CSU alumna shares perspectives on COVID-19 and day care issues in Japan

Portrait of Itsumi Kakefuda.
Portrait of Itsumi Kakefuda.

Itsumi Kakefuda, who graduated with her Ph.D. in psychology from Colorado State University in 2008, has focused her life’s work on day care safety in Japan.

At CSU, Kakefuda researched injury prevention and safety, and now uses her expertise in this area to work on safety, accident prevention, and risk communication at day cares, nurseries, and kindergartens in Japan. Before SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 started spreading worldwide — Kakefuda primarily focused on day care safety trainings and site visits.

All of that changed with COVID-19.

“One of my expertise areas is risk communication, and I have talked a lot about risk communication between day cares and parents/guardians,” she said. “Since February, the crucial aspect of risk communication from day cares to parents quickly shifted from injury and other safety issues (during normal circumstances) to COVID-19.”

Japan’s day care systems operate very differently in comparison to the U.S. Kakefuda explained: “It’s not whether they ‘can’ or they ‘can’t.’ They have to stay open. Day cares in Japan are under the welfare system and as such they must remain open no matter what.”

So, Kakefuda’s advice to day cares: Be honest with parents and ask them to decide whether their child should attend.

“As a risk communication person, I keep telling day cares and providers, ‘it’s clear that the country wants day care to open to keep the economy going,” she said. “This means that parents should decide whether they would bring kids to day care or not, and they should take responsibility over the decision.’”

As a self-employed lecturer and researcher, Kakefuda has seen a large drop in her ability to provide lectures to day cares. She said during normal times she gives 15-20 lectures per month throughout Japan. Due to COVID-19, the lectures were all cancelled, she explained.

Kakefuda found a way, through a Facebook page with a few thousand readers, to continue to provide critical information to day cares through free webcasts. Even though this is a financial burden for her business, she continues to support day cares.

It “is literally the Life-or-Death time for day care providers and children there,” she said. “Lack of science-based information has been severe in Japan because not many people read English. Here, I can do a lot and am happy to do it.”