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Care leavers in Japan struggle to make living, pursue higher education: survey

The Central Government Building No. 5 that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- While 80% of young people in Japan raised in foster care graduate from junior or senior high school, just over 10% graduate from higher education including university, junior college and vocational schools.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on April 30 announced these findings as part of its research on care leavers -- people who received social care in facilities including orphanages and foster homes due to child abuse and other reasons. This is the first time the health ministry has looked into the specific situation people were in after leaving foster care, and it has become clear such people find it hard to make a living, let alone obtain educational opportunities.

    The survey was conducted on 26,690 people who were admitted to facilities such as orphanages after graduating from junior high school, or were released from foster parent placement measures between April 2015 and March 2020, and aged at least 15 as of November 2020. The health ministry received answers from 14.4%, or 2,980 of them. Ninety percent of the respondents were aged between 18 and 24.

    Immediately after leaving facilities, 53.5% of the respondents began working or were employed, while 36.3% went on to higher education. At the time of the survey, 71% said they were "working" and 23% said they were "attending school."

    When asked about their final academic background, of the respondents including those who said they were "working," about 80% said they graduated from junior or senior high school, including full-time, part-time and correspondence courses; 2% graduated from a four-year university course; and 10.6% from junior colleges or vocational schools. In general, higher education enrollment rates such as at universities and junior colleges are over 80%, indicating that care leavers' enrollment rate is extremely low.

    When asked about household finances, 31.4% said their monthly income and expenditures are about the same, and 22.9% said they were in the red due to high spending; 40% of respondents with children said they were in the red. Regarding whether they experienced not being able to visit a hospital in the past year, 20.4% of respondents said they had not been able to, and 66.7% of them said they couldn't go because "it costs money."

    Based on the Child Welfare Act, children can only live in orphanages or foster homes up to the age of 18 in principle. Although a system exists to extend this period until the end of the fiscal year when the individual is aged 22 at most, the majority have to become independent and leave their orphanage or foster home upon graduating from high school.

    Ichiro Matsumoto, professor of education welfare at Hokkaido University and a member of the research committee, said, "People who grow up in social care have a double disadvantage because they are children and also have a weak family base. There is also a lack of support for them to live independently after they leave foster care, and a mechanism should be created to watch over them for a longer period of time."

    (Japanese original by Satoko Nakagawa and Hitomi Tanimoto, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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