Starting afresh at 51 to help truants, parents

Starting afresh at 51 to help truants, parents
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

FUKUOKA - Mikio Choami, the head of a Fukuoka-based civil group supporting truants and their parents, feels that "if parents can change, so can their children."

Choami quit his job after his children starting skipping school and for other reasons.

While running a consulting business that allows for plenty of flexibility, he established the Futoko (Truancy) Support Net in 2001 at age 51. Since then, he has been holding lectures, seminars and parent gatherings.

"Truancy among children is also a problem for adults. I want to listen to the concerns and troubles of parents and discuss their problems," he said.

Choami, who hails from Kitakyushu, got a job at a major supermarket in Fukuoka after graduating from university. He was involved in purchasing clothing items and other tasks. Frequently working until midnight, he left all the housework and child-rearing duties to his wife, who was a full-time homemaker.

Choami, now 65, scolded his two daughters when they started refusing to attend middle school. His admonishments included, "Going to school is a child's duty" and "You won't be able to get by in society if you are like that now."

When his wife became emotionally exhausted and fell sick, Choami took leave for 11 months to care for her. Gradually, he came to realise there was a different world out there.

He invited acquaintances from his neighborhood and work to start a gathering called Otosan Kenkyu-kai (Father's study group). There, he talked about his troubles and was criticised by other participants, who said such things as, "You fail to understand your daughters" and "The cause lies in you." Choami realised he had been imposing his ideas onto his daughters.

Since then, he has listened to his daughters as much as possible and brought up common topics such as music and paintings. Gradually, their conversations with him became more animated. After graduating from middle school, the eldest daughter started helping with the housework, while his other daughter entered high school after working part-time.

Choami returned to work, but quit his job 1.5 years later. "I want to treasure time with my family," he said. While making ends meet using his retirement money, unemployment insurance benefits and other income sources, he looked for another job.

By making use of the work experience he gained in product planning and development of new businesses, Choami started receiving contracts for his consulting services from enterprises and other entities via his friends. With the prospects for sustaining his family improving, he realised his long-held dream of establishing a support group for truants and their families.

The group operates with annual funds of about ¥3 million (S$35,000) that are covered by such revenue sources as profits from lectures, donations and subsidies from a co-op and other organisations.

Since 2012, Choami has been serving as a facilitator of a public-private truancy support group comprising representatives from the Fukuoka municipal government, the Fukuoka City Board of Education and free schools, as well as clinical psychologists and others.

"I myself received advice and encouragement from many people. I'd like to expand the support circle to help troubled families," Choami said.

Truants exceed 100,000

According to the School Basic Survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the number of primary and middle school students absent from school for more than 30 days a year for reasons other than sickness and financial difficulties exceeded 100,000 for the first time in fiscal 1997.

Truancy among all primary and middle school students was 1.21 per cent in fiscal 2014, almost twice the figure of 0.63 per cent in fiscal 1995.

Many truants said they started refusing to go to school because of "anxieties and other emotional problems," "psychological exhaustion" and "troubles with friends, other than bullying."

To make inquiries with Futoko Support Net, call (092) 283-8815 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays. A book compiling the experiences of parents and other topics, "Fukuoka Futoko Dokuhon" (Book on Truancy in Fukuoka; in Japanese) is on sale for ¥500 (delivery charge not included).

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