TOKYO -- The Tokyo Metropolitan Government made October and November "foster parent months," and it has been promoting awareness-raising events it hopes to continue in December and beyond. Its foster parent system enables families to accept and care for children forced to live apart from their parents for reasons including abuse or illness.
More than 400 children in Tokyo currently live with foster parents through the system. One couple who have taken in many children told the Mainichi Shimbun: "Foster parents can take in children on not just long term, but also short term. We want more families to take in children."
The metropolitan government's foster parent system is open to applications from those who meet its conditions. The requirements include being a healthy couple living in Tokyo, not being in financial need, that the couple and any family living together have sufficient understanding to accept the child, and that the application's motive is for the child's welfare.
Couples wishing to become foster parents can apply by contacting their local child guidance center. Once approved and registered by the Tokyo governor after the center's examination, they can take in a child.
The center selects the child, who is entrusted to the foster parents after meeting and interacting with them. During the entrustment period, foster parents take care of the child according to an independence support plan prepared with the center. The metropolitan government pays the foster parents child care expenses and other costs according to the guidelines.
The Tokyo-based couple the Mainichi Shimbun spoke to took in a 10-month-old boy in April. "This is the time when he is growing the most. We're happy we can see him change day by day. We are sure that (when he grows up), he'll feel secure in an environment where he can see the same people every day when he comes home," they said. So far, they have accepted more than 10 children on a short-term basis, and the boy is their first long-term entrustment.
The couple also have their own children. They said that "at times, the same way we care for our kids didn't work, and we sometimes struggled over how to interact with the children we fostered."
But they added, "Thanks to the children we took in, we had the opportunity to discuss our role-sharing in the family, and it gave us a chance to re-evaluate how we should be as a family."
The couple continued, "Being foster parents for a long period might be difficult, but we would like to see people with grown-up children, or those who can afford it while raising their children, to take on the foster parent role for even a short time."
Megumi Sato, 37, was raised by foster parents. She said, "My foster parents brought me up like I was their own child. They were delighted when I got married, and came to see me when my child was born, just like a regular family."
Sato was put in an infant home shortly after birth due to factors including her parents' divorce. She was taken in by her foster parents aged 2, and they adopted her when she was 20.
Based on her experience, Sato said, "I want more people to take an interest in the foster care system, and for people around foster parents to support those who choose to become ones."
(Japanese original by Erina Sato, Tokyo Bureau)