Study: 6.5% of sixth graders are caring for a family member at home

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According to a Department of Health study, one in 15 sixth graders in primary school and one in 16 college juniors care for a family member at home in place of their parents.

Among the youngest caregivers, 71.0% said they looked after a sibling and 19.8% said their mother was the object of their care.

A third of sixth-graders who said they cared for their parents had no idea about their health problems, according to study results released on April 7.

The study only looked at sixth-graders and third-year college students. About 9,700 people from each age group responded.

The ministry’s previous study, released in April 2021, looked at junior and senior high school students who cared for family members.

In the latest study, 6.5% of sixth-graders said they cared for a family member, surpassing 6.2% of university students.

Another 4.0% of college juniors said they had cared for a family member in the past.

Kosuke Kawahara, 27, from Nagasaki City, said he took care of his mother from when he was about 10 until he graduated from college.

His mother began to develop psychological problems when he was 10 years old. Since they were the only ones in the house, Kawahara had to take care of her.

Once, when she collapsed from taking too much medicine, Kawahara went to a neighbor’s house to ask for an ambulance to be called.

“I was scared, but I always had to keep an eye on my mom to make sure she didn’t do anything to hurt herself,” Kawahara said. “I never thought what I was doing was caring for an older relative or helping out.”

The ministry’s study also found that sixth graders’ education was negatively affected the longer they cared for a family member.

Of those who spent more than seven hours a day caring for family members, 28.9% said they were occasionally absent from school. The figure was 21.5% for those providing care between three and less than seven hours a day.

Among university students, 26.7% said they had financial problems because they had to take care of a family member, while 21.6% said they could not adequately prepare for the university entrance exams.

Some 13.1% of them said they had chosen an educational institution that they could go to from home.

Kawahara said he had to take out loans to pay for high school, vocational school and university. He always repays those loans.

He worked various part-time jobs to cover his living expenses after leaving home when he entered college.

Although her mother lives alone at home, rescuers sometimes asked Kawahara to come home due to a problem with her mother.

He read for the first time that other young people cared for family members last year.

“There is a need for more people to know about this social problem so that the children can tell those around them that they can no longer continue to care for the family member,” Kawahara said.

Seigo Miyazaki, 32, runs an organization that provides job search advice to young people who have to care for family members.

Miyazaki cared for his mother, who suffered from a rare disease, from middle school until her death in 2021.

He said there was a need for a forum where students could talk about their problems even before they look for a job after graduating from college.

(This article was written by Ryuichi Hisanaga and Atsuko Hatayama.)

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