Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Age Waiver Relaxed for Previously Adopted Couples

Some of you have already heard this news.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea (MOHW) has relaxed the age requirement for couples to apply for adoption up to 49 for those that have previously adopted from Korea, effective August 1, 2014.

For those families that want to adopt another child from Korea, this is great news.

The new guideline also clarifies the age limits for the Korean-heritage families and adoptee couples, but this practice was already in place since 2007, though some agencies may not have followed closely on this.

For those that are adopting for the first time from Korea, the age requirement is 45 at the time of application (some agencies confuse this as the time when the MOHW approves the adoption).  But the agencies may have already put in place for people to allow enough time by applying at 42 or as late as 43.  But in my previous email inquiries to MOHW, they were very clear that the age is applicable at the time of application, not at the time of approval by the MOHW.

I will double check on this fact and get back to you.

A special permission will be given to prospective adoptive parents up to age 49 as long as they meet one of the below requirements:

1. Both prospective adoptive parents are Korean-heritage.
2. One prospective adoptive parent is a Korean adoptee.
3. The prospective adoptive parents already have a Korean adopted child.

I think I understand why this new guideline is being placed.  It is perhaps to shorten the adoption process, where the home study is already available, and also the psychological evaluation already being available as well.  Also, there is already an established trust where a family that has already adopted a child from Korea and does well, will most likely be trusted again with another child.

So for those who wanted to adopt again but couldn't because of the age limitation, this is your chance.

At any rate, this is a great news to many prospective parents and for children as well, only if more children are allowed to leave Korea to go to their homes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Revision to Forego the Unannounced Family Visitation Requirement in the Law

Just recently, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has announced that it will forego the requirement in the Special Adoption Law that called for unannounced family visitations by the agencies during the home study period (Art 8, Sec. 3).

The MOHW has changed its mind upon further review of this issue that many times the agencies would waste their time visiting the families that are not at homes, and the unannounced visitation would amount to violating privacy rights of the families involved. In the litigation conscious country like the US, this is an important factor for both agencies and the families being visited unannounced. 
This issue has nothing to do with the death of Hyusu O’Callaghan and the mass it created aftermath.  But the unannounced visitation was articulated in the law well before the boy’s tragedy.
Instead of the unannounced visit, the MOHW has decided to accept a total of three (3) reference letters, signed and notarized.  Of the three letters, one can be from a relative, and the other two should be from close friends, co-workers, supervisors, pastors, etc.

How is this letter different from the reference letters requested by the agencies during the home study period?  Nothing. Except that the letters now have to be signed and notarized. So, for those who are already in the process, it may mean that you will have to obtain the original letters from your agencies, or write additional reference letters (as some agencies required only two letters before).  If you have already submitted the letters, you are required to have the original reference letters signed and notarized.

Fortunately, the letters may be from the same individuals who wrote them for the home study, but must be freshly signed/notarized - keeping in mind that only one may be from a relative.  The letters should be kept to one page in length.
If you are one of the families affected by this new change, you should hear from your agency soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Penalties for the Agencies If Domestic Adoption Efforts Not Made

This is in the news in several newspapers in Korea today.  The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has warned the three adoption agencies that it will order the agencies the work shutdown penalty from 7 - 15 days if the agencies do not comply with the mandates of the special adoption law to give priority for domestic adoption over intercountry adoption.

This came about during the audit of an agency, where in 15% of the cases there was no adequate efforts to place the children domestically first (that means in 85% of the cases the agency clearly showed that there were efforts to find homes domestically). 

While the agencies have kept the records of their efforts to place the children domestically and this record was shown in the audit, the MOHW faulted the agency in their failure to work with the central adoption database created by the Korea Adoption Services (KAS), where the children's information could be shared with another agency, which in turn might be able to find a home through its network.  In other words, if Holt has a child they are having some difficulty in placing within Korea, Holt is to share that child's data through KAS' database, so another agency like Eastern or SWS may try to find a home within Korea.  Whether this effort is in addition to the five-months holding period or that this is to be done within the five-months period, I'm not sure.  I would think that this should be done within the five-months holding period.

Apparently this component of the domestic placement effort wasn't being done to the satisfaction of the MOHW.  The special adoption law requires this, and this process of working through the database is still a work in progress between the agencies and the KAS. By instituting the penalty of closing down the agency for 7 to 15 days, the MOHW is squeezing the necks of the agencies to comply quicker.

As for the family court, I hear that the judges will be taking vacations from July 20th to August 10th. Not all of them will take the vacation at the same time. However, it does not mean that the other judges will take over the cases assigned to the vacationing judges.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Legacy of a Father

My parents John and Margaret Morrison at their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2001

On my way to work the other day, I was listening to a radio show where the speaker asked the audience, "What kind of legacy would you want to leave with your children when you are gone?"  I was very challenged by the question and throughout the day, and even to this day, I ask myself the same question.  What legacy do I want to leave for my children?

A pastor named John Maxwell really knew what he was talking about when he defined what success means.  He said, “Success is having those who are the closest to me love and respect me the most.” Of all the definitions of success I have heard in the world, this one got to be one of the best so far.

In thinking of the legacy, it was very natural that I think of my father, John Morrison, who passed away in March 2006.  If my love and respect for my father could be measured by any means, he would be easily considered one of the most successful persons that have ever lived for the great legacy he left for me.  This is coming not just from me, but from my four other siblings, and my 90 years old mother who still lives.

I still remember the many precious conversations I had with my Mom and Dad, and how they always relished in sharing the stories from their past. My Dad especially relished the story on how he got me. 
One night in early 1969, my Mom and Dad, who already had three children by birth and adopted a ten years old Amerasian boy from Korea a year earlier, was looking through a bimonthly newsletter from Holt and saw many children that needed homes.  They were listed with their pictures and brief descriptions.

My Mom casually asked Dad a question, “Should we adopt another child from Korea?” She asked the question partly out of her compassion for the children, and partly to test how Dad would react. To such question, Dad’s reply was simply, “Which one do you want?”  At which Mom was taken back with such a strong and positive reply from Dad.
Together they glanced through many pictures of boys and girls in the newsletter. As they looked at the pictures, one picture of a boy caught the eyes of my father.  He looked at him, and something in him pulled him towards the boy so strongly that he knew as soon as he saw him that the boy was his son.  Dad pointed his finger to the boy’s picture and said, “This is the one.”

But my Mom wasn’t so sure. It was mainly because the boy was described as a 13 years-old, and that concerned her.  She said, “Oh no, not a 13 years old, he is too old. But how about this one? He’s only eight.” To which my Dad firmly replied. “No. This is the boy. I know this is my son.” This didn’t please my Mom at all, and she picked another boy of nine years old. Dad shook his head and said, “I made up my mind. This is him.” Mom tried another child, but Dad was very set in his heart.

Mind you my Dad rarely displayed the character of stubbornness, and it was usually Mom who got her ways as Dad was always agreeable to please Mom, but not this time. Something in him told him that the boy, who would later become Steve Morrison, was his son.  Out of desperation Mom consulted the boy (James) they adopted earlier, and he said without hesitation, “Get him!”  That settled it. Of course James knew me from the same orphanage.
For many years after my arrival into the home, Dad would occasionally tell this story before me and other visitors with such pride, and Mom would go along with great joy at the risk she took. I never once got bored of hearing the story again and again. Each time I felt a great sense of gratitude as I reflected on their story.

For many years to follow up to the time of his death my father set before me a strong role model of a fatherhood that I never had before.  The way he loved Mom, the way he loved and cared for us, and the sacrifices he made on behalf of our family.  He would get a special loan just to pay my for my college expenses and would not say anything about it.  He would tell me not to worry about money, just focus on my studies. My college expense was more than that of all the other siblings combined.  It would be several years after my graduation that I would learn about the loan.  When I finally learned of it, I was deeply moved.
His love for me expressed in words still rings in my ears after all these years.  “When we adopted you we did it to help you, as you had no family.  But after all these years, it is we who have been blessed so much more through you.”

I could never forget the time when he pulled me aside and said, “I have made some very important decisions in my lifetime.  The best decision was to believe in God, the second best decision was to marry your mother, and the third best decision was to have you in our family.”
My father left a legacy of love and respect that he did not try to earn. He simply live it as what he knew was his duty discharged by God.  He set before me sound principles of life to follow, and what it means to live as a servant of God.

As I reflect on the immensity of the legacy that my father left for me, I am challenged to leave a legacy that will be claimed by my children one day. The legacy that I can only imitate the one left by my father, who chose me that one night, thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Friday, June 6, 2014

No Delays in EP or Court Process Anticipated.

The EP process is moving on with no stopping. 
This also goes for the family court proceedings, there is no stoppage.

The only potential slow down might be due to vacation day choices the family court judges may take, which usually peak in the month of July and August.
Recently, however, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has put into the regulation the requirement by the agencies to make unannounced visits to potential adoptive families that are in the homestudy stage.  This type of visit requirement does not include the visits during the post-adoption study period.

To the person I talked on this, I stated that this will not sit well with the American culture (probably European culture as well), where any visit by anyone is usually known ahead of time, and to do otherwise would be considered a bad manner. 

The agencies in Korea are pushing back on this as they are acutely aware of the families' reactions to this.  They are collecting data from the US and Europe to determine if any other countries are excercising this practice.  The idea behind the unnounced visit is to catch a family by surprise and see how bad (or good) the candidate adoptive families are living in a normal day-to-day environment. 

I think this is a very poorly thought out regulation, and I am not sure where and how they got such idea of having a 'Big Brother is Watching You' type of idea, but if I had to guess, it probably is an after thought that came out of Hyunsu O'Calaghan's tragedy. 

Also, a foster mother in Korea was leaving the children in her home to tend to other things. When one day social worker visited the home unannounced, they found the child by himself.  The agecy decided to remove the child from the foster mother.  That child was Hyunsu. 

During the high media coverage on Hyunsu, the foster mother went on the media blaming the agency for denying her request to adopt Hyunsu, but in fact the truth was that she never followed through the adoption request. 

The unannounced visit regulation is not yet finalized, but I am thinking (and hoping) it woudn't go through.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Meeting with the Family Court Justices

I have arrived in Korea two days ago.

Yesterday I had the honor and a privilege of visiting the Family Court and had a good meeting with the two of the four justices handling the adoption cases.  The other two judges, both females, were not available due to conflicting schedules. While not going into the particular details on how I was able to meet with the judges and who they are by names, I will share with you what I learned from this valuable meeting.
It appears that the judges are being rotated anywhere from one to two years, and one of the judges came in to take over the case loads from another judge that has been reassigned.  This took place in late February during the height of Hyunsu O'Callaghan's tragic story broke out while the EPs were temporarily were on hold.  This new judge had to take over the case loads that went back to December of 2013, and had to be brought up to speed on processing the adoption cases.  His first hearing took place in April 25th. And some folks have written to me with the question as to why one of the judges was so slow in processing the case, and this rotation in February was the main reason.

But the families that have met this new judge have expressed how they were pleased with him once they met him in the court.  The families felt that he was a gentleman with caring heart for children and families, and pleased the way he handled the court hearings even the families had to wait so long.  When I met this judge yesterday I passed on the compliments I have received from several families and he was very appreciative.

I learned that the adoption documents are submitted to the court by the agencies, and a clerk at the court assigns the cases to each of the four judges evenly in the order the documents are received.  The judges are not assigned to handle any one particular agency documents exclusively, but assigned with the documents from all three agencies.

In addition to the adoption matters, the judges are assigned with other non-adoptive family related matters.  In other words, they are not assigned to devote full time to handle adoption related cases.

I asked one of the judges on what a typical time span would be to process a family through the court, and he said that he tries to keep the whole process within three months.  The first month to review and ask the associated agency to provide additional or missing information, the second month to serve the notice (through the certified mail) to the birthmother of the impending adoption of her child and wait for her response (this process can take some time as many birth mothers are slow to respond or not respond at all). A notice is sent to the birth mother that her child is being finalized for adoption and whether she wishes to remain in contact to receive the notices from the court or not.  The birth mother can check off her response and send it back to the court. 

The judges stated that based on their experiences, only a few birthmothers choose to stay informed as most of them don't want to receive any more information updates, meaning they really want to give up their children for adoption and this can shorten the process time somewhat.  The third month is for the adoptive parents to show up at the court for a hearing, and after a favorable ruling the 14-day appeal period clock starts.  The rights to appeal is sent to the birth mothers regardless of whether they checked off to receive the updated information from the court or not.  By law this is done not just on adoption matters but in all family-related court cases. This means that there is no way to avoid the two travels that some families need to make to pick up their children. 

After the Hyunsu O'Callaghan's tragedy, the court mandated some psychological evaluations such as MMPI from adoptive parents.  While there was a confusion at the beginning on what tests to be done and by who, the adoptive parents have accepted this lmited test as one of the realities of the long drawn out process.  And the justices are aware that no matter how restricive the process is there is no guarantee that another Hyunsu-like tragedy won't happen.  I also informed them that the filicide rate for non-adoptive biological families is ten times higher than that happens in the adoptive families, and they were aware of this statistics.  I commented that this is due to the already existing home study process that the agencies use to find the right parents, but it is not perfect.

Lastly I thanked the judges for taking their valuable time to meet with me, and I conveyed to them that there are many adoptive parents in overseas that are holding onto the pictures of their waiting children and everyday they wish that their children would come home soon.  I asked them to continue with their good works, and mentioned them the longer the children wait the more harms it will cause in their development and asked for their due dilligence in speedy process to unite the children with their families.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Another Hyunsu – This Time Beaten to Death by His Birthmother in Korea

Another Hyunsu – This Time Beaten to Death by His Birthmother in Korea

A Birthmother Beats Her 22-Month-Old Son to Death after a Change of Heart on Adoption
The original link to the story is at: http://vip.mk.co.kr/news/view/21/21/2117739.html
(in Korean)

The Namyangju City Police files murder charges on a 22-year-old birthmother.
The birthmother, who originally planned to have her son adopted overseas but changed her mind, beat her 22-month-old son to death for prolonged crying after a fall.  The police department at the city of Namyangju in the Kyong-gi province arrested and filed murder charges against the 22-year-old mother on April 10th.

On March 24th, the boy was playing in the living room of their apartment after waking up at 11 o’clock in the morning. The birthmother beat her son several times in the abdomen area because the boy would not stop crying after a fall. 
Initially, the birthmother reported to the police that ‘the boy was not moving after falling asleep’. But the police became suspicious and probed the mother further by questioning her because the boy’s body had sustained numerous injuries and bruise marks on the face and on the body.  After further questioning, she confessed to the murder.

According to the police report, the mother gave birth to the boy in June of 2012, and decided to relinquish him to an adoption agency to be adopted overseas, and a foster mother took care of the baby since September of the same year.
Once the boy’s intercountry adoption was decided, the mother filed a petition to the agency to reclaim the boy, and he was returned back to the mother on March 12th of this year.

The  birthmother already had a 4-year-old daughter with her boyfriend, and later had the boy who is now dead.  After her boyfriend joined the military service, she raised her daughter by herself.  The couple was not married.