In Japan, about 45,000 children cannot be raised by their biological parents because of varying reasons including abuse, illness and economic hardship. According to the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.” In many ways, Japan falls behind other countries in their efforts to support its children that are removed from their birth parents. Here are five facts about Japan’s foster care system.
5 Facts About Japan’s Foster Care System
- Foster Families Adopt Only 12% of Children: An overwhelming amount of Japanese children not living with their biological parents are in orphanages. The U.N.’s Convention states that if biological parents cannot raise their child, then the most desirable placement would be with a blood relative or very close individual to the family. After that, the next best would be with a family through adoption. Foster care is a temporary solution for children to live in a family home while a permanent solution is unavailable. Through adoption, Japan only places approximately 500 children with families per year. For comparison, the United States places more than 50,000 children and the U.K. places more than 4,500 children. Alongside low adoption rates, the number of foster families is also too low. At 12% of children in Japan’s foster care system, according to Japan Children Support Association, it trails far behind other countries.
- Orphanages are Too Large: Ideally, orphanages can remain small to reproduce a similar environment that would be in a home. Japan, on the other hand, has orphanages so large that the U.N. has released warnings. Even with enough staff on rotating shifts to provide one-to-one interaction, the care would not allow the children to develop attachments. Furthermore, Japan ranks the lowest among developed countries for their staff to child ratio in orphanages, which is about 1 to 1.3, according to Japan Children Support Association. Japan hopes to solve this problem with its foster care system.
- Reports of Child Abuse Have Increased: Child abuse reports have been on an upward trend in Japan. According to Japan Children Support Association, reports exceeded 130,000 in 2017. Additionally, in fiscal 2019, this number grew to 205,029. In fiscal 2020, the number of psychological abuse cases was 121,325 and the number of physical abuse cases was 50,033. Some experts may say that the effects of COVID-19 may have increased this number, but there is no doubt that the number continues to rise.
- There is Abuse Within Foster Families: A 2014 Human Rights Watch report about Japan’s alternative care for children points out the abuse that lies within Japan’s foster care system and other places within Japan’s alternative care. In 2011, there were 193 cases of child abuse in alternative care institutions. Of the ones that the government found valid, 13% were in foster care or foster families.
- There are People Trying to Help: The Nippon Foundation is a private, nonprofit that Ryoichi Sasakawa established in 1962 to increase social innovation and reduce the number of social burdens that Japan faces. One of their projects is the Happy Yurikago Project. It aims to promote awareness of the programs and institutions that surround children in alternative care and to promote such programs as far as they help children grow up in healthy environments. To do so, the project declared April 4 as Adopted Children’s Day. It holds programs to train foster parents to better connect with their foster children.
All children deserve to grow up in families that love and support them. Japan clearly has ways to go to provide such environments for children that cannot live with their biological parents. Despite a lack of ability to care for such children, there are solutions that Japan is working toward. Continuing to support Japan’s foster care system will ease the burden on orphanages and provide better care for the children.
– Rachael So