A record 122,578 child abuse cases were handled by child consultation centers across Japan in fiscal 2016, increasing the strain on welfare workers, a health ministry survey showed Thursday.
Child abuse cases that were dealt with by juvenile consultation centers have seen around a fivefold increase over the past 15 years, while the number of welfare workers responding to abused children and their parents has only doubled in the same period.
The increase to a record high was partly attributable to more people reporting and consulting about child abuse as awareness of the issue has grown. The data also suggested the upward trend remains unchanged as more children suffered from psychological abuse, such as witnessing acts of domestic violence within their families.
“We want to improve the capacity of child consultation centers while collaborating with municipal governments that are supporting childcare and maternity health,” said an official of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
In fiscal 2016, the preliminary number of child abuse cases handled by 210 child consultation centers rose 18.7 percent from a year earlier, marking a 26th consecutive yearly rise, according to the survey, which began in fiscal 1990.
Child welfare officers have been struggling to cope with increasing burdens, with 94 percent of those polled saying their workload was either “very heavy” or “heavy,” according to a 2010 survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
In April last year, the health ministry unveiled a plan to increase the number of juvenile welfare officers by 550 over four years from 3,000, but even with this addition the number would not reach the level needed in the field.
In fiscal 2016, cases of psychological abuse, including those in which children were exposed to verbal abuse or simply ignored, climbed by 14,487 to 63,187, accounting for 51.5 percent of the total.
Physical abuse stood at 31,927 cases comprising 26.0 percent, neglect at 25,842, or 21.1 percent, and sexual abuse at 1,622, or 1.3 percent.
The Japanese Diet revised the child welfare law and child abuse prevention law in May last year, bolstering the roles of juvenile consultation facilities. But some have voiced concerns that more administrative tasks would mean heavier workloads for welfare workers.
The revised child welfare law requires juvenile consultation centers to be staffed by psychological, medical and legal experts, while the child abuse prevention law simplified procedures for the welfare authorities to raid homes if they suspect child abuse.
But the government’s efforts to strengthen the functions of consultation centers such as by deploying lawyers or involving family courts in guiding abusive families could overstrain workers at those facilities, said Reiho Kashiwame, a professor of child home welfare studies at Shukutoku University.
“In regard to assisting families and homes, the government should beef up the roles played by municipal governments tasked with childcare” rather than leave all responsibility to the consultation centers, said Kashiwame.
As for deaths of children in fiscal 2015, the health ministry’s experts committee for the first time requested municipal governments to report suspected child abuse cases that were initially deemed unrelated to abuse.
After reviewing 12 suspected cases, the commission made its own decision that eight deaths were a result of child abuse.
The number of children who died in fiscal 2015 because of abuse, excluding those killed in murder-suicides, rose by eight to 52 from the previous year, of which 30 victims were less than 1 year old.
As unexpected pregnancy and other issues surrounding mothers are believed to be behind such deaths, the commission recommended providing seamless support for pregnant women and mothers.