Project to Address Childhood Poverty Launched to Break Chain of PovertyFirst location to be established in Toda City with Benesse
The Nippon Foundation and Benesse Holdings, Inc. are partnering in the launch of the Project to Address Childhood Poverty, in an effort to resolve problems facing children being raised in challenging environments. The project will set up spaces that are neither homes nor schools, to support children’s independence and break the “chain of poverty” across generations. The first location will be in Toda City in Saitama Prefecture, and plans are being made to create a nationwide network after verifying the effectiveness of this facility. The Nippon Foundation will contribute five billion yen as initial funding for the project, with the intention of opening 100 facilities across Japan. A press conference to announce the project was held at The Nippon Foundation headquarters in Tokyo on May 23.
The Nippon Foundation is working to support children being raised in challenging environments, including children who for whatever reason cannot live with their parents, children who have difficulty adapting to conventional schools, and children with serious illnesses. Japan also faces the urgent issue of the fact that today one in six children live in poverty, and this new project will seek to address the difficulties faced by children living in poverty.
Research in Japan and overseas has shown that the issue of childhood poverty is a “negative social legacy” passed on from parents to children through environments that include wasteful spending and irregular lifestyles. This can diminish children’s ability to become independent, thereby leading to what is known as a “chain of poverty.” The Project to Address Childhood Poverty will set up facilities to offset this social legacy to enable children to become independent. These locations are envisioned as places where children will be able to stop by every day on weekdays to play and study with adult supervision. Special educational programs and meals will be provided, with fees set based on the parents’ income.
The program will focus on young children aged through the lower years of elementary school, where the effect is expected to be the greatest. Local teams will be formed in cooperation with schools and local governments, and these teams will encourage targeted families to make use of the program and provide introductions to specialist organizations if additional support is deemed necessary. The program’s effectiveness will also be monitored quantitatively through regular testing of academic performance.
At the May 23 press conference to announce the project, The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa noted that childhood poverty has been raised by the government as an issue that needs to be addressed at the national level, and emphasized the significance of work by private-sector organizations, which can respond more quickly and flexibly. He commented, “The common theme is to cultivate Japanese people who can act on the world stage. It is important to use knowledge gained outside of schools and the home to find the way to the future.”
Joining Mr. Sasakawa, Benesse Holdings Executive Vice President Kenichi Fukuhara added that Benesse has been working with educational institutions across Japan for many years, and has worked to address problems faced by teachers in their schools. He also explained how, during the more than 60 years since Benesse was founded, the company has encouraged children to study and noted, “We have worked to address obstacles that children face, but the issue of childhood poverty cannot be resolved by one company. This project is an opportunity to address the issue of childhood poverty from another direction, and I hope it will spread nationwide.”
The first facility will be established in Toda City, Saitama Prefecture. Toda Mayor Kunio Jinbo has said, “As the number of children declines nationwide, the number of children in Toda continues to grow. Some families face financial difficulties, and I hope to create a place where these children can be instilled with dreams for their future.”
The facility will be staffed by Learning for All, a nonprofit organization that provides educational support for children living in challenging environments. Learning for All President Hyungsik Lee commented, “Programs for young children where the results are verified are very important. I hope this will be an effective way to address childhood poverty.”
Project verification will be overseen by Makiko Nakamuro, associate professor in the Faculty of Policy Management at the Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance. Professor Nakamuro explained, “Childhood poverty cannot be resolved simply by giving people money. Research in Japan and overseas has shown that lifestyles that instill a sense of regularity and the acquisition of non-cognitive abilities like self-control and a desire to succeed, which are different from academic ability and IQ, lead to future success. I hope to implement programs that have proven effective in the United States and other countries.”
The Nippon Foundation