Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the death of 3-year-old Miyuki Watanabe in August 2010 while she was in the foster care of voice actress Shizuka Suzuike, who was arrested a few weeks ago for causing the injuries that led to Miyuki’s death. On Friday, Suzuike was indicted. As I point out in the column, the tabloid media has already tried and convicted Suzuike, which is their usual m.o. in such cases, but it’s difficult to discuss the matter of foster care and abuse without at least suggesting that it happened in this particular case. That’s what makes it difficult for the mainstream press to cover it, since the circumstances of Miyuki’s death require an investigation into the system of foster care in Japan. The point I make at the end is that because the idea of raising a child not related to the foster parent by blood is something those involved don’t want to discuss (or, perhaps more relevantly, are assumed to not want to discuss), the problems related to the foster care system–and child welfare programs in general–don’t get a proper airing until something terrible happens. Consequently, such coverage perpetuates a cycle that reinforces the belief that orphans and children who for whatever reason no longer live with their parents are permanently damaged. There’s no denying the evidence that suggests such children are more likely than children from whole families to suffer from psychological problems, but we’re not talking about statistics. We’re talking about a cultural stereotype, a phenomenon that is self-perpetuating.
In that regard, you have to go outside the standard media coverage for perspective. One blogger read Suzuike’s own blog and formed a different take on what she wrote. The tabloids simply found things that supported their thesis, which is that Suzuike was driven to distraction by Miyuki’s intractable nature. But this one blogger had heard that Miyuki may have had a disability, and that Suzuike took her into her home knowing this. If that’s the case, then many of the things Suzuike said in her blog take on a different cast. The “dark side” comment, for instance, could be seen not as a description of some capacity for evil, which is how the tabloids interpreted it, but rather as an acknowledgement of Miyuki’s incapacity for certain things. This, of course, is just as speculative as the tabloids’ coverage, but it does indicate that there are often aspects of a tragedy that don’t see the light of day. Unless someone in a position of authority actually came out and said that Miyuki had a disability, no one else will. It would be considered in bad form. In any case, it’s easier to turn Suzuike into a deluded over-achiever.