In Japan, when parents are unable to care for their own children, the governmental organizations step in to care for these children. This system is called “foster care” or “out of home care”. However, these words are not widely used in Japanese society because only 0.2 % of the Japanese population under the age 20 fit into the category of “foster children.” In Japan, while the total number of children is decreasing, children in foster care are increasing due to the recent escalation of child abuse cases. Of all the children in out-of-home placements, only 10 to 20 % are in foster care without any relatives to care for after the parents’ death. The rest are in placement due to the parents’ poverty, illness and child abuse.
Currently, there are 45,000 foster children in Japan. Of these children, 3,876 children, only 10 % in the whole foster care population, live in foster homes. (2010 data) Most children in need of government’s care live in baby nurseries, and residential facilities. The largest number of children (34,522 in 2010) ages 2 through 18 live in large residential facilities. Currently, there are 585 such facilities in Japan, and 70 % of these facilities are so-called “large capacity facilities” that place more than 20 children. It is not rare to see large capacity facilities in which more than 100 children are placed. Children are allowed to stay in these residential facilities until they are 18 years old. However, if they decide not to attend high school, they are forced to leave at age 15.
In order to support these foster youth, independent living homes (ISH) were spread in Japan. The original form of the ISH started in the 1950’s as a home for working young men. In 1998, the child welfare law was revised and ILH started receiving the government’s funding as a part of independent living support project, and currently there are 82 ILHs in the country. Youth ages 15 through 20 use ILHs. At the time of admission, these young people make a contract with the home owners. All residents must work and pay 30,000 to 50,000 yen ($375 to $625) to the home. The residents stay at ILHs from 6 months to 2 years.
A foster youth and alumni movement began in Japan in the year 2000. Children who grew up in foster homes and facilities galvanized their actions to let their existence known to the society. They got together to deepen friendship and to find ways to connect with one another as young people lacking familial support. These youth and alumni also are engaged in activities to raise awareness about children’s rights and child protection.
Like U.S., Japanese youth and alumni face the reality of being forced to independence after experiencing unstable lives. As a consequence, they face various uncertain circumstances and difficulties. Only 10 % of foster youth in Japan receive college education. Most alumni are unable to depend on reliable adults. They face challenges in employment and housing.