Photo/IllutrationHitoshi Nihei, right, chief of the Kashiwa child welfare center in Chiba Prefecture, gives details about the center’s decision to return Mia Kurihara to her father at a news conference in Chiba on Feb. 5. (Wataru Sekita)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A child welfare center suspected a girl was forced to write a letter denying her father’s abuse, but she was still sent to live with him and died following one of his violent episodes.

The Kashiwa child welfare center in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, released details behind its decision to allow Mia Kurihara to return to her father in February 2018.

Mia had been living with relatives in Noda in the prefecture after she told officials at her elementary school that her father was beating her.

However, her father, Yuichiro Kurihara, showed the center a letter supposedly written by Mia that denied the abuse.

Although the center doubted the pupil willingly wrote that letter, center officials approved of her return to her family home two days later.

“It must have been really difficult for her (to write that letter),” Hitoshi Nihei, head of the Kashiwa child welfare center, said at a news conference in Chiba on Feb. 5. “We should have taken it as abuse.”

Mia, 10, was found dead at the family home in Noda on Jan. 24. Yuichiro, 41, was arrested the following day on suspicion of causing injuries.

Police suspect he pulled her hair, sprayed her with cold water in the shower and grabbed her by the neck, leaving scratch marks.

Her 31-year-old mother, Nagisa, was also arrested on Feb. 4 in connection with the case.

After Mia cited her father’s abuse in a school questionnaire on Nov. 6, 2017, the Kashiwa child welfare center put her in temporary custody the following day.

The center lifted the custody order on Dec. 27 that year on condition that Mia stay with Yuichiro’s relatives who also lived in Noda and that her mother visit to look after her.

But when a center worker visited Mia at the relatives’ home on Feb. 26, 2018, Yuichiro was there and showed Mia’s letter.

“It is not true that my father beat me,” the letter read. “Please stop coming because I do not want to see people from the center. Please make today’s visit the last by the center because I feel uncomfortable seeing you.”

The letter also said Mia strongly hoped to live with her family--her parents and her younger sister.

Yuichiro demanded that he be allowed to immediately take his daughter home.

The center rejected the demand, saying it needed more time to consider.

But on Feb. 28, the center approved of Mia’s return to her family home. Center officials did not confirm the authenticity of the letter with the schoolgirl.

“The center was aware of the possibility that Mia was forced to write the letter and that she was at risk,” Nihei said. “It was becoming difficult for her relatives to look after her due to their health problems. In addition, Mia did not show signs of injury and did not miss many classes. As a result, we concluded there was no recurrence of his physical abuse.”

One center worker who was suspicious of the letter visited Mia at her school on March 19.

After hesitating for a moment, Mia told the worker that her father had sent an e-mail to her mother on what the girl should write in the letter. Mia said she just “copied” that e-mail.

Asked whether the feelings expressed in the letter were genuine, Mia replied, “It is true that I have wanted to go back to live with my family.”

Jun Saimura, professor of child welfare at Tokyo Online University, blasted the Kashiwa child welfare center’s handling of the case.

“It is incomprehensible that the center allowed her to return to her family despite suspicions that she was pressured to write that letter,” said Saimura, who served as a child welfare specialist for what is now the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

“The center’s response showed that staff did not have a strong sense of mission to protect children most of all, and you cannot blame a lack of expertise or the current setup of the child welfare system for the case,” he said.

Saimura said that when the center planned to lift the temporary custody order, it should have gathered all parties concerned, including police, to discuss what should be done to ensure the girl’s safety.

He also said the center should have told Mia’s parents to accept visits by social workers or risk losing the girl to protective custody again.

Noda city officials have also come under fire for allowing Yuichiro to see Mia’s questionnaire that mentioned his abuse.