Hundreds of children removed from foster families in Japan due to worsening relationships

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Out of the about 1,500 children removed from foster family placements per fiscal year in 2019 and 2020, nearly 20% experienced “placement breakdowns,” according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

These breakdowns mean placements are canceled due to worsening relationships between children and foster families.

Children placed in foster care are often vulnerable due to their past experiences, such as being abused by their birth parents, and experts are calling for more support for foster families as well.

Under the Japanese foster care system, children who cannot live with their birth parents, due to abuse or other reasons, are matched with foster parents registered with local governments. In principle, the children live with their foster parents until the age of 18. Foster parents are screened and given training before they are registered. They receive allowances and living expenses for foster children. Their status is renewed every five years.

As of the end of March 2020, there were 13,485 households registered to be foster parents.

The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey on the situation of foster children’s removal from foster family placements, looking into information from 73 local governments. These included prefectural governments, ordinance-designated cities and Tokyo wards that had child guidance centers as of the 2020 fiscal year that ended March 2021.

The results showed that in fiscal 2019, placement breakdowns led to the removal of 269 children from their foster family placements, accounting for 17% of the 1,528 children removed from foster family placements. The number was 275, or 18%, of 1,489 children removed in fiscal 2020. Other reasons for removal included children turning 18 or children returning to their birth parents’ care.

As for the cause of breakdowns, “the child’s problematic behavior” was cited in 170 cases, and “foster parents facing difficulties providing care” was cited in 166 cases. There were 105 cases that pointed to “child’s maladjustment,” and 16 cases of “abuse by foster parents.”

Five prefectural governments including Tokyo, Osaka and Hyogo, as well as the Osaka city government said they did not have statistics on placement breakdowns, while Chiba Prefecture did not provide a response for fiscal 2020.

The number of children placed under foster family care is increasing year by year, with 7,492 children living with foster families in fiscal 2019, an 80% increase from 10 years earlier. Anticipating the number of breakdowns to grow as placements increase, a national group of foster families known as Zensato submitted a request to “strengthen measures to prevent breakdowns” to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry last June.

“Placement breakdowns hurt the children and drive the foster parents into a corner as well,” said Kayoko Ito, a professor at Osaka Prefecture University specializing in child welfare. “In order to prevent breakdowns, it is essential for child guidance centers and private organizations to provide support to foster parents by listening to their concerns and making sure they receive necessary advice.

“If a breakdown still occurs,” she continued, “it is important for child guidance centers to examine the reasons and explain them to the foster parents and the children, as well as to provide emotional support.”