students said they look after "siblings," 23.5% answered "parents," while 14.7% cited "grandparents." For second-year high school students, 44.3% said "siblings," 29.6% answered "parents," and 22.5% responded with "grandparents."
Many said they provide care to siblings because they are still "young." Among young carers helping their parents, many said they have physical disabilities or mental illnesses, while common reasons for providing care to grandparents was old age or conditions requiring nursing care.
Over 40% of junior high and high school students said they provide home care "almost every day," while groups of 10 to just below 20% each said they look after family members either on three to five days a week, or on one or two days a week.
The average care time per day was about four hours, while about 10% said they dedicate an average of "over seven hours" a day to home care. Additionally, around 10% of respondents gave care "by themselves" without help from others. Young caregivers undertake a broad range of tasks, including "chores such as cooking, cleaning and laundry," "dropping off and picking up children at day care," "providing emotional support to family members with disabilities or mental illnesses," "accompanying family members when they go out," "watching over family members," and "assistance when taking a bath or going to the toilet."
Ten to 20 percent of young carers said they "cannot make time for homework or study," "have no time for themselves," and are "mentally exhausted." The survey also found these children experience a lack of sleep and further effects such as having to change the course of their future studies or careers.
Sixty-seven percent of second-year junior high students, and 64% of second-year high school students, said they had never confided in anyone about their situation. Many respondents said they believed their worries were not so serious as to need to seek advice for, or that they "do not think the situation will change" even if they sought advice. It remains possibile that students themselves are unaware of or hide the weight of their burden.
Kumiko Morita, professor at Rissho University and chairperson of the survey's investigation committee, said, "There are also kids who do not want to be pitied or viewed as different from other children."
While the number of students applicable for the survey is an estimated figure, the rate of collected responses appears to have been only around 10%. The national government claimed it was able to get a sense of the general state of young carers. However, with the possibility that children who take on serious burdens may have been unable to respond to the survey, the government will likely be required to further grasp the actual state of affairs and be questioned on the assistance it provides.
Meanwhile, a questionnaire was also distributed to schools where respondents are enrolled. Responses were collected from over 70% of them. Nearly half, or 46.6% of public middle schools, and 49.8% of high schools offering full-time courses, said they had young carers at their school.
(Japanese original by Nao Yamada, Digital News Center, and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)