Child Consultation Centers and Police / Prevent Tragedies by Sharing Information on Child Abuse

There is no end to cases in which child consultation centers and police failed to save children’s lives even though they had detected the signs of child abuse. It is important to change the current system to enable them to strengthen information sharing, and respond quickly and appropriately to possible abuse cases.

The Children and Families Agency has earmarked funds in a supplementary budget for developing a system that allows consultation centers and police to share information relevant to child abuse. The agency will reportedly subsidize the cost to local governments for upgrading the system at consultation centers and installing devices at police stations.

A record high of about 220,000 child abuse cases were handled by consultation centers nationwide last fiscal year. While some were reported by schools or hospitals that had noticed signs such as bruises on the body, half the cases were reported mainly by neighbors who alerted police to children crying.

In many instances, there are advance signs of child abuse, or the act is repeated. Having information about past abuse is essential for police who rush to the scene upon receiving a call and determine the level of danger that children are in.

Until recently, police used to call or e-mail consultation centers to inquire about such information. However, this did not allow the information to be shared properly, resulting in such problems as children not being taken into protective care at the appropriate time.

Four years ago, a 2-year-old girl in Sapporo died of emaciation after not being given enough food. A local consultation center and the police each had received reports from residents who suspected abuse, but because they failed to fully share the information, both concluded that no abuse had taken place. The tragedy must not be repeated.

Once the new system is introduced, the current circumstances of the families in question and their past abuse histories will be compiled into a database. Consultation centers and police will also be able to quickly access the information so they can promptly confirm the safety of children and take them into care.

The development of the system should not be the end of the efforts. It is important for consultation centers and police to take this opportunity to responsibly tackle cases of child abuse. Sharing information should not delay the initial response, with both parties thinking the other will take care of the situation.

The Hyogo prefectural government, which is considering introducing the system next year, plans to actively input information such as how the police responded after receiving a call and rushing to the scene. Handling investigative intelligence is difficult in some respects, but information-sharing must be as mutual as possible.

To deepen cooperation, it is crucial to strengthen the organizational structure. In addition to increasing the number of staff at consultation centers, which have been pointed out to be understaffed, police must also take measures such as assigning an officer to serve as a liaison with consultation centers.

So as not to overlook the risk of abuse cases, it would be ideal to enhance the professional skills of the staff at consultation centers. The central and local governments should improve training programs for them and make efforts to have a good balance between experienced and younger staff.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 18, 2023)