Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief (199th report)
Fukushima's first fathering assistance training workshop

[29 June 2013]

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2013
Niiza Childcare Support Network Director Sakamoto comments, "The training embodied our entire 10 years of existence as an organization and supported the full pyramid of fathering assistance. At the top of that pyramid lie single-father households formed as a result of the disaster."

Efforts are well underway to ensure the speedy reconstruction of areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, but the burden borne by people with long working hours and those raising children has grown into a protracted problem. While many turn their attention to mothers, not enough attention is not being focused on the hardships endured by fathers. From 2011, the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) has implemented the Single-Father Household and Fathering Assistance Project, a project aimed at preventing neglect, domestic violence and child abuse by providing assistance to fathers. The project is implemented in partnership with the Niiza Childcare Support Network and local governments. Project activities were pushed into full swing in 2013 in Fukushima Prefecture, where on 19 June JCU held a training workshop that equipped Fukushima professionals active in the fields of education and welfare with the skills to provide assistance to fathers.

Some 26 government staff, social workers, educators and NPO staff participated in fathering assistance training workshop held at the Fukushima Gender Equality Center. The workshop was jointly hosted the Fukushima Gender Equality Centre (Nihonmatsu City) and Fukushima Prefectural Government (Child-rearing Assistance Section). In Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, over 300 individuals have already participated in similar workshops, where they learned about pre-disaster assistance for single-father households and post-disaster fathering assistance, focusing on assistance for single-father households newly formed in coastal areas as a result of the disaster. While few single-father households are directly formed as a result of the disaster, there are many fathers left to live alone in Fukushima Prefecture because radiation concerns have forced mothers and their children to seek refuge in different areas. This has created a strong need for various fathering assistance training. On the occasion of this training workshop, emphasis was placed on general fathering assistance.

Very few assistance options for single-father households

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2013
Some 26 government employees, social workers, educators, and NPO staff participated in JCU's first fathering assistance training workshops in Fukushima Prefecture.

"From the perspective of gender equality, assistance is a challenge for men and women alike. Assistance is growing more important for single-father households, which traditionally have fewer assistance options compared with single-mother households," says Gender Equality Centre Deputy Director Shinsuke Nakano, emphasizing the importance of the training workshops.

Niiza Childcare Support Network Directors Junko Sakamoto and Ikuko Sano are the pioneers of fathering assistance at local governments across Japan. At the two-and-a-half hour training workshop, they lectured about the basics of fathering assistance, including the current situation and challenges surrounding fathering assistance in Japan, as well as points of caution relating to implementation. They then explained about some of the unique challenges of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima. Japanese fathers have traditionally not assumed a major role in child-rearing, and the issues spawned by the disaster relating to single-father households, many who were suddenly forced to assume a more direct role in child-rearing, are just beginning to manifest. One example is what has been dubbed as "reconstruction stress", which has led to child neglect and violence among fathers. The training workshop also talked about the need for support for fathers living alone in Fukushima Prefecture as a result of the disaster.

Assistance for busy fathers

What is the best way to extend assistance to fathers who have little free time? Participants from a diverse range of backgrounds offered numerous ideas that could quickly be turned into action. One idea was holding a simple cooking seminar for fathers, many who overly pressure themselves to be perfect in the eyes of their children. Another idea was to hold an event that brought mothers and children back to Fukushima for a day of playtime with the whole family. Another proposal for a "bring your child to work day" so children could spend time with their fathers at work.

Assistance tools tailored to Fukushima

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2013
What is the best way to extend assistance to fathers who have little free time? Participants from a diverse range of backgrounds offered numerous ideas that could quickly be turned into action. One idea was holding a simple cooking seminar for fathers, many who overly pressure themselves to be perfect in the eyes of their children.

In preparation for the training workshops in Fukushima, JCU worked together with the Fukushima Prefectural Government, Soma City Government and Minamisoma City Government to create Fukushima Prefecture versions of the various fathering assistance tools previously published together with local governments and specialists in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures. In doing so, the Fukushima training workshops were able to introduce good practices from Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures. Another resource being distributed to fathers is a free guidebook, which compiles assistance information useful to fathers in Fukushima Prefecture, Soma City and Minamisoma City. Moreover, a handbook was also compiled for assistance-providers with information and materials relating to fathering assistance so that trainees could learn how to provide training themselves.

Mr. Shinji Sato of the Fukushima Prefectural Government Child-Rearing Assistance Section says, "It is groundbreaking that this type of communication tool was created in Fukushima Prefecture and that these training workshops are taking place. I sincerely hope that municipal governments will add supplementary information as necessary to the Support File and utilize it locally." Yoko Hoshi, a child consultant from Soma City who participated in the training workshop, told JCU, "Prefectural information was compiled in a way that is very easy to use. The section entitled 'Role of the Father' contains information that I hope is communicated to fathers living in temporary housing with their children. I am looking forward to future training workshops in Soma City." Hiroyuki Chubachi, a staff member at the Fukushima Desk of NPO Beans Fukushima's Central Support Centre, added, "The training was very well organized and informative. Organizations that support evacuees have a tendency to be shortsighted, but this training provided information separated by perspective. There was information from the perspective of the mother, and information from the perspective of the father. This made me realize the importance of assistance to fathers."

Just the beginning

Director Sakamoto of the Niiza Childcare Support Network told JCU about her enthusiasm for future efforts: "These training workshops provided a comprehensive range of information regarding fathering assistance drawn from our 10 years of experience as an organization. It covered the full range of assistance types, the most serious of which targets single-father households formed as a result of the disaster. This also speaks to the depth of the situation that fathers face in Fukushima. Assistance for fathers is a new concept in Japan, and we will continue to work with UNICEF as we accelerate our assistance efforts in Fukushima Prefecture."

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