Japanese government panel blames lack of communication and missing document for Tokyo child abuse death

JIJI, Kyodo

A lack of communication between child consultation centers was a key factor in a high-profile child abuse case from earlier this year in which a 5-year-old girl died, according to a report by a government panel that reviewed the matter.

A Tokyo consultation center failed to recognize the urgency of the case because it did not receive necessary information from a center in Kagawa Prefecture when the girl’s family moved to the capital from the prefecture, the report by the expert panel of the welfare ministry’s Social Security Council said Wednesday.

In order to prevent any recurrence of such cases, child consultation centers should utilize a check sheet for abuse risk that makes it easy to communicate the urgency of specific cases and other related information, the report said.

The death of Yua Funato in Meguro Ward in March was widely reported in media, with coverage frequently citing desperate messages written by the girl in a notebook that was later found in the Tokyo apartment where she lived with her mother and stepfather. Before moving to Tokyo in January of this year, the girl was taken into protective care twice by the Kagawa center.

“If the manual had been followed properly, the possibility of the girl dying would have been very low,” Fumiharu Yamagata, a Kansai University professor who led the expert panel, said Wednesday.

Yamagata criticized how the two child consultation centers dealt with the case.

“We must take new measures so that there will not be a next victim. How we should follow up this issue is a serious challenge,” said the professor, who specializes in child welfare issues.

The panel also urged the state to boost staffing at child consultation centers.

In the report, compiled based on documents and interviews, the panel focused on communication problems between local governments.

After the family had notified the local government on Jan. 17 of its move to Tokyo, the Kagawa consultation center communicated with the Tokyo center on Jan. 29 to 31 and sent a large amount of documents.

But the Kagawa center failed to produce a risk assessment check sheet, which is required under the welfare ministry’s guidelines on the management of child consultation centers and the treatment of child abuse cases. The facility therefore did not provide information that would have been available from a check sheet, such as the characteristics of the girl’s case and abuse risk assessments.

Also, it did not send photographs of her injuries or provide sufficient explanations during spoken contacts with the Tokyo center, according to the report.

The report also said the two centers failed to share a common recognition of the level of risk presented in the case because their officials did not meet directly to discuss its urgency. The characteristics of the family and other matters of the case were hard to properly communicate over the telephone or via documents, according to the report.

Kagawa authorities had been notified the abuse against the girl as early as August 2016 after neighbors had reported hearing sounds of someone crying in the house, according to the report.

On Jan. 4, weeks before the family moved, the Kagawa center halted a measure that had forced the parents to take guidance from a child welfare worker.

The panel said the termination of the measure was a reason for the Tokyo center to judge that the case was not urgent. It added that such a measure should not be lifted before the transfer of a specific abuse case is completed.

This is the first time that the expert panel has directly examined a single case of death due to child abuse before local governments report their own completed investigation.

The Kagawa Prefectural Government also said Wednesday that it has found through an ongoing study by its own third-party panel that its child consultation center had rated Funato’s case as “moderate” in its five-point scale around the time the girl was being placed under protection.

The panel is expected to come up with a report, possibly in November, but the prefecture admitted that the center’s handling had been “inadequate.” The prefecture also said the center came up with the rating without using the risk assessment sheet, partly due to manpower shortages.