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New Major Project for Child-raising Support

Looking at society today, the number of shocking incidents ranging from crimes to accidents seems to indicate that society itself is breaking down. Children's problems, ranging from abuse, suicide and murder, bullying, refusal to attend school, and delinquency, also appear to reflect social problems at large. Anyone would agree that to fix problems of society we need to start with child-raising.

The Yomiuri Newspaper began an extensive campaign to support child-raising about six years ago. Under the initiative of the Osaka head office, the "Yomiuri Child-raising Support Group" was launched in autumn of 2001 with about 30 renowned specialists from the various fields of education and child development and professionals with a wealth of hands-on experience. It has held 32 counseling talks around the country--at most, once a month. Having attended a number of them since the first talk on November 23, 2001, I can testify to the value and significance of these activities.

Recently, this support project has grown even more extensive. To commemorate the fifty-fifth anniversary of its inaugural issue, the Osaka head office established the "Yomiuri Child-raising Support Award". It also launched a new initiative at the beginning of FY2007. In addition to awarding funds to groups, large and small, for their work to improve children's lives all over Japan, the Association now sends its members out to provide on-site advice and assistance.

I was surprised to find that almost 500 groups applied for funding, and their scale, support activities, and organization spanned a wide range. On second thought, their diversity reflects the character of the particular locality. In this sense, it is perhaps natural that the human activity of child-raising, also would vary somewhat, too.

On October 27, Heart Friend, an NPO active in the Higashi Sumiyoshi ward of Osaka was presented an award in a ceremony in Nishinomiya. This organization was started by 15 women in 2001 who wanted to turn an old fire station in play space for children. Their activities expanded into efforts to create a terakoya, or school based on the traditional temple school model where children can work on boosting basic scholastic skills, and a "Heart Place" where infants and toddlers ages 0-3 and their parents can play and communicate.

The Encouragement Prize was awarded to the Doula Club, a child-raising support group in Kashiba City, Nara Prefecture and the Pappy Club, a support circle in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture. The name of the group is taken from the term "doula," a woman who gives support and advice to another woman during pregnancy and before and after childbirth, practice that was advocated by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist and student of the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. The Pappy Club, established in 2001, aims to assist mothers in reconciling the responsibilities of work and child-raising to participate fully in society.

While the Doula Club in Kashiba mainly provides child-raising support, doulas originally provide gentle emotional support during pregnancy and childbirth as well as during later child-raising. If the Doula Club can expand its support to expectant mothers, perhaps this will prevent such recent incidents as in Nara Prefecture where pregnant women were turned away from hospitals.

Having become acquainted with the practice of doulas in the late 1970s, and having had the occasion to talk with Dr. Raphael several times, I was especially happy about the award received by the Doula Club. In advanced societies in the past and more traditional societies today, there were and continue to be women who help give birth to new life. In ancient Greece, such a woman was known as a "doula." Dr. Raphael points out that unfortunately in today's advanced societies, this practice has disappeared while problems related to pregnancy, delivery and raising children have emerged.

Although not funding awards, special awards were given to Kawakita Child-raising Advising Center, an NPO in Kawakita, Yamagata Prefecture, Mama's Café, an NPO in Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, and the Contact Group for the Japan Fathers' Association in Tottori, the Children's Support Network, an NPO in Yokohama, and the Kaizuka Child-raising Network of Kaizuka, Osaka Prefecture. A jury was specially formed due to the large number of award applicants and excellent support offered by these groups. The commemorative award was a magnificent clock.

This time, the only award recipient engaged in activities for men was the Contact Group for the Japan Fathers' Association. Primarily composed of teachers, this group is a clearinghouse for 828 groups of fathers all over Japan that deal with bullying, refusal to attend school, social withdrawal, and other school-related problems. Its fifth annual fathers' summit will take place in Hiroshima, in February 2008.

The main pillar of child-raising support today is the central government, which tends to take a top-down uniform approach that lacks efficacy and does little to improve the actual situation. Isn't this the real problem? If national and local governments have earmarked funds for this, a self-generated bottom-up organization that utilizes the wisdom of people, particularly women, living in the region, would provide more economical and effective support. The Yomiuri Newspaper project is a pioneering one that will open up new paths to resolve children's problems that lie at the heart of child-raising issues.

I hope this project by the Yomiuri Newspaper will become a catalyst that will develop new ways of helping people all over Japan raise children and solve child-related problems.

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