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Japan to abolish age limit on protective custody for children

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has decided to abolish the age limit on support for children and young people who are taken into care due to abuse or poverty and live in protective facilities or foster homes.

Such children and young people are currently required to become independent when they turn 18 in principle, or by 22 at the oldest. Under the new system, the ministry will determine whether they are capable of living independently, without consideration of their age, and allow them to receive continued support until they transition to assistance for adults.

A bill to revise the Child Welfare Law will be submitted during the ordinary Diet session currently underway.

According to the ministry, there were about 42,000 children and young people living in facilities and other accommodations for abused or neglected children nationwide as of March 2021. However, under the current law, they are expected to leave such homes when they reach age 18.

Most residents are required to become independent upon graduating high school, with the exception of those who are deemed to need continued support and allowed to remain up until the end of the fiscal year in which they turn 22.

However, many children and young people who are taken into protective custody as a result of abuse, poverty or the death of a parent and raised in facilities or foster families do not have adults to rely on after leaving such homes. Many end up dropping out of school, leaving work or falling into isolation or poverty mainly because of mental or physical wounds caused by the abuse they experienced.

According to a nationwide survey on people who have left such care arrangements, released by the ministry last year, one out of five did not make enough money to cover their expenses. The survey, the first of its kind, also found that some facilities refrain from interacting with former residents, so as to encourage their independence.

The ministry has therefore concluded that it is necessary to focus on whether residents are capable of becoming independent, rather than simply using age to determine across the board when support should end.

To that end, the law will be revised to eliminate the age limit for support. For those who are deemed to need continued help, the revised law will enable them to live in facilities, foster homes or specialized facilities to support their independence until they start receiving employment support, benefits for the needy or medical services. Prefectural governments and protective and other facilities will work together to determine the need for support.

The ministry will also strengthen the system to help children and young people living in facilities by increasing the number of specialists dispatched to prefectural governments to provide counseling on higher education, employment and life after leaving facilities, as well as by expanding programs to lend living expenses to those leaving care arrangements.