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Culture and Education

Seeking Alternative Care Based on Children’s Rights
—Expansion of Scholarships and Study Support that Foster Children’s Dreams—

Hatsuko Kawana
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Life full of dreams vs. Life without dreams

Every time I pass by a post office, I see a poster that says “Life is full of dreams” (Japan Post Group Insurance). On the other hand, a YouTube video and a 2014 survey report entitled Children without Dreams: Children Living in Children’s Homes and Foster Care (by Human Rights Watch: Kanae Doi, Japan Director of HRW) are circulating among individuals involved in social welfare. Most children living under the protective care of their parents or grandparents live a life full of dreams. Compared to this group of children, those who are not able to live under the care of their own parents live their lives without dreams. As children cannot choose their parents, I am frustrated at the inequality children have to face right from the very beginning of their lives.

All Children Have the Right to Receive a Proper Education

Fig. 1 Structure of alternative care in Japan

The partial revision of the Child Welfare Act in May 2016 (enacted on April 1, 2017) focused on preventing child abuse. Due to the legalization of community-based childcare support centers under the Maternal and Child Health Act, support for childcare now starts before the child is born. Additionally, support on self-reliance to children has also been extended to age 22 (previously 18). These revisions jointly extended significantly the period of time which children are protected under the Act of Prevention on Child Abuse.

The Child Welfare Act also puts the international Convention on the Rights of the Child at the forefront and transfer children raised in care facilities to foster homes. The Act made epoch-making revisions that include supporting foster parent service and adoption as a part of the responsibilities of prefectures (child consultation centers), with the goal of raising the quality of foster care to a level equivalent to that of major developed countries.

Approximately 46,000 children nationwide require social aid because their parents, who are on social welfare, are unable to raise them by themselves. Among these children, more than 80% are cared for in children home and less than 20% in foster home (Fig. 1). Reports of child abuse have been increasing every year, exceeding 100,000 according to a 2017 news flash. However, the number of children requiring aid entrusted to social welfare agencies remains constant due to limited space in children’s homes and the number of registered foster parents. Children strongly suspected of being abused are returned to their parents without sufficient investigation, which puts their lives at risk.

Schooling Society and Chains of Intergenerational Poverty

It has been quite a while since educational sociologists pointed out that schools, instead of being an apparatus for reducing disparities, widen disparities in Japan; It has also been quite some time since social issues such as child poverty and the chains of intergenerational poverty were raised. It was reported in 2009 that 15.7% of children (one in every six children) were living in relative poverty and the number has since been increasing, hitting 16.3% in 2012. Single-mother families, in particular, account for over 50% of the poverty rate. These families often do not know that financial aids that subsidies school lunch, school trips and uniforms, as well as financial support provided by some municipalities that helps children prepare for entrance exams by enrolling them in cram schools exist. This causes a significant disparity in the number of children receiving high school and post-secondary education due to disparities in family financial background. Such deprivation of higher education due to low income background tends to lead to educational neglect in children, creating a vicious cycle of producing poorly educated children who eventually become parents that do not send their children to school.

According to a Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare study (2014), the percentage of children that are raised in children’s homes and later move on to further their education in junior college or university stands only at 11.1%. Moreover, many of these students are forced to drop out of school due to financial difficulties. In actual fact, only a mere 10% of these students actually managed to graduate from their post-secondary education.

Scholarships Based on Academic Performance and Non-selective Scholarships

At the beginning of April 2016, Waseda University established the Konpeki no Sora Scholarship to provide support for children raised in children’s homes, from preparing for university entrance examinations to looking for employment after graduation. Knowing the significant impact of the scholarship, when I received information that this scholarship was available to students enrolled after April 2017, I immediately contacted the Scholarships and Financial Assistance Section asking why foster children, who similarly need such financial aid, were not eligible to sign up for the scholarship. The Scholarships and Financial Assistance Section was quick to respond. First of all, the section told me that children raised in children’s homes are eligible to receive information and apply through the Zenkoku Jido Yogo Shisetsu Kyogikai (Zenyokyo: Japan National Council of Homes for Children). However, there was no means of access for children raised in foster homes through foster parent-related organizations. I informed them about the foster care system and introduced related parties and organizations, which led the Scholarships and Financial Assistance Section staff to conduct questionnaire surveys and presented them to the Executive Board.

In January 2017, I received news that the Executive Board and the Committee of Senior Deans approved the expansion of eligible application for the Konpeki no Sora Scholarship to individuals that are raised in foster homes. I am excited for these individuals as they can now be self-reliant by making good use of the scholarship. By the way, in the initial year, no individual under institutional care was eligible. There was a foster parent couple living in a rural area, whose child was not eligible for the Konpeki no Sora Scholarship but was eligible for the Mezase! Miyako no Seihoku Scholarship. They told me that Tokyo University was their first choice, and Waseda was our second. As it turned out, the child did not pass Tokyo University or Waseda University exams. I was informed that the child had been accepted by a university in a distant location. The child combined various available scholarships and was given priority for a dormitory room, enabling the child to enter the university without the burden of a loan debt. As with this case, the Konpeki no Sora Scholarship only takes effect when the candidate is accepted to Waseda University. I suspect that this raises the hurdle for children with financial difficulties, preventing them from attending cram schools that prepare them for university entrance examination.

Fig. 2 A section of the fliers with information about the Konpeki no Sora scholarship

Meanwhile, there are also private scholarships that do not screen applicants according to academic performance. Chart 1 and Chart 2 compares several of these scholarships.

Making it possible for children to foster their dreams, becoming aware of their right to receive an education and selecting and combining the scholarships most suited to individual needs requires more than merely making use of the system. Support from peers and adults around are also required. Without financial assistance that does not require repayment after graduation, those in student loan debt might get discouraged if they do not have support from the people around them. Therefore, it is important to have foster parents or guardians they can go back to.

Chart 1 Types of scholarships and notes

Example of scholarship for all students
●Japan Student Services Organization (guarantor institution available as a fee-based guarantor proxy)
●Newspaper Scholarship Program
●Diverse Waseda University scholarship programs (Currently one out of ten students are under this scholarship program. Successful applicants were screened based on academic performance and financial background)

Example of scholarships for alternate-care children
●Japan National Council of Social Welfare Schooling Grant (Japan National Council of Social Welfare)
●Child Welfare Yuai Gojokai Donation=Nishiwaki Donation (Tokyo Council of Social Welfare)
●NPO Ann Donation and consultation and loan for Annie Donation

Points to note and consider when applying for scholarships
●Does the scholarship require repayment after graduation?
●If repayment is required, are there any exemptions? What is the interest rate?
●Is it possible to apply for more than one scholarship?
●When must the application be submitted?
●When will the money be deposited? Do you have a financial plan before the money is deposited?

*Search individual websites for details.

Chart 2 Examples of self-support services

Examples of available services
●Scholarship, congratulatory money for employment, money to cover the cost of preparation for a new job ●Acquisition of a driver license
●Computer class, cooking class for singles and other classes that teach life skills
●Introduction of schools and companies with dormitory, use of housing allowance
*Inquire to local government offices, the schools you intend to apply to and the Foster Home Support Center, etc.

Hatsuko Kawana
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Hatsuko Kawana graduated from the Faculty of Letters and Education, Ochanomizu University and worked in the editorial department of a publisher and at the School of Medicine, Teikyo University. Professor Kawana has held her current position, giving lectures on the subject of children and family welfare (child welfare) since 2003. Her specialty is in the social care of children with handicaps, and she works with her students in the Foster Parent Study Society of Waseda University on transferring children raised in child and family services facilities to foster parents so that children living away from their parents due to various reasons can be raised in a family environment. With her Certified Social Worker qualification and doctor’s degree, she works to develop students as social workers.
Picture book, Hello! Convention on the Rights of the Child (2017, Tokai University Press)