Recently, the need to respond to new social welfare issues is becoming more urgent. Most of such issues tend to appear outside of the existing institutional frameworks of social welfare services or extend to several institutions. Therefore, JSSSW has to look at them with a wide perspective and contribute to the development of flexible system management, as well as create new services and approaches. The examples given below are some of the typical issues.
1) Maltreatment of children and elderly people
In order to protect children from maltreatment, the Child Abuse Prevention Act was enacted in 2000. The number of victims dealt with by child consultation centers has expanded four-fold in the last decade. The law defines the patterns of child abuse as: 1) physical abuse, 2) sexual abuse, 3) neglect, and 4) psychological abuse. Since the law took effect, cooperation by ordinary citizens to the early detection of maltreatment has become a duty, including professionals closely working with maltreated children, such as doctors, teachers and staffs in child welfare facilities.
The Elderly Abuse Prevention Act became effective in 2006. This law also defines abuse of elderly people as: 1) physical abuse, 2) abandonment and neglect of care, 3) psychological abuse, 4) sexual abuse, and 5) extraction of financial assets. On a legal basis, social workers are requested: 1) to prevent elderly people from maltreatment and to provide them continuous support until their lives are stabilized; 2) to respect and pay serious attention to their will; 3) to make appeals to society for the prevention of maltreatment; 4) to detect and cope with maltreatment swiftly; 5) to support not only elderly people but also their protectors; and 6) to respond as part of a team effort in cooperation with other institutions concerned.
2) Domestic violence
Due to the increase in the number of domestic violence (DV) cases, the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims was put into operation in 2001. In the law, women’s consultation offices (established in each prefecture) are designated as spousal violence counseling and support centers and are required to offer consultation, assistance, and provide temporary care.
To improve services for victims, these institutes engage in: 1) consultation on holidays and at night; 2) networking with other institutions concerned; 3) training for staff; 4) placement of personnel in charge of psychotherapy; 5) employing night guards; 6) taking victims into temporary protective custody at the livelihood support facilities for mothers and children, and private shelters for domestic violence victims; 7) placement of childcare personnel for accompanied children in temporary care centers; 8) coordinating legal advice and support by lawyers; and 9) providing personal reference when victims need to exchange written contracts to find jobs or houses for rent.
3) Solitary death
Lack of socializing among neighbors is becoming more and more serious in Japan, and one typical consequence of this trend is the high incidence of solitary death. The number of cases of dying alone is increasing especially in urban areas. This situation has prompted the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to implement administrative measures to promote solitary death prevention. Also, several local governments, such as prefectures and ordinance-designated cities, are attempting activities for promotion and awareness-raising, model enterprises etc.
4) Emerging new patterns of poverty and social disparity
We have a definite worldwide tide of economic recession, which brought serious stratification caused by gaps of income. Even labor policies, which include deregulation of employment, could widen these gaps. While job availability rates has been slightly decreasing in the past few decades, unemployment rates are increasing.
As a result of social stratification, specific patterns of poverty, which could be characterized differently from conventional homeless or low-income earners, have appeared: as NEETs (people not in employment, education or training), young and middle-age people who live in internet cafes (that can be used as one-night accommodations) called ‘net-cafe refugees’, permanent part-timers called ‘freeters’, and young people experiencing social withdrawal. Because of their distinguishing features, they can also be characterized a “poverty in social relationships”. Today, we need services and approaches from a broad perspective with regard to employment, housing, mental health, and human relationship building.
In order to sort these issues out, theoretical contributions are expected from JSSSW, so that we can give practical suggestions in social welfare. Some trends are visible in related research: firstly, studies on outcome evaluation and effectiveness analysis of practitioners, approached from clients’ point of view; secondly, studies on social policy and management, as well as service provision systems or institutions; and thirdly, methodological studies about social work and its approaches.
These studies are still in progress, so we should consider two significant practical possibilities of recent focus: 1) generalist social work in various fields that require new skills, such as social work in the field of education (schools), rehabilitation, and employment assistance; 2) community care for elderly people who are in need of care, for clients who are discharged from hospitals or welfare institutions, and for people living with disabilities who are engaged in social recovery.