Three characteristics of the dominant values on the family-bond

The family-bond has three key characteristics:

  • 1 A child can only have one family-bond. Forming a new family-bond weakens the existing or potential family-bond, and the formation of a new family-bond cuts the existing family-bond.
  • 2 Removing a child from the family risks destroying the existing or potential family-bond.
  • 3 Children are unable to form a family-bond after a certain age.

The decision to remove a child from their family is made by evaluating the risk this poses to the family-bond against the risk that not doing so poses to the child. The decision is based upon the assessment of the strength of the family-bond and of the family’s capacity to care for the child. The relative importance assigned to these two factors varies.

The construction of the family-bond as singular also affects the decision on the suitability of foster care: where care in foster care is constructed as being built upon a new family-bond, it is seen as unsuitable for children for whom the goal of care is family-reunification. Where foster care is constructed as semi-professional care in a home it is seen as less of a threat to the family-bond so can be used for a wider range of children. This is explored in Chapter 6.

CGC staff have two fundamental fears: the death of a child known to them, particularly where there are questions over the actions that the CGC has or has not taken; and the child becoming a sutego, an abandoned child. The act of removing a child from the family risks destroying the child’s family-bond with their parents. This risk is exacerbated by the child starting to form a family-bond with someone else. If this second formation process is understood as impossible, or the process breaks down, the child risks becoming a sutego, a child with no family-bond. In extreme cases, the decision on whether to remove a child can be understood as the evaluation of the fear of‘social death’ and ‘biological death’. Surprisingly, the fear of‘social death’ sometimes appears to override the fear of‘biological death’.

These three characteristics of the family-bond contribute to our understanding of puzzles tangential to this book: on children being returned to abusive households, the low rate of children entering care, and the low foster care rate. This construction of the family-bond leads these decisions to sometimes being understood as in the child’s best interest, a position that nuances arguments focusing on parental rights being prioritised over children's rights (see Goldfarb, 2018; Tsuzaki, 2009).

The three characteristics of the family-bond build upon evidence and develop Goldfarb’s finding of ‘a perception that parent-child ties cannot be multiple: a child’s relationship with a caregiver who acts like a parent threatens the child’s tie to his or her actual parent’ (2012: 9-10, emphasis in original). Goldfarb later clarifies that ‘many people... perceive foster care as a threat to a birth parent’s potential relationship with a child, but my interlocutors never made explicit the reasons why’ (2012: 98). This chapter makes the reasons explicit.

These characteristics of the family-bond are relatively uniformly understood across my fieldwork sites. This assertion risks being charged with orientalising a Japanese culture. In my defence, 1 first note that the importance given to the different components of the family-bond, discussed below, varies by case, according to the CGC’s understanding of the best interests of the child and of their role. Second, this construction of the family-bond is not necessarily unique to Japan and may provide a mechanism for the long-standing hypothesis that the construction of the family in Catholic, or ‘Mediterranean’ countries, including Italy and Portugal, contributes to their low foster care rate (see Goodman, 1999; Madge, 1994).1

The constituent parts of the family-bond


In 2011 the Asahi Shimbun featured a 13-part series on foster care (Inoue, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c; Sugiyama, 201 la-201 Ij). The series, titled ‘Become a parent, become a child’, largely constructed foster care as a proxy for adoption and focused on the creation of a new family or a new family-bond: ‘We became a family on the southern island' (Inoue, 2011c), ‘I ‘proposed’ with a picture book that she become my daughter’ (Sugiyama, 201 le), ‘More of a mother than my real mother’ (Sugiyama, 2011g).

This series opened with the article ‘Even more than ties of blood’ (Sugiyama, 2011a). The emphasis on ‘blood’ in the family-bond is also found in Murata’s ‘Making a family: The way of life of regular foster parents’, which explains how a connection can be built ‘even without blood ties’ (2005: 71).

Goldfarb (2012) attempts to untangle what she calls ‘the parent-child ties’ by exploring the relationship between blood and legal ties, and argues that the term ‘blood ties’ often refers to uchilsoto, inside/outside, relationships that have grown more prominent with the nuclearisation of the ideal family

(see Ochiai, 1997). Shirai also argues that ‘reproductive technologies have reinforced social norms that dictate the importance of blood relationships within modern families’ (2010: 18).

This book develops this, and argues that the family-bond is a contested composition of legal bonds (parental rights), blood ties, the embodied practice of giving care, a sense of belonging to a place (ibasho), and familial love, and that it is understood to be durable, with expectations, obligations, and responsibility around future support.

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