UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. – Calls are mounting for improvement in the foster care system following a November incident here in which a 3-year-old girl was allegedly beaten to death by her foster mother.
Ri Yong Shim, 43, was arrested on suspicion of punching Junko Omura in the face and body at her home because the girl would not stop crying.
Her husband called an ambulance and the girl was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead soon afterward, police said.
Police sources said the South Korean foster mother, considered a child-raising expert, attacked the girl because she was unable to consult with others about problems involving child rearing.
Under the foster system, prefectural authorities can entrust orphans or children abandoned by their parents to foster parents.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 7,372 households were registered as foster parents in fiscal 2001, and of them, 1,729 actually accepted children. The number of such children accounted for less than 10 percent of those kept at nurseries.
Ri and her Japanese husband registered as foster parents with Tochigi prefectural authorities in February 2000. Authorities judged her suitable to raise foster children because she had worked for a kindergarten in South Korea for nine years.
Ri and the husband accepted the girl’s 4-year-old brother in December 2001 and the girl last July. They had hoped eventually to adopt them, the police sources said.
When a prefectural child-welfare official visited their home Nov. 1, Ri reportedly said the girl cried quite often.
“That’s proof she is getting familiar with you,” the welfare official reportedly told them without noticing anything out of the ordinary. “Please accept her crying.”
Two days later the girl was dead.
Police said the mother is not fluent in Japanese and her husband acts as an interpreter when it comes to difficult conversations.
She got along badly with her neighbors and did not take part in any seminars on foster parents or their meetings, police added, noting her husband realized this too late.
After the death, Tochigi authorities heard opinions from 57 foster parents in the prefecture, who called for improving the foster system by understanding their unique position.
A group of foster parents in Tokyo held an emergency meeting Dec. 8 and compiled a report calling on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other entities to enrich their seminars, improve the support system and allow them time off by sending their charges to other foster parents or nurseries.
With an increase in child-abuse cases and nurseries and other facilities full of children, the welfare ministry created a system of specialized foster parents in October to accept abused children.
“Foster parents are having a hard time with increases in the number of abused children,” said Takeshi Karasawa, a senior welfare official at the ministry. “We will expand our support system so that they can be accepted temporarily at nurseries and other facilities.”
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