Children placed in foster care due to care breakdown

foster care breakdown
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Kayoko Ito, Osaka Prefecture University, charts the verification of the ‘journey’ of placement for children placed in foster care due to care breakdown, starting with an introduction to research in the field

1. Introduction

For many years now, social foster care in Japan has been developed mainly in institutional care. However, the revised Child Welfare Law, which came into effect in 2017, has indicated that when considering where to place children in social foster care, priority should be given to “options that can provide a nurturing environment closer to home”. In addition, in the “New Vision for Social Care” announced in August 2017, one of the goals was to increase the foster care placement rate, which currently stands at around 20%, to 50%. In the midst of this trend, the foster care placement rate has been increasing year by year, but at the same time, there has been an upward trend in the cancellation of placement due to foster care breakdown.

According to the National Association of Child Guidance Centers (2011) “Survey on Foster Care and Abandoned Children in Child Guidance Centers”, the number of cases of termination of foster care placement during the five years from 2005 to 2009 was 647. Of these, 156 cases were terminated due to unsuccessful attempts, which accounted for approximately 24% of the total number of termination cases. In other words, one out of every four cases of termination of consignment was due to unsuccessful attempts.

In addition, it was shown that the background of the children who were released from consignment was often due to their behaviour and characteristics, such as indiscriminate attachment. In addition, the research team of the reporters conducted a national survey on measure changes in 2015. The results revealed that children with disabilities and children who had been abused accounted for a high percentage of children experiencing placement change, including those who were not in foster care. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to clarify the actual situation and support needs of children who experienced the termination of consignment due to malfunctioning of foster carers, as well as the characteristics and trends in the process leading to malfunctioning of foster carers.

2. Perspectives and methods of research

A survey form was mailed to 605 children’s homes across Japan, asking them to respond to a questionnaire about “children who were newly admitted in the fiscal year 2019 as a ‘change of placements from foster carers’”. There are two types of questionnaires: the “Facility Questionnaire,” which asks respondents to provide an overview of the facility and the “Child Questionnaire,” a form to be filled out for each eligible child.

The Child Questionnaire consists of four main parts:

(1) The child’s situation at the time of admission;

(2) The situation of the foster carers who terminated the contract;

(3) The current situation of the subject child;

(4) The subject child’s checklist (ACEs, SDQ, well-being scale).

In this report, we present the results of the analysis conducted only on “the route of the change of placements for the child concerned” and “the basic attributes of the child concerned” among the contents of the “child questionnaire”. Respondents to the questionnaire and the type of job were left to the discretion of each facility. The survey period was from November 2020 to the end of January 2021.

3. Ethical considerations

This survey was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Review Committee of the Graduate School of Human and Social Systems Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University (Approval No. 2020 (1)-26). Specifically, the survey request letter and consent form enclosed with the survey form explained that responses to the survey were voluntary, that care would be taken to ensure that individuals and regions would not be identified when the results were published, and that the management of data after the survey would be carried out.

4. Research results

  1. Number of children included in the analysis
    • Of the 605 facilities to which questionnaires were mailed, responses were received from 262 facilities (collection rate: 43.3%). Of these, 58 facilities responded that “there were children who entered from foster care in FY 2019 due to a change in measures,” and a total of 107 children responded to the questionnaire. Of these, 99 child forms were included in the analysis after deleting eight cases that had incomplete responses.
  2. Attributes of the target children
    • The gender of the children was 42 boys (42.4%) and 57 girls (57.6%). There were no children aged 0 and one, 27 (27.2%) were aged two to six, 37 (37.4%) were aged seven to 12, which corresponds to elementary school age, 24 (24.2%) were aged 13 to 15 (13 of them were aged 15), and 11 were aged 16 to 18. The age at which they first used social care was 0 years old for most of them 33 (33.3%). The age at which they were first placed to foster care was concentrated at two years (11 respondents, 11.1%) and three years (10 respondents, 10.1%). The most common reason for being placed to foster carers was the need for long-term care with no prospect of returning home (28 respondents, 28.3%), followed by the need for an attachment relationship with a specific adult (25 respondents, 25.3%).
  3. Circumstances that led to the failure of the foster carers
    • Regarding whether or not the children had experienced abuse from their foster carers, psychological abuse was the most common type of abuse with 16 (16.2%) of the respondents, followed by physical abuse with 11 (11.1%).
  4. Number and route of measure changes experienced
    • The most frequent placement changes experienced (including temporary protection, excluding respite) were four (39 39.4%), with an average of 4.88 and the most frequent being 11. Thirty-four children had been placed in infant homes, and of these, five had been in foster care for more than five years and 11 for less than one year. Of the 15 children who had been placed in foster care after having been returned home and placed in foster care multiple times, 12 had an ACEs score of five or more, and seven had the highest score of seven. All but one of the children (age nine) had been in foster care for more than five years. 20 children were 13 years old or older when they were first placed in foster care, and only three of these children had been in the care of that foster family for more than one year. 16 children had lived in the same institution for three years or more before being placed in foster care, but none of these children were 14 years old or older at the time of placement. Of these 16 children, three had been in foster care for more than three years.

5. Consideration

The results of the study suggest the need for the following:

  • The need for foster carers’ support to overcome the fostering of adolescents due to a large number of breakdown and changes in placements at the age of puberty.
  • Foster care for children over 13 years old and the necessity of supporting foster carers.
  • Necessity of examining the placements to be taken for children who have experienced a return to their families.
  • The need for careful discussions on the pros and cons of changing the placements of children who have lived in institutions for more than three years to foster carers.
  • Necessity of re-examining the content and nature of foster carer recruitment and pre-registration training.


Words of thanks

This study reports part of the results of Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research B (Project No. 18H00948), “Construction of a Model for Supporting Foster carers and Children to Prevent

Termination of Consignment Due to Foster Care Breakdown” (PI : Kayoko Ito). We would like to express our deepest gratitude to all those who cooperated in the research.


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