Speed legal reform to help former foster children become self-sufficient

About 42,000 children nationwide live in foster homes or with foster families, away from their biological parents, for such reasons as child abuse or parental illness.

Under the Child Welfare Law and other regulations, children under such care have to leave these homes or families when they reach the age of 18 in principle, or 22 at the oldest.

However, many are said to be impoverished after leaving foster care, because they have no one to rely on. According to a nationwide survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, one in three people who had left foster care was struggling to make ends meet and pay school fees.

Some become isolated at their workplace, school or elsewhere because the psychological scars caused by the abuse they suffered make it difficult for them to build interpersonal relationships.

Rather than uniformly drawing a line based on age, changes need to be made in legislation and the implementation of this rule, so as to provide support tailored to each individual’s circumstances.

In light of this situation, the government has submitted to the Diet a bill to revise the Child Welfare Law to eliminate the upper age limit for children to live in foster care. The government aims to have the revision enacted in the current Diet session and implemented in April 2024.

If the revisions are enacted, young people will be able to receive support while living in foster facilities at the discretion of prefectural governments.

Some may prefer to live in foster homes until their jobs become more stable. A careful approach is needed that takes into consideration their mental and physical conditions, as well as their wishes.

It is also important to create an environment that facilitates smooth job searches through such means as cooperation with high schools and private organizations to provide guidance on writing resumes and interviewing for jobs, so that young people can find a job they want.

Relevant divisions of prefectural governments should cooperate with facilities to create specific support plans for each resident regarding housing and living expenses after leaving foster care.

The central government requires prefectures and other local governments to assign certified social workers and others as support coordinators to promote the creation of such plans, but only about half of local governments have such coordinators. Efforts must be made to secure human resources in this regard.

Saga Prefecture has established a support center for people who have left foster care, where professional staff provide consultations. Increasing the places where people can feel at home will help give them peace of mind.

Attention should also be paid to the fact that not many people who leave foster care advance to universities or vocational schools, despite the overall increase in the rate of people advancing to higher education. Only 18% of people who were in foster care enter universities, a figure much lower than the 53% rate among high school graduates as a whole.

It is important to expand scholarships and other forms of financial aid so these people do not have to give up on higher education for financial reasons. The system of providing loans for rent and living expenses to those who have left foster care should also be further enhanced.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 22, 2022.