The South Korean government is being urged to ramp up psychological support for young individuals transitioning from institutional care to independent living, as financial aid alone has proven insufficient to fostering full independence, according to a recent report from a legislative body on Sunday.
According to the "Sustainable Independence" report released by the National Assembly Research Service, 11,403 young people were preparing to transition from institutional care, group homes and foster care to living self-sufficiently as of July.
While these institutions are obligated to care for minors under the age of 18, approximately 2,000 young people in institutional care approach the threshold of adulthood -- age 18 -- each year. However, as the government since Jan. 2022 has allowed these individuals to stay until they reach 25 years of age -- to give them more time to prepare for independent living, considering that they face many difficulties due to the lack of social support systems -- there are now more than 11,000 young people preparing for independence.
The report pointed out the need for the government to strengthen emotional support, such as mental health services, for these young people.
“Many of them suffer from chronic depression and the lack of energy, so financial support provided is sometimes useless. Accordingly, expanding psychological and emotional support is needed,” the report said.
According to a 2022 survey by the National Youth Policy Institute, 51.5 percent of the children discharged from institutional care reported experiencing "little interest or pleasure in anything."
The government provides financial assistance to these young people as they reach age 18 to aid their transition to independence, including approximately 15 million won ($11,220) in settlement aid and a monthly allowance of 400,000 won for a span of five years.
The aim is to help them transition safely to living in society and enable them to play roles as social members by preventing minors discharged from such institutions from getting into crime or living as outsiders due to failing to adjust.
To support these individuals effectively in their transition, the government runs organizations dedicated to caring for those people. As of July, the organizations had 161 staff managing 11,403 young people. In other words, each staff member is responsible for approximately 71 young people. In the worst situations, for example in South Jeolla Province, one person is in charge of 137 people, and in Jeju, one person is in charge of 110 people.
The report raises the issue of the insufficient number of staff being available as well as the excessive workloads of such personnel, preventing them from taking good care of the young people in this delicate transition phase.
These government organizations contact young people transitioning to independent living at least once a year to check their whereabouts and well-being. However, they have lost contact with 20.2 percent of them, or 2,292 young people, according to the report.
Since the young people are managed only through phone calls, it has been found that follow-up management is not possible if they do not answer the phone or change their phone number.
The report stressed, “For these young people to stand on their own feet properly, it is important to be managed regularly so they can receive regular financial aid.”