The Yomiuri ShimbunBecause they are inadequately prepared, child consultation centers cannot keep up with the sharp rise in child abuse cases. This situation has been made clear.
The number of child abuse cases handled by child consultation centers nationwide in fiscal 2018 reached the worst-ever level of 159,850. The figure is 3.7 times the level 10 years before. This points to growing public concern about child abuse, as shown by the fact that police, schools and neighborhood residents are more frequently seeking advice from child consultation centers and reporting specific cases to them.
To protect children from abuse, it is important as a general rule to confirm their safety within 48 hours after reports about child abuse are received. The government has urged child consultation centers to thoroughly observe the “48 hours rule.” However, these institutions were not able to confirm the safety of about 12,000 children within that time frame over a period of 11 months from July last year.
In heavily populated areas, it is not unusual for a single child welfare worker to handle more than 100 cases. There is no doubt that the inability of child consultation centers to promptly handle child abuse is partly due to their shortage of personnel.
In Sapporo, there was a case in which a 2-year-old girl became so weak she died in June. A local child consultation center had received information about suspicions of her of being abused, but the “48 hours rule” was not followed. After the incident, there was a meeting of directors from child consultation centers around the country, and many participants complained that personnel directly responsible for handling child abuse cases were exhausted.
A pressing task in this respect is to secure a sufficient number of child welfare workers responsible for handling child abuse.
There are a total of about 3,400 child welfare workers at about 200 child consultation centers nationwide. The government has said it will seek to increase the figure to about 5,200 by the end of fiscal 2022. In addition to increasing the number of such personnel, it is important to strengthen the expertise of individual staff.
In many instances, local governments transfer child welfare workers to other departments a few years after having them assigned to child consultation centers. Forty percent of child welfare workers have less than three years’ work experience in that capacity. Unless they gain practical experience, they will find it difficult to judge whether there is a risk of a child being subject to abuse.
The Kitakyushu city government is taking care to ensure such personnel continue to work at child consultation centers over a period of four to five years. In addition to reworking the rotation of personnel, it is indispensable to assign experienced child welfare workers to workplaces where there are many inexperienced staff, so the veterans can coach the less experienced.
It is also important to foster necessary personnel from a medium- and long-term viewpoint. Personnel appointed as child welfare workers consist of people who have qualifications as social welfare workers, as well as people who acquired practical experience in the field of social welfare after studying psychology and other related subjects at universities. Efforts should be made to improve the quality of education aimed at helping students acquire practical skills at universities with social welfare-related departments and elsewhere.
To enable child consultation centers to focus on responding to serious child abuse cases, it is necessary to make progress in better dividing the roles involved. One viable option is to commission private-sector organizations to undertake some parts of the work, such as cultivating foster parents who will accept abused children.
Making efforts to prevent child abuse from taking place must not be forgotten. It is essential to extend support for parents who have worries and problems, including improving the framework for consultation services.