Japanese Government Makes Plans for Orphans

07/09/2011 - The Government of Japan has made plans to provide mental health care to the children who were orphaned in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, today, has decided to establish mental health facilities for children whose parents died in the March earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. These care centres will be set up in the worst-affected regions, which are the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

An estimated 1,500 children, aged 17 or younger, have lost one or both parents in the twin disasters. Of these, 234 children lost both of their parents, becoming double-orphans. As of the end of last month, 93 of the orphans lived in Iwate, 120 in Miyagi and 21 in Fukushima. The other 1,295 children lost one parent. The majority of these (711) also live in Miyagi, with 445 residing in Iwate and 139 in Fukushima. The children, report local media, have moved in with relatives or have begun living in single-parent households.

According to the Ministry, it is necessary to have these facilities in place in order to hire on more psychiatrists and offer comprehensive care  to these children. The Japanese government believes that the children's mental condition may worsen as time goes on. Already, centres offering counselling for children are short-staffed when it comes to mental health caregivers, and there are only about 300 child psychiatrists in the country. As such, about $35 million has been earmarked out for the plan in the first supplementary budget of the fiscal year.

The proposed mental health facilities will bring together local school-based counsellors, child counselling experts, paediatricians and volunteers in order to share information and best practices. They will also conduct study workshops and training to volunteer caregivers and counsellors in hopes in bolstering the quality of mental health care services. In each municipal jurisdiction, a "care team" will be formed to offer help to the children while monitoring the state of their mental health.

In late March, the president of Joint Council on International Children Services, told Fox News that there are about 400 children's homes in Japan with about 25,000 children residing in them. But, very few adoption take place domestically or abroad, as bloodlines are "exceptionally important," and that the emphasis on lineage makes Japan "very averse to adoptions."

In the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan just before the spring on March 11, there were hopes expressed by some North Americans to adopt Japanese orphans. Similar to the explosion of offers to help Haitian orphan after the January 2010 earthquake, orphan advocates affirmed that it is better for children to remain in their communities and with their relatives, especially after a disaster. Children and their parents can become separated during disasters, which makes it difficult to distinguish orphans from "unaccompanied children" early on in the catastrophe. International adoptions, especially when there is potential for family reunification, is not the preferred solution.