Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gyeonggido Family and Women’s Research Institute Forum

Wednesday, August 4, found us in Gyeonggido participating in a forum addressing the needs of unwed mothers in their province. This was the first forum to address these issues in this province. Gyeonggido is the most populous province, as it is the area around Seoul, and is considered a microcosm of the country, containing cities, towns and farms, and of course mountains. The forum was attended by legislators from local councils, researchers, service providers, and unwed moms themselves. The turn out was much higher then they expected, over 50 people.

Dr. Boas gave an opening talk and Ellen Furnari delivered a talk written by Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, sharing information about services for families in the US, mostly based on economic need rather than marriage status. The highlight though was the research presented. This research is the first in the province on unwed mothers. They chose to focus on mothers in the community. They sent a questionnaire to over 700 mothers and approximately 40% were returned.

While the research has not been completed yet, and there is more analysis to be done, they shared some important findings. They estimated that between 400 to 600 children are born each year to unwed moms. Thus they estimate there are at least 2000 unwed moms in their province, and they believe the number is rising rapidly. The average age of the mothers in the survey was 30 and 51% had completed high school. About 10% are still connected with their babies father, while 49% reported no contact at all with the father. Interestingly 21% said they wanted vocational training but only 8% were aware of vocational training opportunities in the province. Most of the moms live in apartments paying monthly rent and many of the apartments are in basements. Perhaps related to this 42% of the moms reported themselves as in bad health with 12% of the children also in bad health. The average of the their children is 4.5 with 66% of the children 6 or younger ( Korean age starts at 1 when a child is born, so in American terms 66% of the children are 5 or younger). The moms reported that receiving financial support for their living expenses was the number one issue for them, with the need for housing support being a close second. As soon as we can KUMSN will post a copy of the research results as it provides important guidance for policy makers.

After the presentations there was a very lively question and answer session where a number of unwed moms spoke about their own experiences being treated rudely by social workers, needing financial support, the challenges of being discriminated against in finding work and other aspects of their struggle. One of the moms asked why the shelters for unwed moms do not hire unwed moms themselves. The session closed with a clear commitment from Gyeonggido leaders to work for an increased budget to support the moms and in particular to create more publicly supported housing, job training, more child care options and financial support. Better training for government social workers was also highlighted as an important element in treating moms with respect.

Over all it was a very satisfying forum and we left with high hopes about changes to come in the next year.

1 comment:

Third Mom said...

One of my children was born in Gyeonggi-do, so this really resonated with me. Thank you for letting me know what is being done in my child's birth province in support of women like his mother, who have had virtually no support in the past.