Supporters Discuss Japanese, American Foster Care Systems

Foster youth alumni summit on June 25 at the University of Washington.
Photo by Yoshiko Matsushima/ The North American Post

By Yoshiko Matsushima
The North American Post

A Japanese foster youth team came to Seattle last month for the first time to learn how child welfare systems work in the United States. The five young members, aged 19 – 27, grew up in various settings in Japan, including baby nurseries, group and foster homes and independent support facilities.

The members participated in the first U.S.-Japan foster care summit, which was hosted by the International Foster Care Alliance (IFCA). They discussed the current struggles of foster youth and the differences in the system between two countries.

According to the youth team, the ultimate goal is “to build a truly child-centered society that embraces all generations and brings everyone opportunities to share their opinions and thoughts.”
“I didn’t know who to talk to about my emotions and opinions, and I had been isolated,” said Yoshie Hoshino, 20.

Soon after she was born, she was placed in an infant nursery and grew up in a group care facility and a
foster care home. Hoshino said, however, there is no one who she felt comfortable to talk to. She added that she felt it was necessary to build some system and some environment where children feel comfortable.

In Japan, there are about 46,000 foster children, and most of them still live in large capacity group care facilities. The Japanese government is being pressured by the United Nations to move these children from institutions to more family-like settings such as foster and kinship homes.

In the United States, the federal government reworked the social security act in 1986, and now, the program for foster children is established in all 50 states.

Timothy Bell, a 27-year-old policy coordinator, supporting the efforts of youth and alumni of the foster care system, said, “In the United States, there is still a lack of permanent connection to support family environment. However, some states can extend foster care to age 21.”

In Japan, a majority of foster youth are outside of government care. The legal age is 20 years old. During the two years between ages 18 and 20, foster children have to have a guardian who can sign legal and other documents, but it is extremely difficult to find a guardian.

Rei Hatayama, 22, said that she didn’t have independent living skills.

“I felt devastated whenever I faced difficulties,” she said. “Actually, I am still struggling with obstacles related to the guarantor system. I hope that this legal mandate will change.”

In the summit, the members also talked about children’s rights. In the United States, apparently, a foster child can have an attorney even if she or he is nine years old.

“I was just surprised. In Japan, we are not represented by the legal system,” Masami Takizawa said.

“I believe that American and Japanese youth will take a lead to make a better system and support,” said Miho Awazu, president of IFCA.

Susumu Yamanouchi, 19, who is studying to become a teacher, said “I had been struggling as a foster child before, but I came to realize that I would live in the future rather than in the past.”

S.Y., who wants to remain anonymous, grew up in the United States and Japan.

“It was a great experience to join this summit for me,” he said. “In America, youth members raise their voice to improve foster care environment. I will share information as much as I can in Japan.”