○ Background of the study
- Due to discrimination, conflicts, and civil wars, the number of refugees has been increased globally. End of 2016, there are more than 22.5 million refugees in the world and more than 51% of them are children under age 18, which increase significantly from 41% in 2009. International cooperative efforts to protect refugee children are in great need as refugee children are particularly vulnerable.
- Republic of Korea joined 'Convention relating to the Status of Refugees' in 1992 and enacted Law on Refugees in 2013. As of April, 2017, there are 25,510 Refugee Status Applicants, 688 Recognized Refugees, and 1,321 Humanitarian Status Holders in Korea. Korea Ministry of Justice reported that as of the end of 2016, 1,015 children under 18 were refugee status applicants, 169 recognized refugees, and 238 humanitarian status holders.
- The acceptance rate of recognized refugees and humanitarian status holders versus refugee status applicants was 13%, which is relatively low compared to 27% in other countries. It means that many refugee applicants could not meet their basic needs because of inadequate supports, their transitional and unstable status. In addition, unlike Korean children born to Korean parents and recognized as Korean citizen, children born in Korea by refugee status applicants are recognized neither as a Korean citizen nor as a citizen of parents' country. Refugee applicants receive temporary assistance for 6-12 months whereas their application process takes more than a year. This puts refugee applicants, particularly children, in a very vulnerable situation psychologically and economically.
- Refugee children as well as their parents face uprooting process, where they are forced to flee from their familiar home, climate, food, language, and families and relatives and then must relocate and adapt to different situations. The abrupt process that they had to flee from political, religious, and social oppression, and civil wars, traumatic experiences in the home country and in refugee camps, and settlement in a country where they were accepted as recognized refugees create various psychological and social chaos including anxiety, traumas, acculturative stress, and racial discrimination. Some refugee children are forced to flee from their homes, or are born in refugee camps or in a country where they were accepted. All these experiences add double and triple burden in addition to their adaptation to a new environment, which may threaten their physical and psychological health.
- Refugee children as minority, including refugee status applicant children, must have full protection from vulnerable situations and their basic rights to have healthy and happy life must be fully protected and exercised in accordance with 「UN Convention on the Rights of the Child」. However, they are excluded from various rights to education, health and medical services, social services, and others. Further, there is a lack of studies on their current status and life conditions, which makes it difficult to draw implications for policy and practice.
○ Purpose of the study
- The purpose of the study is to examine psychosocial adaptation and needs of services among refugee children and their parents and to draw implications to satisfy their psychosocial needs.
· For the purpose of the study, this study would examine psychosocial needs and adaptation in terms of individual, parents, school, and community levels so as to draw policy and practice implications based on empirical evidences.
· Finally, we would make suggestions to satisfy their needs and to enhance their qualities of lives.
○ Scope of the study
- This study will examine definitions of refugees, refugee application process in Korea, statistics and status of refugees in Korea, services and policies for refugee children and their parents in Korea and three countries (USA, Germany, and Japan), and their adaptation.
- This study will also examine their psychological adaptation and service needs.
- Based on literature review and empirical research, and consultation with professionals, this study will make practice and policy suggestions to facilitate and enhance psychosocial adaptations of refugee children and their parents.
(Summary of Literature Review is not provided due to its length.)
○ Research method
- Literature review: Through literature review, this study examined status, current conditions, and statistics of refugee children and their parents, in addition to laws on and services to refugee children and their parents. Further, policy and services to refugees in the United States of America, Germany, and Japan were reviewed so as to draw implications for Korean refugee services and policy.
- This study used mixed research method to fully grasp adaptation issues and service needs of refugee children and their parents and to complement limitations of both quantitative and qualitative methods.
· First, this study used quantitative method using both individual and group survey method. Participants were recruited snowball sampling and purposive sampling through non-governmental agencies which have worked with this population. Researchers explained research purpose, contents of research, their free will to agree and participate and to withdraw from the research, and ethical issues. Further, due to language issues, all translators also received pre-training in terms of protection of participants and ethical consideration. This study made additional efforts to match children and parents for cross-checking their adaptation and interactions at home.
· This study recruited 118 parents to answer structured questionnaires on their views of children and service needs for children. One hundred seven children between 4 months old and under 72 month answered Korean Developmental Screening Test for Infants & Children. Further, seventy-four children ages between 6 and 18 answered self-administered questionnaires related to their psychological adaptation and overall experiences in Korea. Of those answered questionnaires, 3 cases whose refugee status was finally declined and 2 cases whose developmental ages were mismatched were excluded from the final analysis. Thus, the final number of participants were total of 114 families (114 parents, 101 children under age 72 months, and 73 children ages between 6 and 18). Data was collected from mid. July to end of October, 2017.
· For quantitative analysis, we used descriptive analysis, cross tabs, ANOVA, t-tests, and correlations with SPSS Statistics 23.0
- Adapting in-depth interviews and focus group interviews, this study also used qualitative method to examine their experiences in their home countries and refugee camps and difficulties in various sectors of life in Korea.
· Among the participants in quantitative method, researchers examined refugee status, nationality, reasons for applying to seek refugee status, sex, and the level of adaptation to Korea and asked if they would participate in qualitative research. Researchers first explained them research purpose, interview questions, their free will to participate and agree and withdraw from research, and compensations for their participation. We used semi-structured questions to comprehend their adaptation to Korea. Five children and five parents had in-depth individual interviews whereas 10 children and 10 parents from two separate ethnic groups (or 5 children and parents from each group) participated in focus group interviews for 1-2 hours. For each interview, a trained translator participated to translate their stories. Content analysis method was used to analyze their stories.
- Lastly, this study also sought consultation from government officials, field workers at NGOs, university professors, and lawyers who might be knowledgeable on this population so as to draw implications for practice and policy based on the research results and beyond.
- This study obtained full approval of Institutional Review Board at Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea (Approval no. 138-29).
○ Major Findings and Suggestions
- There must be a system to protect children whose nationality is not obtained or not identified. Of the participants, 55.2% children did not have a nationality or did not go through a process to identify their nationalities. These children, compared to those with nationality showed lower school adaptation, family support, emotional support, and community awareness.
· Officials responsible for registering foreigners may need to be more sensitive to special circumstances where these refugees experienced in their displacement. These children and their parents may have difficulties to register nationality of their children or seek for nationalities of their children from their own countries (Embassies in Korea). Further, they may need to explain refugee parents that Korea follows nationality principle systems.
- Various services and supports need to be provided to refugee parents. Parents with refugee status applicants and humanitarian status holders, compared to those with recognized refugees and resettlement status had lower rates of full time employment, lower rate of employment, and lower monthly household income. Refugee parents in this study indicated economic hardship as the most serious difficulty, followed by language difficulties, child rearing, and child education. Similar results were shown in in-depth interviews.
· Poverty can be detrimental to child's development and growth. Considering this, differential support to refugee parents in terms of employment and their refugee status need to be developed to help parents gain economic independence. Further, for parents with irregular employment and long working hours, 'regular and extended day care services' need to be provided so that young children are not left alone at home without parental supervision.
- Rights to health and medical services need to be protected for refugee children. Our study showed that 42.1% of refugee children could not see doctors during the past 1 year mainly due to high medical cost (66.7%) when they were sick. These children did not have national health insurance, which made them pay high medical cost in cash. This becomes double and triple economic burdens on their parents. In addition to economic difficulties and high medical cost, refugee parents did not have relevant information on child birth and its related hospitals, and insufficient medical cost for child birth. Special needs on pregnancy and child birth for refugee women must be met through social safety net.
· In accordance with 'United Nation Convention on Rights of Children (UNCRC)' and its principle that child's best interest must be respected regardless of their status, refugee children must be provided with access to basic health and nutrition, medical services, education, and information, so that their rights can be fully supported. Particularly, Republic of Korea must comply with provision of health, medical, and educational services for vulnerable refugee children regardless of their refugee status.
- For refugee infants and toddlers, language and speech services need to be supported for their adequate development. Our study showed that refugee infants and toddlers showed lower scores in language and speech section, which required further follow-up services. Depending on the developmental sections, 20-50% of refugee infants and toddlers required 'in-depth examination' for their age appropriate development.
· For refugee infants and toddlers showing slower or delayed development compared to Korean counterparts, age appropriate services tailored to their developmental levels and needs must be provided via health services centers. Further, active outreach services are necessary to facilitate utilization of these services. When necessary, non-governmental agencies, rather than public services may provide services to this population with government's administrative and financial auspice. In addition, bilingual and translation services need to be provided and professionals with bilingual skills and culture specific knowledge and skills need to be hired to provide necessary services.
- For school age and younger refugee children, Korean language services, academic supports, music and art, and career development services must be provided. Refugee children's rights to appropriate education were deprived in their homelands, and their access to formal education in Korea also was delayed due to their language difficulties, adaptation to Korean society, and inadequate previous formal education in their homeland. At times, they had to attend schools with younger children or their admission to public school system was denied due to their status. Further, 58.4% of children in this study acknowledged difficulties in study. Parents with school aged children acknowledged similar difficulties indicating that they could not help children be prepared for school supplies or homework.
· Older children who came to Korea as adolescents need bilingual education in school, and bilingual classes and services in after school programs. Governments need to provide supports for schools and NGOs working with refugee children, even at local children's services center. For parents with school age children, it is necessary for local children's service centers and welfare centers to provide information related to school , which Korean government must consider in intermediate and long-term plans to provide these services in their own mother tongue. Obviously, these services must be provided in culture specific practice and policy, and bilingual professionals must be hired to meet their needs accordingly.
- Psychological services and emotional supports are recommended for children who came to Korea at their adolescent age. Of the participants, 36.8% of children were born outside Korea. In addition, 55.8% of their parents sought refugee status due to political opinion, followed by religious reasons (21.2%) and civil wars (19.2%). Further, among children ages between 6-18, more than half of the children were separated from their parents. Children born outside Korea, compared with those born in Korea, had lower self-esteem, lower Korean language skills, and lower level of life satisfaction. In addition, children separated from parents had a higher level of acculturative stress.
· Psychological and emotional support services for children with post-traumatic stress disorder need to be provided to help them recover from such traumas caused by political and religious oppression as well as civil wars. Study participants expressed their relief in interviews as they had an opportunity to express their past experiences for the first time. Such psychological and emotional supports can be provided through public school system and NGOs, in addition to mental health promotion center and public health service centers. Refugee parents wanted their children to uphold cultural heritages of motherland as their children become 'more and more Korean' despite of their skin color. Yet, they wanted children to adapt well to Korean society and to have happy life in Korea. Thus, services aiming promotion of parent-child relationships need to be provided. Lastly, psychological services (i.e., counseling and education) for refugee parents need to be developed as they experienced forced displacement, political and religious oppression, and lengthy but almost unformidable refugee seeking process.
- Public education and advertisement for general public is necessary to help them understand refugee conditions and to minimize discrimination against refugees. About 27.4% of children and 51.8% of parents in this study experienced discrimination or felt ignored. They were often compared to multicultural families in Korea and yet excluded from public services due to refugee status and races. Children with racial discrimination, compared to those with no such experiences, showed lower self-esteem and reported lower health whereas showing higher levels of depression and anxiety, somatization, dissatisfaction in relationship with parents, academic activities, and lower emotional support.
· Public education services to enhance cultural awareness and to accept differences between refugees and Koreans are strongly recommended. Further, institutional violence based on 'red-tapes' or various barriers to access public service need to be removed so that equality and equity as human beings must be warranted. Ongoing in-service training and education for public officials need to be developed and provided whereas cultural festivals and social integration services are also recommended to bring harmony between refugees and Korean neighbors. Multicultural Family Center can be a frontier service center where such educational and cultural services are given.
Based on research results and consultation, we make following recommendations.
- These recommendations are made with the following principles: 1) 'Quality of life among refugee children should to be warranted based on UN Convention on Rights of Children; 2) Public service delivery system must be built to provide necessary services in terms of UN Convention on Rights of Children; 3) Community-based public and private partnership need to be built to ensure basic rights of refugee children; and 4) Strengthening services to help refugee children grow as healthy and happy citizens and adapt to Korean society are necessary while culture-specific practices to help them uphold cultural heritages and better understanding of their origin of culture.
- In terms of practice, following recommendations are made based on UN Convention on Rights of Children. 1) Rights to Survival: 'Psychological therapeutic services with resiliency perspective need to be provided; Due to their young ages (such as infants and toddlers), periodic service provisions such as basic nutrition, immunization, and physical development must be made to ensure their healthy development in preventive perspective. 2) Rights to Protection. 'Existing service networks that are already connected with refugee children and parents may provide family-centered services including child protection (child abuse and neglect prevention), parent-child relationship enhancement, and effective parenting education. 3) Rights to Development. 'Various programs such as language services, programs to enhance adaptation to Korean society and understanding of mother land cultures, art and music classes, and career services for all age groups are necessary to ensure their development, and these programs may need to be provided through NGOs. 4) Rights to Participation. 'For refugee children and parents, religious institution serves as a place to share information on their motherland and Korea and to provide social support, in addition to religious services. Thus, services can be linked with these religious institutions where cooperative efforts can be made to provide language programs, various child and family services, counseling, independent living programs etc.', 'Accessibility to useful information must be guaranteed to refuge children so as to help them access various information, internet lectures and services, and academic support'.
- In terms of policy changes, we make following recommendations: 'Separating counseling and support services from refugee status application process must be necessary so as to provide adequate information and to strengthen social integration.', 'For refugee children born in Korea whose nationality is not recognized or registered, a birth registration service both on-line and off-line basis need to be made so that their social existence is recognized.', 'Child welfare laws, policy, and practice must incorporate services to refugee children.', 'Commission on Policy on Foreigners must play roles of mediator and coordinator for various governmental and non-governmental agencies in order to properly provide services for this population.'