Japanese Foster Families Get Benefits

19/09/2011 - Over half of the Japanese foster families taking care of earthquake and tsunami orphans are participating in a financial assistance programme run by Japan's government.

More than 20,000 lives were lost in the March 11th earthquake and tsunami Thousands more children were affected by the loss of their parents or by mental anguish in the aftermath of the disasters.

In response, earlier this month, the Japanese government announced plans for mental health care facilities to provide psychological support to children. The centres will bring together a number of health professionals and volunteers to care for traumatized children, focusing mainly on orphans and vulnerable youngsters.

A total of 236 children lost both their parents in the disasters. Another 1,295 lost one of their parents. As of this weekend, more than half of the families who took in the 236 "double-orphans" have applied for government financial support under a kinship foster care programme, said a recent government survey.

Kinship foster parents, as well as foster parents not related by blood, can receive monthly living expenses for the children's care and education. So, far, the guardians of 131 orphans have been granted these benefits, says the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry. However, the Ministry is working to publicize these benefits in order to get the information to potential claimants. However, some foster parents are reluctant to apply for assistance if the children's parents are still listed as “missing” and are not yet confirmed dead.

Ten of the orphans are being raised by guardians not within three degrees of kinship. Priority, however, is placed upon children being taken in by blood relatives. Ordinary foster parents must undergo training and prove financial stability before taking in a child without parental care.

Japan is still grappling with other consequences of the March 11th disasters. Last week, the United Nations (UN) agency for atomic energy  pledged to help restore public faith in nuclear power after the disastrous events at Japan's Fukushima plant.

The  tsunami in Japan hit Fukushima's water cooling systems, leading to radioactive contamination of the air, water, plants and animals within kilometres of the site. There was also the threat of a meltdown on the fuel rods, making it the worst civilian nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. About 100,000 people were evacuated from the area.

In the aftermath of the disaster, says the agency, what matters most is transparency, building confidence and meeting public expectations through actions and not merely words.

Yukiya  Amano is the Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “It will take rapid and visible improvements in nuclear safety, not just good intentions, to restore public confidence in nuclear power,” he told the board of governors in Vienna at a conference on global nuclear issues, with special attention to the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“The agency will play its central part with vigour," he added.

The IAEA has already prepared a draft action plan on how to take steps to strengthen nuclear safety. Member states have pledged their support to Japan as it tackles decontamination.

Last month, Japan announced that increased efforts to clean up radioactive fallout would reduce children's radiation exposure by 60 per cent over the next two years. Through decontamination activities, exposure will be reduced to one millisieverts or less. Some toxic areas recorded measures as high as 20 millisieverts.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children are susceptible to radioactive iodine poisoning, which can accumulate in the thyroid gland, causing cancer. Medical tests in towns near the plant found that 45 per cent of those surveyed exhibited low-level thyroid radiation exposure. None of the tests conducted in late March showed children's thyroids exceeding safety threshold levels of 0.2 microsieverts per hour – a standard set by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

Tens of thousands of people in Tokyo marched against nuclear power today, calling on the government to abandon nuclear energy plans. Before the disaster, 30 per cent of Japan's energy was derived from nuclear power.

An AP-GfK poll showed that over half of those polled wanted to reduce the number of nuclear reactors, while 35 per cent would leave them the same. Four per cent wanted to increase the number, while 3 per cent would eliminate them altogether.

Globally, the Fukushima disaster is expected to slow growth in nuclear reactors. China and India, two emerging economies, will remain the main centres of nuclear power expansion.