Stability and Change in Institutional Alternative Care for Children in Israel and Japan

Michael Maher King, University of Oxford

This Masters thesis paper, by Michael Maher King of the University of Oxford, reviews the situations of children in institutional alternative care in Israel and Japan. According to the paper, Japan and Israel are significant outliers in the global trend towards deinstitutionalisation of alternative care for children. Ninety per cent of children entering care in Japan, and eighty per cent of children entering care in Israel are placed into institutions, some of which can house over two hundred children. This qualitative research explores whether there are any shared mechanisms behind the stability in institutional alternative care in these two very different countries. The study is centred around interviews with policy elites and practitioners, and also draws on: secondary literature on alternative childcare in these countries; literature on deinstitutionalisation, notably the emerging emphasis on the role of gatekeeping mechanisms; and primary sources, including government guidelines on recent initiatives promoting change.

The paper profiles the children in care in each country - the total number of children in care (9, 157 in Israel in 2009-2010; 36,450 in Japan in 2011), the ages of children in care, the number in residential versus foster care, and the increasingly complex needs of children in residential care - providing brief explanations for these numbers and brief histories of the child welfare systems in these countries. The paper uses theoretical frameworks to seek to explain why Israel and Japan have become outliers in the global trend of deinstitutionalisation and the incremental changes in both of these countries, arguing against cultural explanations and instead focusing on path dependency and incremental models of change. The study finds that, in Israel, structural reform of foster care organisations, by the central government, has led to a change in incentives at a gatekeeping level, and the creation of a foster care advocacy coalition has strengthened the position of those promoting change. In Japan there has been minimal structural reform. Instead, pressure has been placed on gatekeepers to change how they implement existing rules. In both countries there are structural lock-in effects, which serve to limit incremental change. This paper concludes by looking at the importance of centrally planned structural changes aimed at maintaining or increasing the quality of care during and after the deinstitutionalisation process.