At the turn of the 21st century, a ground-breaking project by Professor Roger Goodman compared the Japanese system for looked-after children with the system in other developed countries.
The report - which has been used to underpin some of the most significant policy changes in relation to looked-after children in the last sixty-five years - found that the experience of Japanese children in care was very different from that in most other OECD countries.
A much higher proportion (around 90%) of children went into residential care rather than into adoption and fostering; when children were taken into care they tended to stay in the care system for much longer periods of time (over five years on average); while in care, they were placed in much larger institutions (averaging over sixty children) and did much less well educationally, socially and emotionally than their peers in the wider society.
The research also concluded that the operation of the Japanese system was the result of a number of social phenomena which were all susceptible to change if the political will existed to do so.
These social phenomena included: the difficulties for the authorities in mobilizing alternatives to residential care such as fostering and adoption because of the meanings ascribed to these practices in the traditional Japanese kinship system; the vested interests of the private welfare organisations which ran the children’s homes; the general lack of public awareness of the child protection system; and the fact that current practices were considered to be the ‘natural’ outgrowths of historical and traditional cultural patterns.
Goodman’s research challenged those attitudes and perceptions about looked-after children and in doing so quickly won acclaim from likeminded academics and professionals.
Now the Japanese government is working towards the goal of one-third of children and young people in state care being placed in foster homes, one-third in community group homes and one-third in children’s homes, which won’t house more than 40 individuals in total.
Already policy changes are coming into force, with a new definition of ‘looked-after children’ that increases the age at which young people have to leave care homes from 16 years to 18 years. There are also calls to create better opportunities for young people leaving care, with improved housing, training and income maintenance.
For decades, looked-after children had been a neglected element in Japanese society. Goodman’s work has changed that, using research excellence to persuade and support policy makers to make these children’s lives better.
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