Authorities must take steps to prevent signs being missed

The number of cases of child abuse continues to rise, and the loss of children’s lives is a tragedy that has occurred repeatedly. The issue is how to resolve cases in which there is information that raises suspicions of abuse but does not lead to an adequate response.

The number of abuse cases handled by child consultation centers nationwide exceeded 207,000 in fiscal 2021, the highest number ever recorded. In fiscal 2020, 77 children died as a result of abuse.

What should not be overlooked is the fact that there is no end to the number of cases in which child consultation centers and other relevant agencies failed to save lives even though they were aware of the signs of abuse.

In the case of a 5-year-old boy who starved to death in the town of Sasaguri, Fukuoka Prefecture, in 2020, it had been confirmed by his kindergarten that the boy had lost weight. The police received reports of abuse, and the boy’s relatives asked the child consultation center several times to check his safety, but the boy was never taken into custody.

In a 2021 incident in Settsu, Osaka Prefecture, in which a 3-year-old boy died after having boiling water poured over him, the city had received 20 reports of “bruises on the boy” and other information. However, the city did not take it seriously, and coordination with the child consultation center was inadequate.

An expert panel of the central government examined past abuse cases that were fatal and found that, in many cases, a risk assessment to determine the severity of the abuse had not been conducted. This indicates that a sense of crisis is lacking among child consultation centers and local governments.

As society’s concern about child abuse has grown, child consultation centers and other organizations have received a large number of reports. It is important to determine which of these reports are the most urgent.

In Gifu Prefecture this year, a new “general child support center” has been established. Staff from the child consultation center, the city government and the prefectural police are stationed there to share information from the stage when reports are received and decide on a plan of action.

The municipal government of Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, has introduced a system in which consultation calls received by the consultation center are immediately converted into text via artificial intelligence, and the text is then checked not only by the person in charge but also by other staff members. Assessing the situation from multiple perspectives will be effective in preventing signs of child abuse being missed.

The government plans to increase the number of child welfare officers at child consultation centers by 2,500 nationwide, bringing the total to 5,700. However, many of them have less than three years of experience in the field. There must be a good balance of veteran child welfare officers, and training programs and other opportunities must be offered to enhance staff expertise.

It is important not only to respond to cases of child abuse, but also to prevent them. It is necessary to analyze the circumstances surrounding abuse and provide support on a daily basis so that parents with children are not isolated.

The administration side should actively approach families at high risk of child abuse and promote exchanges with such groups as nonprofit organizations that support child rearing.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 27, 2022)