Research Summary

Effects of an urban forest-based health promotion program on children living in group homes

Forest-based intervention programs can be effective in promoting the psychosocial health of vulnerable children

Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services

This study investigated the use of urban forests as a possible health promotion program for children living in foster care group homes.  The study was based on the understanding that contact with nature can have a positive effect on stress, anxiety and other physical, mental, and social health problems often experienced by children in foster care.

Eight children (age 11-14) from three group homes in Seoul, South Korea participated in the study. The forest intervention program included once-per-week visits to an urban forest over a period of 8 weeks. Each visit consisted of 120 minutes of forest activities. Staff involved with the program included nurses with expertise in child health or psychiatric nursing. One nurse was also a forest therapy instructor and a certified forest guide for children. All eight participating children completed self-report assessments before and after the intervention program. They also completed individual interviews two weeks after completing the program. The self-report assessments addressed seven areas of interest: Perceived health status, Self-esteem, Depression, Perceived stress, Behavior problems, Restoration, and Connectedness to nature. During the interviews, children were asked to share information about their experiences during the program and their thoughts about the program’s impact.

Assessment results showed that participant restoration increased significantly from pre- to post-test. This indicates that “the program was partly effective in improving children’s psychological health.” Perceived stress decreased but not significantly. There were no statistically significant differences in the other assessment areas: subjective health, self-esteem, depression, behavior problems, and connectedness to nature. An analysis of the interview responses revealed six themes: Feel the Refreshing Beauty of a Forest; Learn the Value of and Appreciate Nature; Think About Health Through Activities in the Forest; Stress is Relieved, and the Mind is Relaxed; Enjoy Activities; and Develop an Understanding and Considerate Attitude Toward Others.

Overall results of this small study show positive changes in some aspects of the children’s emotional and social health, their understanding of themselves and others, and their feelings about forests and nature. These results indicate that the forest-based health promotion program “may be considered a possible intervention to promote children’s psychosocial health and connectedness to nature.” More robust studies are needed to understand these relationships more fully.