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The government should revise its policy on abused children and place more emphasis on securing homelike environments in which they can receive individual care, including smaller group homes, a panel of experts advising the health ministry recommended Monday.

The panel, headed by Meiji Gakuin University professor Yasuo Matsubara, said the government needs to rethink its current policy of having children who have experienced abuse live in large groups.

The panel also called for a structural realignment of care facilities, including nurseries and centers for preschoolers, to ensure attention is provided to abused children on a continual basis.

At the same time, the panel also urged a cautious approach to discussions currently under way at the Justice Ministry to lower the age at which children can be placed in juvenile reformatories from the current 14.

The increase in crimes committed by minors should be dealt with by beefing up the functions of child welfare facilities, the panel said.

Officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said they will draw up a bill outlining comprehensive revisions to the Child Welfare Law that incorporate these proposals, with a view to submitting the legislation to the ordinary Diet session that convenes in January.

Once the amendments take effect, the ministry will start setting up group homes whose capacity would be roughly six children each, they said.

According to Monday’s report, the existing measures for handling abused children cannot fully meet the needs of the rising number of kids psychologically scarred by the way they were treated.

To deal with the situation, the panel suggested assigning psychologists to existing welfare facilities to upgrade them into “core facilities.” Then, group homes that make use of smaller facilities, such as regular houses, could be set up around the core facility, the panel said.

The panel said children should be brought up in a loving environment, and underlined the need to study ways to provide assistance without having to separate kids fully from their parents and expanding the foster parent system.

Panel members also noted that children who are raised at welfare facilities or with foster parents have difficulty standing on their own, and said the government needs to offer support even after they exceed the age limits of care facilities, which are usually 18 or 20.

The panel suggested that the government establish a system whereby such youths are offered job-hunting support and loans so they can become independent.

There are some 550 child welfare facilities nationwide, with an average of 61 people per facility. Ministry officials said that in recent years, about 50 percent of the children who are cared for at such facilities are victims of abuse.

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