Current Status of Japanese Foster Parents (2012 statistics were used in this report)
By Reiko Ohtsuka
[In Japan, the ratio of foster children in institutional settings versus those who live in foster homes is 9 to 1.]
In Japan, there are about 45,000 children who are in need of care by someone other than their parents. Of those children, about 40,000 live in large facilities. The rest of the nation’s foster children, about 5,000 of them, live in foster/kinship homes. It is this country’s reality that the majority of foster children grow up in institutional settings.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan has proposed a set of policies to move these foster children from large facilities to small group homes and foster homes.
The trend to promote foster parenting has been seen in Japanese society only since the turn of the century. Until 13 years ago, foster care placements were not emphasized compared to institutional placements. However, after the year 2000, the general public’s interest in child abuse was heightened and licensed foster parents spoke up for the importance of nurturing children in a family-like setting and for stronger foster-parent support. As a result, foster parenting has gradually become more valued in the Japanese society.
[Adoptive foster homes and non-adoptive foster homes]
Licensed foster parents are divided into 4 different categories in Japan.
- Short-term and long term foster homes: Licensed non-adoptive foster parents’ homes. In some cases, children placed in this setting stay in one home for a long period of time and get adopted by the foster parent(s). 3 out of 4 foster children in out-of-home placement in Japan live in this first category of foster homes.
- Specialized foster homes: Short and long term foster parents who are specialized in caring for children with trauma due to their abuse history and with emotional and behavioral problems, and adolescents who have presented delinquent behaviors.
- Pre-adoptive foster homes: These foster parents receive children with the agreement that they will be adopting
- Kinship foster parents: Relative caregivers to the 3rd (Maternal and paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.)
It should be noted that the categories 3 and 4 above were added in 2008 as forms of out-of-home care. This is largely because there always were a certain number of foster parent who wished to adopt.
Historically, there were two major factors in Japanese adoptions.
The first factor relates to the pre-Second World War Japanese history in which families followed the “family clan system (ie-seido)” and a number of families adopted children to avoid severing their clan lines, and this trend continued after the World. However, some people felt that this adoption practice was adult-centered and did not meet children’s needs. With the growing opposition against the “family clan system”, a division was made between adoptive parents and foster parents whose goals are not adoption (We call these parents “non-adoptive parents” in this article.)
The second factor relates to infertility due to increasing number of people delaying their marriage in Japan. As a result, there are many couples that cannot have their own children. Some of these couples use advanced medical technology such as in-vitro fertilization, while others seek adoption. The Japanese adoption system was established largely for these childless couples.
[Monthly rate for non-adoptive foster parents doubled in 2009.]
The first step for applying for a foster parent license is to receive child protective services initial guidance counseling and 5 to 6 day-long training. The child protective services make home visits and inspect the foster parent applicants’ homes. If the standard measures such as size of the home and family income meet the governmental standards, prefecture governors must approve foster parents official registration.
Non-adoptive foster parents’ average monthly allowance is 72,000 yen. In addition to this basic “foster parent rate”, certified foster parents receive aide in the amount of 47,000 per month. (per child who is over age 12 months), and additional financial support for medical/educational expenses.
[Shortage in foster parents and the difficulty of child protective social workers’ matching foster children and available foster parents]
There are some difficult challenges for cultivating new foster parents and maintaining current foster parents in this country.
First of all, there is a shortage of licensed foster parents. While there is a slow increase in new foster parents, experienced foster parents resign. Spreading knowledge about the need of more foster parents and more robust foster parent support is more important now than ever.
Another issue is staffing shortage in Japanese Child Protection Service. Matching foster children with appropriate foster parents is a time consuming task. However, the majority of child welfare social workers are busy with duties related to new abuse referrals and they do not have enough time to find foster parents suitable for their client children.
In 2012, a new national policy was introduced and each prefecture established a special foster parent support agency with “Foster Parent Support and Recruitment Staff”. In addition, Child Protection Service offices became equipped with new staff counselors specialized in recruiting and supporting new foster parents. These new efforts are expected to yield good results in the future.
[Reasons why biological parents often prefer placing their children in group facilities rather than foster homes]
It is often pointed out that many biological parents do not agree to place their children in foster homes. Japanese biological parents may agree to place their children in facilities, but not with foster families. Why does that happen? I asked Ms. Tomoko Shiraishi who used to handle many cases as a child protection social worker. According to Ms. Shiraishi, many parents fear that their children might become too attached to their foster parents and would never return home. On the other hand, biological parents tend to believe that if the children stay in facilities, they may return home some day.
Many biological parents grew up without loving and caring families themselves. Therefore, they don’t want to lose their children who are needy of parental love and hope that they can reunify in the future.
The above explanation might be a little too vague for non-Japanese readers. It is hard to understand why Japanese parents approve group facilities but not foster parents.
It is probably because of the way people view foster parents is quite different between Japan and the United States.
[The difference of length of stay at foster homes between the United States and Japan]
Below is the statement of Hiroe Izumi Ph.D. who specializes in foster parent research.
“The length of stay at foster homes is quite different between the United States and Japan. In the US, foster children tend to experience multiple foster homes and they do not stay at each foster home for a long period of time. However, in Japan, there are many foster children who stay at the same foster homes for up to 18 years. Therefore, if children are placed with foster parents, it is very likely that they lose touch with their biological parents. “
The above statement implies that, in the US, it is normal to place children in foster homes. However, in Japan, people perceive that placing children in foster homes is different from placing them at group facilities. In reality, despite their biological parents’ home to be reunited, many children live in group facilities for a long period of time and would not ever return home.
[Child’s placement cannot take place without their biological parents’ approval. ]
Dr. Izumi also points out a systemic difference between the two countries. In Japan, unlike the US, children’s out of home placement has to be approved by their parents. She states that “ in the US, children can be placed in foster homes or group facilities without their biological parents’ consent. The ultimate decision on children’s placements is in the hands of the court. Biological parents have to follow the court’s decisions. However, in Japan, placement decisions are made by Child Protection Service (CPS) which does not have the legal authority like the court. It is difficult for CPS to place children in foster homes against biological parents’ wishes. “
This dilemma piles more work on CPS. Biological parents who do not agree with their children’s foster home placement protest against CPS. Social workers at CPS would have to spend time convincing biological parents that the best solution for their children is to be placed in foster homes.
In order to solve this problem with biological parents, in April 2012, civil codes have been amended
to give CPS authority to “temporarily sever the parent’s rights”. Prior to this amendment, there was only one law that allowed parental rights to be stopped indefinitely. Therefore, CPS was not able to terminate parental rights for cases that are less serious. As of December 2012, there still are very few cases with “temporary termination of parental rights”. However, it is expected that this new civil code will be more utilized in the future.
[Notion that a child belongs to his parents]
Mr. Hiromichi Kinouchi (vice president of the National Foster Parent Association) speaks about the views that people have about their children. “Unlike Americans, Japanese people believe that children belong to their families and lineage. Therefore, by placing children in foster homes, biological parents may feel that their children are taken away eternally by someone else’s family. This feeling is very hard to face for most biological parents.
We may have to stop thinking that children belong to someone. Instead, we should create a society in which children are provided with what they truly need. It is important that we all come to this realization.