The Yomiuri ShimbunInsufficient awareness and responses that lacked seriousness at child consultation centers have emerged as the background to a painful incident. A structural improvement must be expedited to prevent such cases from recurring.
An expert panel of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has compiled a report on a case of child abuse leading to the death of 5-year-old Yua Funato in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, in March. It must be taken seriously that the report pointed out that risk assessments and the handing over of the case were problematic at child consultation centers involved in Kagawa Prefecture and Tokyo.
The child consultation center in Kagawa Prefecture placed Yua in temporary protective custody twice, citing her father’s violent behavior. A medical institution and other organizations urged the center to put the girl in a welfare facility, but the center decided to return her to her home without consulting doctors or lawyers.
After the return, the child consultation center was notified by the medical institution about Yua’s injuries and how she was saying, “I don’t want to go home.” Despite that, the center maintained its risk assessment as “moderate.”
It is surprising that the center did not produce a checklist to evaluate child abuse risks over the course of the developments.
After the family moved to Tokyo, while Yua’s mother refused the child consultation center there to meet Yua when staff made a visit to the family, the staff did not make an on-site inspection to confirm her safety.
Why were so many signs that pointed to danger overlooked? The prefectural and metropolitan governments are urged to investigate and uncover what happened and the causes in each of their examinations of the case.
Sloppy coordination exacerbated the situation. Because the center in Kagawa Prefecture lifted an instructive measure on the parents on the grounds of the family’s move to Tokyo, the Tokyo center did not take the case seriously. The ministry report appropriately pointed out that instructive measures on guardians or taking other steps should not have been lifted until a handover of a case was completed between centers.
Other entities’ help vital
Child consultation centers across the nation must make efforts to improve their operations based on the report.
The report highlighted the lack of abilities of child consultation center staff. Certified child welfare officers, who play central roles to respond to child abuse cases, are often reassigned to different centers after several years because they are public servants of local governments. This is a structural problem that makes it difficult to accumulate the know-how to deal with child abuse cases.
It is an important task to increase expertise of child consultation center staff. Ways to recruit and educate staff must be reviewed. To support staff to reach appropriate judgments, it is also important to increase the assignment of such experts as doctors and lawyers.
The central government compiled in July an urgent set of measures in response to the incident. They include drastic increases in certified child welfare officers, mandatory on-site inspections in cases where the safety of a child has not been confirmed, and thorough sharing of information when handing over a case. Those measures must be carried out swiftly and steadily.
The number of child abuse cases reported to authorities continues to increase. Child consultation centers alone cannot deal with this situation. Division of roles between a local government and a child consultation center must be promoted. Communication with police must be enhanced. It is important that all organizations concerned must tackle child abuse with awareness of their roles.