Provide greater support for young people after leaving foster care

It is unjust for disadvantages caused by one’s family and upbringing to continue for a long time. It is important to support the independence of young people who have not been able to live with their parents.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has announced the results of its first nationwide survey of young people who grew up in such facilities as foster homes, or with foster families.

About 3,000 people around the age of 20 responded to the survey. Excluding the more than 20% who are still in school, the highest level of education achieved by most was high school at 64%, followed by junior high school at 15%. Vocational school and junior college graduates accounted for 11%, and universities for only 2%.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, nearly 99% of students overall go to high school, and more than 80% go on to higher education. The government must take seriously this huge disparity in educational opportunities.

Most of the children who spend time in such places as foster homes were forced to separate from their parents for reasons such as abuse or poverty.

Under the Child Welfare Law, children up to the age of 18 are protected in principle, and after that they are called on to live independently. Although there is a system that allows such people to continue to live in facilities until the age of 22, most leave upon graduation from high school.

The government has established a system to lend rent and living expenses to those who leave the facilities and go on to higher education. However, some do not take advantage of this system because they are worried about the burden of repayment, and they give up on further education. Financial support needs to be strengthened, such as by offering more scholarships.

Since there are few people around them who went on to university or other higher education, it is difficult for the residents of foster homes to feel they have various options for their future. Even if few former residents have gone on to higher education, one idea is to set up opportunities to hear about their experiences.

The latest survey brought to light the precarious lives that some young people are forced to lead after they leave the facilities.

Regarding their current living conditions, one in five said their monthly income is less than their expenses. Twenty percent of the respondents said they could not go to a medical facility in the past year, and nearly 70% of them cited the cost as the reason. This situation should not be overlooked.

Many are unable to receive financial support or advice on daily life from their parents or other people. In a survey of facility staff and foster families, 30% of the respondents said they do not interact with former residents or foster children even once a year.

Fukuoka Prefecture is working with a private organization to teach former residents how to manage their finances and cook. In addition to creating a place where they can spend time, the prefecture is also working on employment support, such as how to write a resume and giving guidance on job interviews.

A wide range of parties, including the central government, local governments and nongovernmental organizations, must work together to improve the consultation system and help stabilize the lives of those who have left foster homes or families.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 23, 2021.