Friday, April 5, 2013

An Interview with an Orphanage Director

An Interview with Ms. Kim, Young Sook of Emmanuel Orphange in Korea
An Orphanage Director’s Perspective
(This interview was conducted by Steve Morrison in front of many visiting adoptees and Korean nationals at one of the gatherings in Seoul, Korea three years ago.

Q: Please introduce yourself.

A:  My name is Kim Young Sook and I have worked 19 years at the Emmanuel Orphange in the city of Kim Cheon. 

Q: You must have witnessed many children come and go while working at the Emmanuel Orphanage.  About how many children have you served?
A: Because I was there 19 years, I would guess around 350 children have come and gone.

Q: What were the typical reasons why the children were admitted to your facility?

A:  There are various reasons. In the old days many children lost their parents but today many children come in because parents cannot fulfill their responsibilities.  For example children born out-of-wedlock, abandoned, or dysfunctional families due to parental separation or divorce.

Q: For the children in your facility, about what percentage of birth parents come and visit your children?

A:  Most parents drop off their children in the orphanage promising that they will come to reclaim their children once the economic situations improve.  But most of them don’t keep their promises as they entrust the babies and the babies grow up in the orphanage as parents are never heard from again.

Q: Do children wish that their parents would one day show up?

A:  Yes. That is true.  They hope that their parents would come and take them back home.  When they don’t hear from their parents and when they see their friends get adopted, they come to me saying, “Mrs. Kim I want to be adopted too.” And they are very envious of their friends.

Q: What is the age when orphans are sent out of the Emmanuel facility?

A:  Typically when they turn 18 that’s when they are sent out.

Q: What sorts of preparations are being done now when they are sent out?

A: In the old days they were sent out without any preparations, but since 1990 they were given Adjustment to Independence money of around $1,000, and today they are receiving around $5,000.  The amount varies depending on the cities, if the city has money, the outgoing orphans are given $5,000, and if the city has some difficulty in finance they are given only $2,000 to $3,000.  But Kim Cheon city gives out $5,000 to our outgoing boys and girls since last year.  Nowadays we also provide needed items when  they leave.

Q: No matter how much an orphanage may prepare its children, Isn’t it still very challenging for the orphans to adjust to the real world?

A:  Once an orphan leaves the institution, he/she has no place to turn.  Once he leaves the facility his sponsorship by various people will end and he needs to stand alone.  If an orphan leaves the facility with no specific preparation to work anywhere, then their livelihood becomes very basic level through various menial labors just to survive.

Q: Do most of the orphanages require orphans leave their facilities when they turn 18?

A: Not most, but all of the facilities are like that.  They are sent out when orphans turn 18, but in some special circumstances or when he/she goes to college they are given longer stay in the orphanage.

Q: Despite all the hardships that orphans may face after leaving the institution, aren’t there some successful cases?

A:  Of course, there are.  No matter how difficult an environment is, if a person works hard they can be successful.  There have been pastors, teachers, nurses, kindergarten directors that came out of our orphanage, but successes like these are very few.

Q: How is the education level for the orphans?  Can you give some comparisons from early years versus today?

A:  10 years ago, it was very difficult for orphans to go to colleges.  Only 3% - 5% went to colleges.  The reason is that institutionalized children cannot afford to go to colleges, and also because they live in the institutions they are at significant academic disadvantage.  But now things are different as the Government provides some assistance to orphans who want to go to colleges, but the rate of orphans going to college is still far lower than children from ordinary families.

Q: What do you feel is the main difference between domestic adoption and the intercountry adoption?

A:  I’m sure that adoptive families love their children.  But from my experience in domestic adoption, Koreans adopting are very conditional such as a child must be pretty, and have a good personality.  But for the intercountry adoption, many adoptive parents are open even special needs, and that tells me that adoption for them is child centered rather than parent centered as it is for Korean adoption.

Q: Now, do you wish to say anything to the visiting adoptees?

A:   As I look at all of you, I feel so moved to see all of you grown up so beautifully.  You have been blessed to grow up in your homes and receive much love and happiness.  But in our orphanage there are still many children waiting to be adopted. In our facility, there are children whose parents don’t care nor ever pay a visit, and the fact that these children have parents somewhere make them unadoptable, and this is very painful for me to think about. These children would be better off growing up in families rather than stay in institutions.  It is my sincerest desire to see all the children at our facility be adopted into loving homes someday.


  1. WOW, Steve. Thanks for this. Some things I kind of already knew, but some stuff were an eye opener. God bless these orphans and I hope one day more of these orphans will be adopted by a loving family.

    My spouse and I have considered adoption from a Korean orphanage, however we were told it's not possible =( because we live in the US, even though we are Korean. Do you you know if this will ever change?

    Steve, I know you've gone through some harsh words these past few days. Please know, many of us support you and think your work is needed and important. Please stay strong. We will continue to pray for you.

  2. Hi, my name is Nor and I am from Singapore. My husband and I are both keen to adopt a child from South Korea but we can't figure out any agencies/orphanages that can help us with the process. Can you help to connect us with some orphanages? We are very familiar with the korean culture and language and we travel to korea a couple of times every year. We intend to keep the child's language and identity. We are contactable at We look forward to your email. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the inquiry. I'll send you the answer via the email you have provided.

  3. Information we all need to hear.

  4. Thank you Steve for all that you do. You know in your heart whom you are truly advocating for. The children who need you. We appreciate you so much thank you!

  5. Thanks Steve for this insightful interview. My prayers are with these kids who are in these orphanages and will one day have to enter the world on their own.

  6. Hi Steve - have you heard any news on the first international adoption cases that were to be heard by the courts on April5? Thanks for all that you do.

  7. Steve, Thank you for providing such a great information resource through this blog. Your story is an inspiration and I enjoyed this interview. We are in the first group of 2013 to be submitted for EP and are anxiously awaiting picking up our son this year. We are already talking about adopting a second child in a few years and want this to be an older child. Can you tell me why older children are not available for international adoption in Korea? As your interview shows, there is a need for families for these children. Also, if you have already answered this question before, feel free just to point me to that link for the answer.

    Thanks for all you do!

  8. Jennifer, in the past many of those children were not legally free to be adopted since the bio parents did not sign a paper to allow the child to be adopted. So, these children were basically "stuck" legally. Not being parented in Korea by their bio parents but also not being legally free to be adopted. The only alternative was being placed in an orphanage.

  9. That's correct. I still remember an orphanage director remarking, "The fact that there is a parent living somewhere in Korea has brought ruins to many children that could have been adopted when young." However, a law was passed in 2012 that would now allow any children that have have not been contacted by their biological families in three years will automatically become eligible to be adopted. MPAK has worked hard over the span of ten years to bring about this "justice" for children that are locked up in many institutions, and the birth parents still have the chance to reclaim them if they wish but most likely are not going to. The justice for these children are way overdue. Even three years is too long as it is like 6 mo. to 15 months in the US, but it is a start nevertheless. So we will see if any of those children will be available for adoption in 2015 for dometic adoption, and if not intercountry adoption.

  10. I just got the chills when I read your post. Thank you and MPAK! Yes, three years is a very long time, but I'm thankful some of those children will be able to have a family to call their own in a few more years. We will continue to pray for all your efforts and the orphans.

  11. Steve! Thank you for sharing this post! It's incredible!

    I'm also wondering about the status of adoption there any information that has been made available. I'm amazed that these initial families have not been approved and there is no EP submissions etc. Do you anticipate this happening in the near future?

    Thank you.

  12. Every child deserves a loving family and home.