Japan’s orphans need foster care

Last Monday was Children’s Day in Japan, but it was not a celebration for all children. New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on May 1 pointing out Japan’s tendency to place orphans and abused children into institutions instead of finding them foster homes. Contrary to the general global trend of finding substitute homes for children who cannot live with their own parents, Japan overwhelmingly institutionalizes children rather than finding other alternatives.

Government statistics show that 39,000 children are in child care institutions in Japan as of 2013. Of such children, Japan placed 12 percent with foster parents, according to a report in 2012. In contrast, Australia manages to place 93.5 percent of children in the care of foster parents. America has 77 percent of its children in foster family care.

In Japan, only 15 percent of children under 2 years old who are considered most easily adoptable because of their young age were with foster families.

Such institutions, as well-intentioned as they might be, all too often leave the children open to mistreatment, social stigma and a lack of care for the totality of children’s needs. Compared with a warm home environment, institutions are often limited in their ability to provide a supportive environment in which they can grow and overcome the stumbling blocks all children encounter.

The report by Human Rights Watch also noted that such institutions tend to fall into hierarchical social groups, and that after leaving institutions, usually at the age of 18, children brought up there often encounter difficulties entering higher education or finding steady employment. Most institutions do not even keep track of their graduates so that comprehensive data on what actually happens to them remain unavailable.

One positive step in helping these children would be to improve the system of placement. A full-time, specialized and independent organization might be better suited to place children into the environment that suits them best. For most children, that would be a foster family.

Finding those families in Japan will be no easy matter, but with government subsidies and a central organization that can provide follow-up support, advice and monitoring of the children and their families, it will not be impossible.

The government should continue to support child care institutions, but it should also support foster families willing to care for children. The number of children who need help because of the loss of their family — after being orphaned or because of abuse or other factors — has increased in recent years.

Those children who encounter bad luck early in their lives deserve just as much help and support as children who are lucky enough to have a supportive and loving family.