Welfare facilities creak under rising tide of abused kids

by Sawako Obara

Facilities providing shelter to children unable to live at home are in crisis, with an influx of abused youngsters pushing occupancy rates to the limit and caregivers walking out due to the unbearable workload.

“Facilities everywhere are full, and we will have to find those in other prefectures that can accept children,” an administrator in the Kanto area said.

There are around 550 juvenile nursing facilities nationwide, housing about 33,000 children. Most of them are run privately with the help of government subsidies, while a small number are publicly run.

About 10 years ago, children’s homes had an occupancy rate of around 80 percent.

By October 2001, the occupancy rate was at 100 percent capacity in Sapporo, 99 percent in Fukuoka, 96 percent in Sendai, 94 percent in Tokyo, and 92 percent each in Nagoya and Kyoto, according to a survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

These figures show that children’s homes in big cities are suffering the most.

The National Council of Homes for Children said occupancy rates have been driven upward by a growing legion of children entering facilities to escape abusive relatives. Children in this category accounted for 53 percent of newcomers in fiscal 2001.

“In the last five years, the number of children entering the facilities with emotional wounds inflicted by abuse has risen sharply,” said Kazuo Fukushima, who serves as head of a juvenile nursing home and as president of the council.

“These children usually tend to reproduce the abuse they suffered through acts of violence against employees and friends,” he said.

Changes in parents’ behavior can provide a warning sign, he said.

“Some abusive parents make inquiries about whether their children can be accepted by the institutions,” while there are parents who even talk about abandoning their parental authority, Fukushima said.

“The facilities are becoming like a dumping ground for unwanted children.”

Meanwhile, the burden on facility employees has become unbearable, he said.

Despite the sharp rise in the number of difficult children being housed at these facilities, the government’s staffing level standard has remained unchanged over the past two decades — at one employee per six children.

Many employees have quit after finding themselves unable to cope with the strain of attending to mentally troubled children, Fukushima said.

Cutbacks in welfare spending mean that many institutions have become dilapidated. For example, there is a severe shortage of air conditioners.

No preferential treatment is given to the construction of children’s homes.

“Even if we call on social welfare associations to build new homes, they are quite reluctant to do so,” Fukushima said.