Monday, March 16, 2015

In Memory of KC Kim, a Father to the Fatherless

KC and Susan Kim with their seven children. Hannah Kim (center back) behind her mother

My dear friend KC Kim passed away yesterday.  He was just 56 years old.  He was on a business travel to Australia, serving his company Northrop Grumman.  The exact cause is not yet known, but there is a rumor that it might have been a stroke.  KC is married to Susan, and together they have seven children under their care - six through adoption and one through a foster care.  The children are all from Korea. 

If you wish to be a part in helping this family financially, I have set up a gofundme website for you to donate at: 


KC was an incredibly selfless man, who gave up a comfortable living to provide homes for his children. In the process, he refinanced his house multiple times, ever increasing his monthly payments. Three of the children are in colleges, and their financial future will be very challenging as Susan was a stay-home mother taking care of the kids.

In 2005 MPAK had a conference to promote adoption in the Korean-American community in the LA area, and KC and Susan's daughter stole the audience's hearts with her adoption story, which is posted below.  There were much tears shed that night when Hannah Kim, who was only 12 years old shared her adoption story.  Hannah is now a college junior studying to become a pharmacist.  She is the first and the oldest of the children.

In remembrance of KC's love for Hannah and the children, and the impact he has been to many adoptive families at MPAK, also as a role model of a loving husband to Susan and a compassionate father to the fatherless, I dedicate this blog to KC Kim, who was like a brother to me. 

KC, may you rest in peace in heaven, and we love you, and we will truly miss you. Thanks for the life you have given for all of us.



My Adoption Story
by

Hannah Kim


Hi!  My name is Hannah Kim. I am 12 years old. My parents adopted me when I was 5 years old. I came from an orphanage called Bang Joo Won, which means Noah's Ark, and it is located in Kim Hae, Korea. I have a 10-year old sister, Leah, and a 6-year brother who will be with us soon.

This is how I was adopted. About 7 years ago my parents came to Bang Joo Won to look for a daughter to adopt. They chose me. Later when my dad told me about this story, I asked him why. My dad smiled at me and said. "I fell in love with you when I saw you." This story always puts smile on my face. Why? I was adopted not because my parents had to, but because they wanted to. My parents adopted me because they loved me, cared for me and wanted to be with me. This is why adoption is special to me. There is another thing. The timing of adoption was perfect because I was about to be transferred to a different orphanage where children over 6 years olds were living.

I want to tell you about my sister, Leah. I chose her to be my sister. I asked my parents if they could adopt her at the same time when I got adopted. My parents were surprised at my request, because Leah was the first girl that my mother wanted to adopt. After Leah came to our family, I admit that I had a little problem with Leah being with me. "Sibling Rivalry". That's what they call it. To me, it was pure jealousy. I looked for any excuse to make my sister look bad. I was quite successful at that for a while, but I finally realized that it did not make me feel right. I still do some tricks on my sister but after all it is my own choice. I have to live with it as my dad once told me.

About 4 months ago there was a really bad day at school. A boy in my class started saying bad things about my mom. He said, "Your mother is mean because she is not your real mother! I have a real mother and you do not." I was kind of stunned and speechless. I was upset but did not know what to say or what to do. I remember my father told me that this kind of things may happen, but when it happened I was very frustrated. This incident made me think about what it means to be adopted. I asked myself, "Why was I upset and frustrated? What bothered me about being adopted? He said my mother is not a real mom. Then, who is my real mom?” I know what my answer is. My mom is as real mom as she can be - not because I was born from her but because she loves me enough to be with me for the rest of her life.

It is a fact that I am not with my birthparents. I do not know why they decided not to keep me, but I cannot do anything about it. So I have decided to accept things as they are. However, because of this, I am with the most wonderful mom and dad in the whole world. Furthermore, I can tell anyone I meet that being adopted is one of the most beautiful things that have ever happened to me in my life. To me, being adopted is to be a part of someone’s life that chooses to be with me for the rest of his or her life.

One day I was watching a Korean drama with my mom about a daughter who had a problem dealing with the fact that she was adopted. She was 14 years old when she found out. I was wondering why her parents wanted to keep it secret from their daughter. If the girl knew about her adoption early in her life, she might have been able to understand her situation better instead of being frustrated at her parents.  I thank my parents for being frank about their feelings about adoption. It is kind of fun to watch my dad telling his friends about my adoption story in front of me. That makes me happy because I know he is proud to be my father.

When I go to MPAK gatherings with my parents, I can see how much the parents love their children. I have no doubt that the parents love their children as my parents love me. I am glad that I can be a part of what my parents are doing through MPAK, which tries to find a home for a child like me.

Adoption is a wonderful thing that Jesus blesses us in our daily lives. Isn't life, whether you are adopted or not, such a wonderful thing?

Thank you and may God bless each and everyone of you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Some Changes Happening in the Family Court

Since the news from the Family Court in Korea is a public knowledge, I feel now I can share this news even though I knew of the change two months ago. 


As of February 23, 2015, the Family Court has changed the reduction in the number of judges presiding the adoption cases from four to two.  However, the catch is that the two judges will now focus on the adoption cases while paying less focus on the other civil matters related to family issues.


Prior to this, all four judges were assigned with cases dealing with not only adoptions, but other civil and family matters not related to adoption.  With the two judges, they will focus more on adoption cases while providing much experience and expertise related to adoption.


Now the big question is whether the two judges specializing in adoption cases will now be able to process the cases faster (as they should be more focused on adoption), or slower with the reduction of the number of judges to half.


My guess is that the processing time will neither pick up the speed nor slow down.  There is a big uncertainty as one of the two judges is known to be very thorough with his work and takes longer to process, but I am hoping that he will provide quicker service as he is now more focused on the adoption matters.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Final EP Approvals for 2014

I have just learned that the final EPs (Emigration Permit) approved by the Ministry for the year 2014 is 395, the number of children that are allowed to leave Korea to overseas. 


This number was based on the strict guideline set by the Ministry, which applies the 2/3 rule.  This rule is used to determine the number of intercountry adoption permitted based on the number of domestic placements taken by the three agencies (Holt, SWS, and Eastern).  This means that the domestic adoption in Korea (just by the three agencies) is just under 600 for the year 2014.


One note of caution is that not all 395 children have left Korea, as there are many that are still under the court proceedings at the Family Court for the finalization of adoptions.  The Ministry uses the number of EPs approved in a particular year to measure the number of intercountry adoption that took place in that year.


In the year 2013, the EPs approved for intercountry adoption was at 236 children.  Since the final EP for the year 2014 is 395, one may mistakenly assume that Korea is increasing its intercountry adoption.  On the contrary, Korea's goal is to continue to decrease the number of intercountry adoption that takes place. 


The reason for such low number in the year 2013 was that it was the first full-year where the special adoption law was implemented, and under the new law, all three entities involved in adoption - the adoption agencies, the Ministry, and the Family Court had some learning curve on how to implement the new requirements of the law into their daily business rhythm, thus far fewer children were adopted during the process.  Also the Hyunsu O'Callahan's death at the hand of his adoptive father delayed the process as well.


But it is true that the special adoption law has created havoc in the lives of children as much fewer children are being placed into homes.  What used to be over 1400 per year adoption before the new law (just domestic only) is now less than half of what it used to be, and this is a sad reality.


The proponents of the law would like you to think that because of significant increase in unwed mother keeping their babies has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of adoptions, but the reality is that very few are keeping their children, and far too many other children are put into the institutions. 


They also like to point out that the law screens out undesirable parents that may be involved in drugs or alcohol, or other social or psychological ills, but in reality there have been very few who have been denied adoption because of these problems. 


Perhaps the biggest reason for the decline is due to the removal of secrecy in adoption through the special adoption law.  For cultural reasons, a significant number of Koreans still want to keep their adoptions secret and the new law removed this possibility. 


The special adoption law removed the rights of unwed mothers from giving up their children anonymously that has caused so many abandonments in Korea.  In order for them to give their children up for adoption, they are required to register their children into family registries first before being able to give up for adoption. 


The issue is not the registration.  The issue is making this a requirement in order to place a child for adoption.  No unwed mother wants to register her baby she does want to keep.  Giving up children anonymously is practiced in many OECD countries.  Especially in the US, the Baby Safe Haven Law, practiced in all 50 states allows unwed mothers to give up their babies anonymously.  Why can't Korea do the same?


Korea needs to change its policy before it can expect to see the reduction in the number of children being abandoned in places like the Baby Box.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Unwed Mother's Letter


Just three days ago, a baby was abandoned at the Baby Box with a letter left by a 28 years-old unwed mother.  I have translated her letter to my readers as this is most typical of so many unwed mothers that have abandoned their babies after the special adoption law was enacted in August 5, 2012. 
------------------
The Baby the 28 years-old unwed mother abandoned at the Baby Box 



I am a 28 years-old unwed mother.

Everything is at my fault.

Ten months ago I was a working woman, and I didn’t find out about my pregnancy until after six months have passed. 

I drank and smoked a lot, and I sought ways to abort the child by looking for information through internet. 

I had no money to afford an abortion, and I did not have a chance even to buy the baby items. And I knew I could not work as my tummy continued to expand.

I thought about killing both of us together to escape the problem, but that went on for a few months and the baby was born early on February 15th.

I cannot be discovered.  I must resolve this somehow…

I tried this and that, including the option adoption, but was told that the baby’s record will be on my record.

I suppose something could be done if I knew who the father was, but I was involved with many men, and I do not know who it is.

I feel so sad that the baby had to be born from me.  It is because this 28 years-old unwed mother did not deliver a baby with blessings.

I know there are those that eventually speak with their parents to help in their situation to raise the children, but I do not have that kind of courage.

I hope the baby will grow with blessings.

I have lived a failed life for the past 28 years.

I hope the baby will live with a name ‘Hope’ and be healthy…

The baby’s only fault is that she met the wrong mother.

The baby was born on February 15, 2015, around 12:30 AM.
--------------------
Here's a note from Mrs. Young Ran Jeong, who works at the Baby Box.


This baby came into our care on Monday.
According to the letter left by the 28 years-old unwed mother with a career, experienced an unwanted pregnancy and gave a birth in chaos, and the baby was not even a day old when she came.
What pained me was that the baby had no proper baby clothing, no diaper, but wrapped in an adult neat shirt that had holes. The baby had feces that stuck dry on her buttock and it took some time to wash it off.
The baby was shivering from cold as we washed her in warm water, by then the baby seemed to calm down. It was obvious that the baby was not born in a hospital, and the umbilical cord seemed to have been cut too close, but upon discussion with a children’s hospital I was told that it was OK.
I cannot understand how such a baby could be abandoned like this on a cold winter. As I washed away the dry feces off her body, I comforted myself by saying “Thank you for coming here instead of unknown places.”
The baby is now healthy and takes milk well. She will be in our care for a week before being sent to an institution coming Monday. I ask for your blessings upon this child who had such a traumatic beginning in life.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

One Adoptees Response to the NY Times Article

Here is a response from my adoptee friend Sarah Kim, whom I met in Denver a month ago with her family.  Sarah is happily married to her husband Mike with three girls and a son on the way home from Korea soon.

---------
Sarah (left) with husband Mike and their three daughters, Charlize, Darby, and Mikah


One Adoptee's Response to the NY Times Article by Maggie Jones
I did enjoy reading the article because I enjoy hearing about other adoptees experiences.  From the perspective of a Korean Adoptee, I could relate with many of the things the others said (i.e. the desire to find their roots, facing racism in an all-white community, the lack of understanding from parents, thinking I was white and then wishing I was).  I was able to find my birth family and have visited them twice in the last 12 years.  We continue to have limited “conversations” via Kakao Talk.  And like many others, my documents were “adjusted”.    

I appreciated Ms. Jones providing context on why adoption is relevant to her, all of our views are shaded by our own experiences.  This article is relevant to me because I have a shared experience with the people she interviewed and with her.  My family is in the process of adopting a little boy from S. Korea, we currently have 3 biological daughters. 
One of the adoptees in the article mentioned that adoptees leave their biological families, countries and cultures behind through no choice of their own, but all children come into their cultures, countries and families through no choice of their own.  We do not pick our families. 

I am conflicted about international adoption but believe it is a gray area and not black and white.  While we can debate the reasons why Korea sends children overseas, from the perspective of a child, I believe that every child should grow up in a family.  I am curious what some of the people in the article think will happen to the children that aren’t adopted internationally.

Sarah at 5 months old
 
I think there are still children that are being given up by their birth parents (just like in America where abortion is legal, there is financial assistance and being a single mom is not as taboo) and I am curious what is going to happen to the generation of children that are growing up in orphanages in Korea instead of with White families in America. My fear is that they will be a generation of orphaned children that will be less educated and with fewer opportunities than internationally adopted kids had and therefore less likely to have the tools to advocate for themselves and the next generation.  It seems like many in the article had a college education and beyond. 

I also appreciated Ms. Jones providing the perspective of adoptees that don’t feel strongly that international adoption should be halted in Korea.  I would have liked to hear more from them, but maybe, like me, they don’t claim to know what the right answer is, so it’s not as interesting to cover. 

I feel like this writing is scattered and I’m trying to stick to my main points, but I’m struggling. There are so many things to say and discuss on the issue that I could go on for a very long time (i.e. loss in adoption, addressing race and culture, feelings about birth family, the current adoption process, etc.). 

Most importantly, I am grateful that Mr. Jones is taking the time to share adoptees’ stories. I would challenge her to present another perspective of international adoption. I would like the world to hear from my perspective as well (i.e. Korean adoptees that found their “Korean roots” in the US and are adopting internationally) because I believe our experience is as valid as all the others she interviewed. I personally know 4 other Korean Adoptees (in addition to myself that have adopted or in the process of adopting). But there are more out there.


Sarah and her adoptive family on an outing

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Response to the Recent NY Times Article


This is in response to such a biased article "Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea?" written by Maggie Jones.  The article was recently published in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/magazine/why-a-generation-of-adoptees-is-returning-to-south-korea.html?_r=1).

The article was very critical against the intercountry adoption (ICA), with arguments mostly supported by the anti-adoption activists living in Korea. The article mentioned the problems the ICA brings, mainly in racial discrimination, being uprooted without choice from the place of their birth and planted in foreign lands, the pain of separation from their birth families, the loss of a heritage, culture and language. 

Their arguments may be valid, and I certainly don't want to look down on their views.  I accept that many adoptees have suffered some pain, perhaps immense pain that won't go away.  But at the other side of the spectrum, there are much greater number of adoptees that have fared well and are happy with their adoption experiences and their lives, and their positive sides of ICA is totally drowned out by the article.

In the article, one adoptee asked, “How can a person exiled as a child, without a choice, possibly fathom how he would have ‘turned out’ had he stayed in Korea?"  This question is probably hard to comprehend or understand for many adoptees that were sent as babies.  It is very hard to comprehend what their lives in Korea might have been like as most adoptees were sent abroad before they even tasted the misery of orphan lives.

The biggest flaw with the article was that it only listened to the adoptees that looks at the ICA issues with one angle - that they were separated from their birth parents, that they were admitted to adoption agencies, and that without their choosing were sent overseas, thus losing their culture, language,...and they are miserable and angry, and want to make themselves extinct by putting an end to the ICA.

What Ms. Jones and the adoptees in the article don't understand is that when a child becomes an orphan for whatever the reason, without adoption there is usually one place to go in Korea - an orphanage. A child may be put into a foster care, or even in a group home, but these types of arrangements no better alternatives for the orphan.

While it is true that some could have been reunited with their birth parents had they stayed in Korea, but reunification was very rare as many birth parents deliberately chose to give up their children. Look at the 17,000 children that are housed in 280 orphanages in Korea. Hardly any birth parents go back to reclaim those children.  Most children wait and hope that their birth parents will someday take them home and be happy, but that dream never get realized.  For adoptees, it would be a fantasy to assume that had the adoptees stayed in Korea the reunification would have happened for them.

What they don't seem to understand is that their lives in Korea would have resulted in much greater losses than what they claim to have lost through ICA. Most notably the loss of opportunity that will forever damage or marginalize them for the rest of their lives.  This is so much more than the loss of a culture, racial discrimination, or any other losses mentioned. The loss of birth parents is a common denominator whether you are adopted or orphaned.

While there may be a few exceptions, had an adoptee stayed in Korea there would be the loss of opportunity to have a family of his own. There would be a loss of opportunity to a higher level education.  There is a loss of guidance and mentorship due to the absence of parents. There is a loss of respect and status as a person just by being an orphan in Korea. There may be a loss due to social discrimination that comes through a marriage refusal or the loss of employment or business opportunities lost for having an orphan background. Read further down for additional details.

Like many adoptees that have expressed the pain of loss through separation from birth parents, so do orphans, except to a much greater degree. Unlike many adoptees, they don't even have the adoptive families to lean on.

So what would have been the alternatives for (now adult) adoptees if they were not adopted through ICA? Orphans growing up in Korea have historically faced incredible challenges as they are subject to strong social stigma.  I know this all too well as I experienced living in an orphanage for eight years before being adopted at the age 14.

Compared to ordinary children with families, orphans in Korea experience what I call “status discrimination.” I have heard and read about the experiences of racial discrimination as described by adoptees living in Europe or in the U.S.  But this type of discrimination is nothing compared to the status discrimination that orphans have to endure. By status discrimination, I am referring to the discrimination for being an orphan, the lowest in the social status in Korea, perhaps a little better than a beggar status.  Having an orphan background in Korea risks the denial of opportunity for good education that will help him to be competitive (orphanage does not provide a stimulating environment for learning), or get a good job.

In the old days, only three to five percent of orphans were able to go to college. Although educational opportunities for orphans have increased in recent years, they still fall significantly below educational opportunities of ordinary Korean children with families. By contrast, approximately 70 percent of Korean adoptees in the U.S. and Europe receive a four-year college education or above. Just from an educational point of view, there is no denying that ICA provides more educational opportunities.

The status discrimination of orphans does not end with limited educational opportunities. If a young man with an orphan background wishes to date and marry a woman with a family, often the woman’s parents reject the man even though the woman loves him. If two men (or women) of equal ability apply for the same job, and one grew up in an orphanage and the other in a normal family, the applicant who grew up in the orphanage usually loses out.

Although the social stigma against orphans has lessened over the years, it still presents a big challenge for children growing up in orphanages. Not many orphans are adopted domestically in Korea, as the orphans are mostly older, and Korean nationals tend to prefer adopting infants and girls.

What’s so devastating is that the orphans in Korea must leave the orphanages when they turn 18 years old. Often these orphans are emerging from the orphanage just out of high school, with very little marketable skills. Leaving the orphanages, these young adult orphans are usually given a onetime severance allowance of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. But this meager allowance runs out very quickly.

With no financial support or family support available, going to college would be impossible. These young adults go through extreme hardship once they leave the orphanages. A few find ways to stay with friends and/or extended families, but not all of them are that fortunate. Most wind up working in low-paying jobs at which they work long hours, and some get involved in criminal activities. Some may become successful teachers, pastors, nurses, etc., but these types of successes are very few compared to others who haven’t fared so well. In many areas of their lives, adults with orphan backgrounds must be vigilant to keep their background a secret, for fear of status discrimination.

When I look at the educational accomplishments of some of the adoptees that are strongly against adoption, I have a hard time understanding how they could speak against the very system they have tremendously benefited from. Most of them have college degrees, some of them have Ph.D. degrees and some are college professors. Without being adopted overseas into an environment which supported them to that level of achievement, they most likely would not have received the education or the distinctions they now enjoy. By contrast, the orphans in Korea would die to have the same opportunities the adoptees have. I remember visiting an orphanage and meeting several high school orphans that were about to age out.  I asked what they most wished for, and they all expressed their desire to be adopted and be educated.

Granted that one’s happiness is not determined by educational achievements; however, there can be no question that ICA has provided opportunities for many orphans that would not have been available had they remained in Korea.

No one would argue that it would better for children to grow up in the family environment than in institutions.  Furthermore, in all of childcare methods available, only one, adoption, can provide the children with their most basic rights ---- their rights to their own families. When a homeless child is barred from an opportunity to have his own home, this is a greater child abuse than any alleged “losses” experienced by the adult adoptees through ICA.

The anti-adoption factions in Korea have used the cause of birthmothers’ rights to speak against ICA, as well as against domestic adoption. Because they claim that adoption causes the separation of a child from the birthmother, they use the phrases such as “Family Preservation over Adoption Promotion” to make their points known. However, in their zeal to put an end to adoption by advocating birthmothers’ rights, they have focused more on birthmothers, not on the rights of children, the more vulnerable ones.

I believe that, while birthmothers’ rights should be advocated, it is wrong to do so by trampling on children’s rights to their own homes and families. Birthmothers are adults who have voices, and they can make certain choices for themselves, whether good or bad. But the children have no voice. Many adoptees have spoken out to advocate for their own rights and the rights of birthmothers’, but very few have chosen to speak for the rights of children to have their own homes.

Before an adoptee speaks of her losses due to ICA, I hope she understands how much more a loss a child who remains as an orphan in Korea has to suffer. And I hope she understands that in speaking about her losses, and by advocating closure of ICA, how her demands may put in jeopardy the rights of the children to homes of their own. Unfortunately, their activism has resulted in so many children being admitted to institutions while the number adoption in Korea dropped by a whopping 50% due to the special adoption law.

I ask adoptees with such inclination to take some time to visit the orphanages in Korea, and see how the children live. Touch them. Speak with them. Hear their hearts and understand who they are, and understand how much greater their loss is compared to adoptees.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As the New Year Dawns in Korea - Some Changes are Coming

The New Year celebration, no matter where it is held, is always met with expectations of more promising hope and better future.  But when it comes to adoption landscape in Korea, it is hard to see the year 2015 will be any better.  It is hard to be more hopeful or optimistic when so many children are impacted by the special adoption law. With so many children abandoned and the number of adoption less than half of what it used to be before the law, it is very hard to be optimistic. Pastor Lee of the Baby Box asked an appropriate question when he asked, "For whom was this law made to serve?"  Definitely not for the children that are being abandoned as their rights to homes have diminished significantly.

Hardline stance against the adoption agencies
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has just thrown another wrench at the three adoption agencies, by enacting a new rule as of January 6, where the agencies must show clear evidence of making efforts to place children into biological families, and also show that all efforts to place children domestically have been exhausted before placing a child overseas.  Also, the agencies are to glean out more qualified parents, and provide one year of post-adoption service after the adoption.  If the agencies violate any of these rules, they are liable to be shut down for business between 7 to 15 days. 

The stringent requirements above are not without cause as it is the result of one adoptive mother in Korea that abused and caused death of a child a month ago, and the agency that provided the adoption service to the woman without fully checking out on her background, was blamed for the mistake.  And of course there was Hyunsu O'Callaghan, who died at the hands of his adoptive father in Maryland last year that resulted in stricter psychological screening for adopting parents and extended post-adoption service to one year.

Changes in the Family Court
There is also a news that two or three judges at the family court may be rotated out and replaced by other judges. However, the judge that has the best view on intercountry adoption will remain, but he is also known to take longer than others to process the cases. But a representative at an adoption agency confided with me that this does not mean that the court procedure will be delayed much. She predicted based on the past experience that no more than a month delay initially, and then catch up right away. So the waiting families need not be concerned regarding this. It is certain that some changes will happen in the court, but nothing has been decided so far. 

EP Status as of 2014
The year 2014 has been a challenging year for domestic adoption in Korea.  The three agencies worked hard to place children domestically, and I fear that my initial estimate of 600 was somewhat optimistic, meaning the number may fall below 550, thus the number of intercountry EPs granted may be lower than 400 that was estimated earlier. I am guessing that all three agencies will total around 360 EPs total (again this is my estimate).

Despite all the challenges brought by these changes, I don't want to paint a doom and gloom forecast. It is increasingly becoming evident that despite the refusals by the Ministry and some anti-adoption organizations to admit that the special adoption law has backfired causing harms to so many children, more and more people are becoming convinced that while the law had some good aspects to it, it did not result in the best interest of the children. I hope this realization will continue to be spread to the people in the government to revise the special adoption law to allow anonymous relinquishment option available for unwed mothers that don't want or cannot raise their children.