Forest healing programs generally look to the forest's beneficial environment as a resource for raising the immunity of the human body and to promote health. This study investigated whether the forest environment could promote the psychological health of children in foster care.
Close to 4000 children (middle-school aged or older) participated in this study. All of the children were in foster care in South Korea, with most of them residing in facilities in urban environments. Over half of the children resided in childcare facilities; some in treatment institutions, and others in group homes. All of the study participants took part in a forest healing program offered by the National Therapy Forests and the National Center for Forest Therapy. The program was offered 72 times from 2015 to 2018 at National Forest Therapy sites. Some of the children participated in the forest healing program more than once. Each session of the forest healing program was conducted over a period of three days and two nights. Activities included general forest games, aromatherapy experiences, art and music workshops, forest therapy sessions, and lectures.
Self-report surveys completed before and after the program were used to assess the participants' interpersonal relationship skills and to analyze the overall effectiveness of the program. The survey included six interpersonal skill areas: friendliness, sensitivity, understandability, credibility, openness, and communication. The highest possible score was 50, indicating healthy interpersonal relationships.
Results showed a statistically significant overall increase in interpersonal relationship skills of 1.77 points on average from 2015 to 2018. The increase was even more significant for youth participating two or more times in the program. These results are consistent with previous research indicating that a higher frequency of participation in cultural activities tends to increase the benefits for adolescents.
The results of this study indicate that forest healing programs may positively improve the interpersonal relationship skills of adolescent children in foster care.