Child consultation centers short of staff
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The recent increase in reports of child abuse is putting a huge strain on child consultation centers across the nation, which are chronically understaffed.
Public involvement helps centers discover mistreatment early. “We are grateful for information [related to child abuse],” said a staff member at a child consultation center in the Kanto region. “But every one of our staff is handling more than 100 cases at a time. So, I’m worried about whether we’re using the information effectively.”
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s interim report released Wednesday shows that centers received a record number of reports in fiscal 2010.
Calls and tips on child abuse usually pick up in the late afternoon.
The calls vary, and include reports such as “I hear a child crying in a building across from mine,” and “I hear somebody yelling at a child.”
It is not unusual for one consultant to visit two or three locations in one night to follow up on the reports. However, they often fail to locate the apartments where abuse might be taking place, as they sometimes have not been told the apartment numbers.
Although they make the effort, such as visiting the same building several times to try to locate the right apartment, a senior center consultant said: “If I can’t confirm [abuse], I feel uneasy and sometimes can’t sleep. I want to spend more time [working on each case], but I can’t because new cases are always being reported. I want more time.”
A child consultation center worker in western Japan said: “There are many families with complicated problems. I want to upgrade my skills to handle difficult cases, but I just end up just dealing with the cases in front of me and I have no time to study.”
According to the ministry, child consultation centers handle about three times more cases than they did a decade ago. Meanwhile, there were 2,606 certified child welfare consultants handling these cases as of April, only about twice the number 10 years before.
Prof. Jun Saim ura at Kwansei Gakuin University, who serves as chairman of a panel on child abuse commissioned by the ministry, said: “It’s important to increase the number of certified child welfare consultants at child consultation centers quickly to use the information given by callers efficiently. Also, it’s necessary to implement a system where consultants can develop their expertise.”
The help of neighbors, or lack of it, can make a crucial difference in cases of abuse.
At a condominium in Nishi Ward, Osaka, a girl and her younger brother were starved to death by their single mother in July last year. Several residents in the condominium heard children crying, but only one reported the incident to a child consultation center.
One of the residents, a 29-year-old woman, said she thought she heard their cries but did not report it as she thought “it might cause trouble if I was wrong.”
However, after the incident was reported, she regretted her decision. “If I had somebody to talk about this with, I may have been able to save their lives,” she said.
As most of the residents are in their 20s and 30s, they seldom mingled.
After the incident, there was an increase of reports on child abuse nationwide and residents of the condominium started meeting to connect with each other and still meet once a month.
“In the past, I didn’t know my neighbors. But recently, I notice even small changes like people moving out on another floor,” she said. “Now, our goal is to maintain our contact.”