Children Who Require Ongoing Medical Care: Generous Support Needed throughout Their Adult Lives

It is important to ensure that children who require medical assistance in their daily lives and their families can live with peace of mind throughout their lives. It is hoped that efforts will be made to broaden society’s understanding of the issue and improve support for them.

These children need ongoing medical treatment such as the use of an artificial respirator or sputum suctioning. It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 such children in Japan, and the number has more than doubled in the past 20 years or so.

The background of this situation is advances in medical care. Improvements in medical technology both before and after childbirth have made it possible to save the lives of an increasing number of babies with intractable diseases or serious disabilities.

In 2021, a law took effect to support children in need of daily medical care and their families. The support system is gradually improving, but there are still many issues that need to be addressed.

A survey shows that 20% of children requiring such medical care need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian at school due to a shortage of nursing staff at elementary and junior high schools and other educational institutions.

The central government subsidizes the cost of staffing to local governments, but it is reportedly difficult to secure full-time staff due to labor shortages. It is advisable that they consider making use of home-visit nursing stations nationwide to dispatch nurses, among other measures.

Many children needing medical care have severe mental or physical disabilities, and many family members who care for them are unable to get enough sleep or even rest.

There are facilities that temporarily care for such children so that their exhausted families can rest.

The “Momiji House,” a short-stay medical facility for children located on the premises of the National Center for Child Health and Development, provides overnight accommodations with nurses on duty at all times, and children can enjoy playing and learning there. It is hoped that the number of similar facilities will increase nationwide.

The support law is supposed to be reviewed three years later, and this year marks that deadline. It is necessary to clearly identify the issues and consider expanding support further.

The role of corporations will also be important in reducing the burden on families. Companies should support their employees so that workers can balance work with caring for their children through such measures as allowing people to telecommute and introducing shorter working hours.

The situation also needs to be improved in which children are unable to find a place to stay when they turn 18, when they graduate from school, or older. Many facilities for the disabled, such as short-stay institutions, do not accept those who need medical care, leaving their families uncertain about the future.

A situation must be avoided in which children needing medical care and their families lose contact with society and become isolated once they reach adulthood.

Efforts for disaster preparedness should also be made during normal times. Children needing medical care who require medical equipment and medicines have difficulty living in ordinary evacuation centers. It is essential to make plans in advance as to where and how to evacuate them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2024)