Facility staff at breaking point

Posted on February 23, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death, Orphanages | Tags: , , |

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Children emotionally disturbed by physical abuse at home often inflict injuries on themselves at welfare facilities as a way of seeking the affection of staff.

The harsh reality surrounding such children has taken its toll on the staff treating them, causing them excessive levels of stress and leading some to resign.

“More and more workers get burned out and quit,” one facility official said.

A recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey has found about 76 percent of emotionally disturbed children have suffered physical abuse, double the figure registered 14 years ago.

Overwhelmed by their workload, many workers at facilities that deal with such traumatized children have called for an overhaul of the facilities’ current management system.

One morning in 2009, a worker at one such privately owned facility in western Japan went to check on a middle school girl as she had not come out of her room. On entering, the worker was shocked to find the girl lying on her futon and bleeding, having apparently cut her wrist with a razor.

The girl survived, but the worker said, “Self-injury is nothing unusual here.”

According to the worker, the girl had suffered physical abuse at home. She saw a psychiatrist regularly and received counseling from a psychotherapist and a caregiver, as well as treatment such as sandplay therapy. However, she repeatedly cut her wrists when she recalled the traumatic experience.

The facility said it accommodates about 20 children, most of whom are victims of physical abuse.

At the decision of child counseling centers, some children move to such facilities from more mainstream children’s shelters.

Children there usually take classes at a building attached to the premises, then return to the facilities where they eat, bathe and sleep. They are given their own rooms.

The facilities, known as “jotan” in Japanese, are intended to help children who suffer a mild degree of emotional distress learn ordinary lifestyle habits so they can return to their homes or other shelters after six months or so. In many cases, however, this process takes from one to 1-1/2 years, and some children go back and forth between the facilities and children’s shelters.

In principle, emotionally disturbed children who require treatment are supposed to be sent to such facilities. In recent years, children’s shelters have seen a growing number of children who have been physically abused and are emotionally disturbed, prompting the shelters to send them to the facilities for treatment.

Meanwhile, many workers at such facilities for emotionally disturbed children struggle to cope with certain behavior from the children, the purpose of which seems to be to test the staff. Some experts say their longing for parental love makes them want to become the center of attention of the staff who look after them, and by hurting themselves, they are trying to form a connection with other people.

“We have to understand [the meaning of] behavior that tests us while also protecting them,” a female worker in her 30s said. “We constantly have to judge [whether they are serious or just testing us]. It’s very stressful.”

Some children at the facilities turn violent toward other children and workers there. During a 1-1/2-year period after the facility opened, more than 10 workers quit. At present, only two of the original staff remain.

“Now that physical abuse has become so widespread in society, we need more facilities for emotionally disturbed children. But social recognition of such facilities remains very low,” an experienced worker said. “The current situation will never improve unless something is done.”

Yoshinobu Nakajima, chief of one such facility, Omura Tsubaki no Mori Gakuen, in Nagasaki Prefecture, said: “We should make combined efforts to increase the number of workers and improve the quality of services. To that end, we need to establish a system to train workers specializing in dealing with physically abused children.”

Japanese link to this article

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