Lunar New Year holidays especially tough on children who can't be with family

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Lunar New Year holidays especially tough on children who can't be with family

The Lunar New Year holiday is a time for the whole family to gather together in warmth and happiness, but this seemingly simple act is not so easy for abused children. Eight out of 10 children who were entrusted to a protective group home facility were not able to return to their original home this Lunar New Year.
 
Some children have to spend years of lonely holidays while clinging onto the hope in their parents' promise of reunion. 
 
One girl who was abused by her grandparents was brought by her father to a so-called group home in 2017 while she was in third grade of elementary school. The group home for children acts as a "joint family," where several families and several kids share the same house, protecting the children who need help due to abuse, neglect, family dissolution or poverty.
 
When she entered the group home, the girl's father left with a promise that he would come pick her up when she was in 5th grade. The girl will be in 7th grade this year, but her father still has not come.
 

"I tried calling her father to ask him to come here to give her a meal during the holidays, but he changed his phone number," one of the facility workers said. "The child says it doesn't matter if her dad doesn't come to her now, but she'll go see him right away if he calls back."
 

According to a survey by the Korea Children and Youth Group Home Council, 81.8 percent of children living in a group home didn't go to their own family and spent the Lunar New Year holidays at their group homes.
 
Only 9.1 percent went back to their family; 4.5 percent spent Lunar New Year holidays going back and forth between their own family and a group home; and 3.4 percent went out or stayed at staffers' homes.
 

"Some children go back to their own family and spend time with them, but most of them celebrate Lunar New Year's Day at the group home. I'm worried that the children have already been stressed out from staying in the group home long-term because of Covid-19," said Lee Jae-wook, head of the planning team of the Group Home Council.
 

A man surnamed Yoo, who has been running a group home in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, for six years, saved his money for several months to give to the children as cash gifts. "If I want to give New Year's cash to children who can't go home, I have to save my money," he said.
 
Local governments give a special compensation of 32,000 won ($29) per child every quarter to the group home operators, but it is not enough for the holidays. "We spend the money for the first quarter on Lunar New Year's Day, the second quarter on day care centers, the third quarter on Chuseok harvest holidays, and the fourth quarter on Christmas gifts. We want to give gifts to children who enter elementary, middle and high schools," said Yoo.
 
The current financial situation is not good due to the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic and reduced donations. "The donations this time around were about 20 percent less than during Chuseok last year," Yoo said.
 

More than a year of Covid-19 was particularly hard for abused children. Brutal child abuse crimes continued throughout last year, but government support was not enough this year.  
 
According to a survey of 176 organizations conducted by the Group Home Council from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4, 61.9 percent said their sponsorship has "decreased" due to Covid-19, while 20.5 percent answered that there was "no big difference" and 17.6 percent answered that it "increased."
 

The cost of living for children has increased. According to the survey, 84.7 percent said their living expenses increased last year compared to 2019. Only 14.2 percent of respondents said there was not a big difference, while 0.6 percent said there was no difference. The reason for the increase in expenses last year was largely due to Covid-19.
 

"Because of Covid-19, children didn't go to school or child care institutions and had all three meals at home. Teachers' work intensity has doubled," said a group home worker.
 

Group home workers cited cash and gift certificates as the most helpful support. Others said that children's cultural experiences, improvement of the residential environment, and learning support projects are needed.
 

BY LEE TAE YUN   [kjdnational@joongang.co.kr]
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