130 Little Cries~Study 4. Responses to Fatalities after They Occurred: How We Should Think about Infants’ Deaths (1)~

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The death of a child in a nursery room is traumatic to the parents as well as everyone else involved in the incident. Moreover, regardless of how sincerely anyone is willing to bear responsibility for it, the child can never be revived. It is therefore impossible for anyone to make up for the loss; this is the sad and petrifying reality of infant fatalities.

We have pondered long and hard on the question of how we should think about the deaths of baby Keiichi and other infants–how childcare practitioners, parents who use their services, and society as a whole can answer the children for their tragic demise.

1. Responses of Nurseries to Fatalities

What should be the appropriate responses of nurseries to infant fatalities? Our views are as follows.

First, nurseries should relate all the details of the incident to the parents of the deceased infant. They should reveal any flaws or problem areas in their childcare system, and apologize for them.

Furthermore, they should report to all the parents who place their children under the care of the nursery on the details of the fatality and improvements they are making to avoid similar incidents in the future. These, we believe, are the minimum responsibilities of the nurseries.

Childcare practitioners at the nurseries must also answer to the deceased children. They should sort out and account for the causes of deaths, problems in their nursing practices, and measures they should take to avoid the recurrence of fatalities. They should then draw lessons from the findings and apply them to their future nursing practices. We believe that the only way for them to assume responsibility for the lives that never come back is to give meaning to the short lives and premature deaths of the infants.

In reality, however, the responses of nurseries–regardless of their forms– were far from the above ideal.

The responses of childcare facilities run for profits exemplified by baby hotels were so poor that we had to wonder if, facing the death of an infant under their care, they were not awakened to the value of human lives. It was common that the operators of these facilities did not even discharge their minimum duties of providing the parents of deceased infants with the details of the incidents and apologizing to them. We deeply regret the fact that these people should pass as childcare practitioners who, by the very nature of profession, deal with the lives of weak beings who cannot verbally defend their interest.

In our investigations, we also witnessed a large number of cases where childcare practitioners who admitted their culpability and apologized for it immediately after the fatalities changed their position, as time passed, to that of arguing that the deaths were caused by defects on the part of the infants rather than the nurseries.

One of the reasons for this change, we suppose, is their desire to be freed from the sense of guilt of having caused the loss of an infant by their own mistake.

The second reason has to do with the payments of indemnities. If they admit fault, they must pay enormous damages.

In order to protect themselves both emotionally and economically, they would insist that they did not make a single mistake and there were no problems in their system of childcare.

Even when they admit fault, they think the case is “settled” with their payments, to the parents, of compensation for damages. The case is closed without any efforts being made to identify the problem areas in childcare practices and to explore ways to improve them. The case is “settled” without anyone answering to the deceased infants.

Such a response to infant fatalities in nurseries is strongly affected by the habit of modern society to settle all sorts of accidents and fatalities with money. We urge everyone concerned to think seriously about the ways of behaving responsibly, considering that in infant fatalities the victims are children who are too young to be able to express their will.

We also studied the responses to fatalities at not-for-profit nurseries which are managed jointly by parents and childcare professionals. The main features of their responses were:

(1) After the fatalities, nursing professionals and parents had joint meetings where the causes of the death and ways of coping with fatalities were discussed.

(2) Some nurseries wrote and published reports on the details of the fatal accidents and their responses to them. (Sapporo, Kobe, Fukuoka)

(3) Some nurseries identified specific problems and made improvements on them. (For example, hiring more caregivers, abolishing the use of part-time caregivers, removing walls that obstruct caregivers’ field of vision, and son on.)

The sincere responses to fatalities of nursery operators and childcare practitioners were considerably different from those of baby hotels.

These nurseries’ responses, however, were not without problems.

(1) Facing the death of an infant, these nurseries have a tendency to try to avoid letting the sorrow over it impede the continuing progress of the day-care movement.

(2) Consequently, they become defensive in their responses to the fatalities, becoming lax in exploring the problems in their childcare practices and finding ways to answer the infant for the tragedy.

(3) Almost all parents trust their nurseries implicitly, and fail to question them persistently on problems in their childcare practices until satisfactory answers can be obtained. Such an attitude of parents, in some cases, may lead to a failure of larger society to draw lessons from the children’s deaths, and leave the question unanswered. Parents should realize that their confidence in their nurseries and persistent exploration of problems are not mutually exclusive.

(4) Among the reports on the details of fatalities and the responses to them, we found the following sentences.

“When children went to sleep, I wrote in the nursing diary in the adjoining room. Such a situation is common in nurseries everywhere; I do not regard it as a fault.” “Every day, I was always very busy with feeding and changing diapers, seldom leaving the room except for preparing formula. The fatality occurred when I happened to leave the room for less than 10 minutes. I do not think I was directly responsible for it.” “The afternoon nap period is the only time during the day when caregivers can get rest. We take lunch, make entries into notes to parents, and are generally pressed with other chores. I myself use the period for running business and personal errands. On that day, I went out to pick up furniture disposed of by the government….”

We wonder why these writers show a total lack of understanding of the cardinal principle of nursing care for infants under one year, i.e., a caregiver should be in the nursery room at all times. It is particularly heartbreaking for us to realize that these writers themselves are convinced that they do care for children.

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