The case of Maiko, a five-year-old girl being adopted in Yuno, shows the importance of ibasho, a sense of belonging.6 Reporting on the acclimatisation process, the caseworker noted, ‘this is the fourteenth time of meeting. Tried overnight stay for the first time. Have done day trips twice... The foster parents are making a big fuss for her to feel like is her ibasho'.
In Maiko’s case, ibasho is a foundation for the creation of a family-bond. Sosuke’s case, where his school was his ibasho, shows that this can exist independent of the family-bond (see Serizawa, 2012). This distinction is important: 1 argue in Chapter 6 that while welfare institutions aim to create ibasho (see Bamba and Haight, 2007) they do so in a manner that is divorced from the creation of a family-bond. Indeed, this is understood as one of their ‘strengths’.
A key distinction between ibasho and the family-bond is that ibasho is considered beneficial even when temporary. This can be seen in the case of Taisei, a ten-year-old boy entering a CWI in Yuno due to serious ‘child-rearing issues’. The CGC believed that the mother was likely to remove Taisei from care before they considered this safe, and that the abuse was below the threshold a court would accept to partially suspend parental rights. Despite the fear of the placement being short, referring to 6 to 24 months here, two senior managers retained pragmatic hopes:
SMI: At this age may be good for him to have some time away from his mother.
SM2: Yes. Want him to have ibasho for a while.
The creation of a family-bond was never constructed as temporary or as beneficial, even if brief. Indeed, children with more problematic behaviour, who have a greater risk of placement breakdown, were often placed into CWIs rather than foster care explicitly due to concerns over partially creating and then breaking a new family-bond.
In a 2014 presentation to the Teru CGC, the head of a juvenile detention centre explained ibasho: ‘The key first step is being in a safe place. Getting normal correct life rhythm, having a person who will listen to them talk and believe them... regular food and rhythms'.
These characteristics can also be seen in a case from Teru. Akemi, a 17-year-old girl, has been in a CWI for most of her life and wishes to go home to her mother, who has ongoing mental health issues. Akemi is one of 11 children, eight of whom are in care, and recently starting refusing school after a teacher bullied her. The mother also wants Akemi back home, though the CGC fears Akemi will then leave school.
During the aid objectives meeting a senior manager asked, ‘There is no one in the CWI she can talk to? Staff wise?’ The caseworker replied, ‘No. Her supervisor recently changed and is new, so a veteran staff member helps with communication etc’. A second senior manager responded, ‘She came from a neglectful home to a neglectful institution. 1 hope her next home gives her an ibasho’.
Ibasho, then, requires the presence of support, with the child having someone they can talk to. It is linked to a sense of safety and the child having ‘normal’ daily rhythms, and is something that is understood to be beneficial even when temporary. Ibasho is a foundation for the creation of a family-bond and is desirable, but not necessary, for an existing family-bond.
An important but overlooked component of the family-bond is familial love. An aid objectives meeting in Teru for Jiro, aged three, and his five-year-old brother, Ichiro, highlights this. Their mother is divorced, is ‘working nights’7 to repay a debt, and is suspected of having severe long-term depression. The mother came to the CGC as she felt it would be better for Ichiro and Jiro to be in care for a while.
SM: Seems realistically that we will end up with the children in care for a longer time.
CW: Mum seems to think that she will cope when they are a little older. The mum certainly does love them.
SM: Would be best if the mother could live with an adult who could help with the childcare. We can take them into care, but that would be best.
CW: The mother has no desire right now to care for them.
Here the mother is seen as lacking the capacity and the desire to care. Her love is seen as genuine, manifest in her attempt to do what she believes is best for her children and her desire to care for her sons in the future. This also speaks to the final component of the family-bond, expectations of future support.
Expectations of future support
The family-bond is understood to be durable, with expectations of future support. Haruto’s case, in Teru, highlights these expectations and the CGC’s fear of a child being left with no family-bond.
Haruto is a 15-year-old boy. He has been in institutional care for 12 years following abuse from his mother and attends a special-needs school. Haruto’s mother, who has had no contact with Haruto for years, told the CGC that while Haruto is on the family register of her ex-husband he was born from an affair and that ‘the “dad” is not his dad’. Haruto’s uncle used to visit him in care but this was stopped after suspicions of abuse. Haruto’s elder sister lives alone and his younger sibling is in foster care.
Haruto sexually assaulted a girl in his CWI, resulting in a meeting between the girl’s mother, Haruto’s mother, and officials from the CGC, and local authority office to discuss compensation. The caseworker reported that Haruto’s mother said, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s the CWI’s responsibility. He is in the CWI. They are responsible for his acts’. The mother expressed a desire to cut her parental rights, which may, depending on the court’s interpretation, waive her liability for compensation.
In a later CGC meeting, the caseworker explained his fear that cutting parental rights would result in Haruto having no support when he ages out of care. A senior manager raised the possibility of parental rights being suspended.8 A second agreed, though was concerned that even here ‘the court will think someone should be there for the child. This child has no one there for him, except the elder sister perhaps'. The caseworker summarised his concerns, stating:
[Haruto] has mental health issues. It seems will be ok in CWI until he is 18, but I really worry about what will happen at 18. This is a problem with many long-term cases in CWI with mental health issues. I want to think about what we can do to promote the relationship with natal parent, but this parent is not good at all. So, we have the option of suspending parental rights, but I am not sure what is best... I want the elder sister to help support, but minimal contact from her at present. And I worry about court involvement here, it may push her away.
Haruto’s case represents a near worst-case scenario for a CGC. His mother’s rejection of him risks social death, of him becoming an adult sutego, the consequences of which are amplified by his care needs. Haruto is understood as being too old to create a new family-bond and as having needs that are too complex for a foster care placement.
On this rare occasion, the CGC was absolved from making the final decision. The natal mother’s refusal to pay compensation despite her legal bond meant that the case went to court. While the local authority office and court framed expectations here in terms of financial responsibility, the CGC was primarily concerned with future support.
Defining the family-bond
This section has examined the components of the family-bond. These are legal bonds, blood ties, bonds that emerge from the embodied practice of caring, familial love, and expectations of future support, with ibasho, a sense of belonging, important in the development of a family-bond.
The families that the CGC work with overwhelmingly do not fit the postwar nuclear family ‘norm’. Single parents, sex workers, drug users, and gang members were not problematized based solely on these statuses; indeed, single mothers working in the sex trade were at times respected for doing whatever they could to provide for their child.9 Daily exposure to ‘atypical’ families, whose numbers are increasing with societal changes, means that the frame of reference for the family-bond is one of‘normal-enough’10 rather than ‘normal’.
Having looked at the constituent parts of the family-bond, this chapter next turns to examine more closely the three defining characteristics of the family-bond.