Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Dream Come True - Termination of Parental Rights in Korea

It took over 15 years to accomplish this in Korea, and the dream has finally been achieved at last.

The Korean National Assembly has just passed a new bill yesterday (December 29, 2011) that would allow more children to be available for adoption by terminating the parental rights.  The new law allows the following:  1) The termination of parental rights to those parents that have given up their parental relationship with their children for three years, especially those children in 280 institutions in Korea, 2) Termination of parental rights for those parents that abuse or neglect their children or unfit to raise them, and 3) That all adoption decisions will be handled by the Children's Court, and that any adoption disruptions must go through a due process of the law through the Children's Court. 
Also, the law raised the adoptable age of a minor from 15 to 18.   This new law will go into effect on July 1, 2013.

Up to now, the knowledge that an orphan has been registered into a family after the birth disqualified children from being available for adoption. This for fear that somewhere in Korea may live a parent of an orphan, and that parent may someday come back to reclaim the child. Currently only the children that have been officially relinquished by their birthmothers, or by the orphanage directors who could sign the relinquishment papers for those children that didn't have any birth registry records, were allowed to be adopted.

Over the years, thousands of children had to grow up into their adulthood as orphans because of their family registry binded them into the families that weren't there for them.  For example, a child is born and the birth family registers the child into the family.  But due to various reasons such as economic hardship or marital conflict, the birth parents decide to put the child into an orphanage, promising that they will someday come back to reclaim the child if their economic or marriage conditions improve.  It is typical that the child will never hear from the birth parents again.  The child has been physically abandoned, but not adoptable due to the fact that he was registered into a family, and due to a fact that somewhere there is a birth parent in Korea that might one day come back to reclaim the child.  In the mean time the child grows up in the orphanage, and never once visited or contacted by his birth parent, and is forced out of the orphanage when he turns 18.  I cannot forget a comment by an orphanage director who really cared for her children.  She said, “The fact that there are birth parents living somewhere in Korea has been the most detrimental to children’s rights to grow up in homes.”

This is a very typical scenario of most of the orphans in Korea.  While many parents promise to take their children back once their condition at home improve, in truth they have abandoned their children completely.  I have been told around 80% of the orphans living in various institutions fall into this category.  Now the orphans will have chance to have families of their own.  Thanks to the new law that was just passed. 

I mentioned at the beginning that it took 15 years to accomplish this.  I first mentioned this issue to the visiting Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) officials at the KAAN Conference in 1997 held at Los Angeles using a message written on a piece of paper.  While the Ministry went through many personnel changes, I never failed to mention this again and again and again each time I visited Korea.  I talked with my MPAK members, and talked with a few professors and a few lawmakers as well.  MPAK has been at the forefront to push for this change for the past 15 years.

In the year 2000, at the very first MPAK National Conference to Promote Domestic Adoption in Korea, we at MPAK put together the Ten Propositions to the Korean Government improve the domestic adoption in Korea ( 대정부건의안).  As of today, nine of those propositions came true. One of them was the establishment of the National Adoption Day, which became reality in 2006, and yesterday’s passage on the termination of parental rights became our ninth proposition that became reality.  I will post in another blog what the other eight propositions were. 

I would like to give a special thanks to Mrs. Han, Youn Hee of MPAK Korea president who shared this same vision and pushed for this many years, and to all the MPAK members who worked as one body to be a voice for so many voiceless children in Korea.  While the three years wait before the parental rights termination is still too long (whereas in the US depending on states the wait is between six to 15 months), nevertheless it is a start. 

I would also like to thank all the adoption agencies that shared the same values and saw the needs of many children and came to their rescue time and time again despite all the criticisms they had to endure over the years. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Adoption Finalized for Benjamin

It took seven months to do it.
Benjamin is now officially declared as our son and proudly bears the last name "Morrison".
Our family stood before a judge and Hyeondong Lee became Benjamin Lee Morrison.

I give sincere thanks to Dillon International for being very helpful from the very start of the application process.
I also like to express a hearty thanks to the Eastern agency in Korea for taking on a difficult adoption case that is so characteristic of adopting older kids from institutions, that other agencies in Korea don't want to get involved with.

Many of you may have been wondering how Benjamin is doing since he was adopted seven months ago as a fourteen years old boy from Korea.  He lived all his fourteen years at an orphanage.
To make the long story short, he is doing very well, and is doing great in school also.
We had some challenging moments (the first five months were very difficult).
I plan to share with the readers some of those difficulties we faced in later blogs, and share how we were able to cope and come out of it.  I hope we are out of it.

But there is no denying that there has been some tremendous changes in his attitude and in his behavior.  We are very fortunate and we thank God that we have come so far.

But for now, I just want to share with you that Benjamin's adoption has been finalized.

Our whole family went to the court to witness Benjamin officially being declared as our son.  Ben's grandparents also joined in this special occasion.  Ben is holding the Certificate of Family Membership given by the court.

The adoption finalization was granted by the Hon. John Henning, the judge that swore us in.  What's interesting was though, this was the same judge that finalized our Joseph (behind Ben next to Mom) 10 years ago.  I introduced Joseph to him saying that he finalized Joseph's adoption when he was four years old.  The judge was pleasantly surprised to see our family again after ten years.

Benjamin with Mom and Dad, holding his Certificate of Family Membership

The Morrison Kids - Outside the Courthouse

Ever playful kids - (L to R) Jane, Joseph, and Helen.  Good thing they didn't do this inside the court room.

Monday, December 5, 2011

North Korean Refugee Adoption Act


Please visit the following link to help the homeless children in North Korea.

This announcement is by Sandra Oh, a Korean-American actress.  Please respond to her plea by signing your petition at:

Sign your petition at  It is very easy for you to sign.

The contents in says:

As a constituent of yours, I urge you to support the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2011 (H.R. 1464/ S.416).

In 1961, Dr. Arthur Schneider adopted Sam Han-Schneider by means of a private bill S.1100, which allowed, for the first time, a bachelor to adopt and bring a foreign child to the United States. Sam Han-Schneider is the founder of Han-Schneider International Children's Foundation, which provides for orphans in need around the world today.

The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act, if passed, would allow Americans to adopt refugee orphans who have fled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to neighboring countries such as Mongolia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. These children are struggling in harsh circumstances, and run the risk of being sent back to DPRK. According to the World Food Program, DPRK faces regular food shortages, and one in three North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished.

Right now, it is extremely difficult to bring refugee children to the United States.  One American family on the east coast is currently working to secure the adoption of two orphaned siblings from DPRK. The adoption process for them could take anywhere from three to 10 years, and approval is not guaranteed. The passage of this Act would reduce the waiting time for families seeking to adopt refugee orphans.

This is not simply an adoption issue, or a Korean American issue. Refugee orphans do not have access to food and clean water, and are vulnerable to human trafficking and deportation. The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act would lessen the burden on parents in the United States who wish to provide a safe and caring home for refugee orphans.
Please vote in favor of the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act (H.R. 1464 and S. 416).

Thank you for your support.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grand scheme of adopting – Getting in front of the adoption line

Note:  This article was originally posted in the Chicago Tribune on November 20, 2011. It is posted in this blog with permission from Jae-Ha Kim, who wrote the article.  Jae-Ha Kim is a syndicated columnist that gives credit to MPAK for her being able to adopt.
Jae-Ha and her husband Denton with Kyle
By Jae-Ha Kim
November 20, 2011
A couple years ago, actress Katherine Heigl and her husband adopted a little baby girl from South Korea. No one would say that they didn't deserve to be parents. But what some folks — myself included — found curious was that they had been married for less than two years when they were matched with their child.
Who cares? Well, Korea cares, actually. One of the requirements for foreigners to adopt Korean children is that they have to be heterosexuals who have been married for at least three years.
I know this for a fact, because when my husband and I had started our adoption process — with the same agency that Heigl used — we were told that we would not be able to adopt from Korea because (1) we hadn't been married long enough and (2) by the time we had been married long enough, we'd be too old to adopt from Korea.
OK, not we. Me. I'd be too old. That agency's cutoff age was 43. (Darn. Now ya'll know I'm older than 43.)
I pointed out to the agency that I was born in Korea, spoke the language and would be able to raise the child with a sense of his or her birth culture. So perhaps Korea might make an exception. An employee of the agency told me, "None of that matters. You won't be able to adopt."
Thanks goodness we didn't give up. With a minimal amount of research, I found out that this woman wasn't telling the complete truth. Whether it was because she didn't know any better or just didn't care enough is debatable. But we learned that Korea offered a little more leeway — especially when it came to age — for adoptive parents of Korean heritage.
After my husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary, we got cracking. After all, neither one of us — especially me — was getting any younger. Through a work contact's cousin, who was married to a reporter who was working in Seoul at the time, who had just covered a news conference about adoption, I found Steve Morrison. Morrison is this awesome adoptee who founded Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea. He put me in touch with another adoption agency. This agency ultimately worked with us so that we could adopt the cutest, smartest and most awesome baby boy in the world.
This is a long-winded way of backing into a peeve of mine. I find it really irritating when you are accused of being unsupportive if you happen to disagree with someone else's opinion. On a public adoption bulletin board, I — along with some other adoptive parents — wondered how Heigl and her husband had been able to circumvent the marriage requirement. Not that I fault them for jumping at the opportunity to bring home their child sooner rather than later. But why were they given special treatment?
Several of us mused that perhaps, maybe just perhaps, Heigl's celebrity status had something to do with getting to jump to the front of the line. Yes, the child had a health issue (that has been rectified). But the same could be said for the child we would've adopted through that agency. Heigl also has a sister, who was adopted from Korea, so maybe that gave her an advantage. Who really knows?
But I found it surprising that there were quite a few posters who took our questioning of the system to mean that we hated Heigl and were just downright bitter. One woman (though I suppose it could've been a man) posted: "Unless you know her it's lame to say she has special treatment."
Oh, I'm sorry. Because we all know that celebrities never receive special treatment. Ever.
Another said she was new to the forum and was disappointed at how mean some people were. To tell you the truth, that just made me want to kick her while wearing my pointiest shoes.
I could make some snarky assumptions as to why Heigl might receive special treatment. But the end result is that an orphan found loving parents in Heigl and her hubby. And for that I'm grateful.
I'm even more grateful that things worked out the way they did for us. Because if that first agency hadn't given us erroneous information that delayed our process, we would have been matched with a different child.
I don't believe that things happen for a reason. Or that things were meant to be. I don't believe much in fate, either.
But I can't imagine life without my beautiful son. I'm sure that's a sentiment that Heigl and I share about our children.
For what it's worth, I had wanted to get Heigl's take for this piece, but her publicist declined the interview request. Fair enough. She's a busy lady.
And because I tend to get angry emails when I write articles that aren't 100 percent glowing about celebrities, let me just say: Yes, I'm fully aware that Heigl is prettier, younger, thinner and infinitely wealthier than I am. But … My husband is smoking hot, and I think that's a pretty fair equalizer in the grand scheme of things.

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune