Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hyunsu’s ‘Intercountry Adoption’ Who is to Blame? - by IMPeter

This a translated version of a Korean blogger named IMPeter - This is the most well researched and most thoroughly presented blog, questioning the validity of criticisms launched against Holt and intercountry adoption after the incident involving the death of Hyunsu O'Callaghan. I have never met the author, but apparently his blog is one of the most widely read blog in Korea. He has over 500,000 followers and is one of the most famous political analyst in Korea.

The original link for IMPeter blog is at: (Korean).

현수 '해외입양' 책임, 과연 누구에게 있나?
Hyunsu’s ‘Intercountry Adoption’ Who is to Blame?


A Korean child who was adopted abroad died in February of this year.  The boy’s adoptive father is facing first degree murder charges as the Korean boy was allegedly killed by him four months after the adoption.

Through this unfortunate event, the media and some civil organizations have placed blame on ‘Holt Children’s Services’.

Of course, Holt is responsible in some measure as the agency that placed Hyunsu for intercountry adoption (ICA). However, it was very disappointing to watch all the media launch unwarranted attacks against Holt and adoption without fully understanding the complexities involved with the current system of adoption.  

I wish to examine the facts regarding Hyunsu’s death and hope to clear away some misunderstandings and questions related to ICA.

I first posted this writing on March 18th, and I revised it and reposted on March 21st.  There are several reasons for my revision.

1. Hyunsu’s birthmother does not wish to have his face continue to appear, so I used a mosaic effect to block his face. 

2. A minor correction was made regarding the items purchased for Hyunsu that was included in the adoption expenses.

3. The foster mother’s disqualification to adopt domestically.

4. Reexamination of the earlier data obtained for accuracy.

5. Some civil organizations’ negative reaction to Holt’s claim.

(If you downloaded the earlier blog, please at least, mosaic out Hyunsu’s face)

#The main cause of death is due to Holt’s failure to better investigate?

Most media has blamed that the death was attributable to Holt’s failure to properly investigate the adoptive parents.  But IMPeter has obtained many documents used to investigate the adoptive parents from Holt.

<Hyunsu’s Adoption Documents>

Adoptive parents’ report,
Homestudy, original to the Department of Homeland Security
Statement of Adoption (Original)
Parents’ Medical Reports
Statement of Religious Freedom
Criminal Investigation Report (FBI)
Child Abuse History Report
Alcohol and Drug Use Investigation
Physician’s statement on physical and mental examination
Youth custody evaluation survey (To prevent child abuse)
Parents’ Certificate of Adoption Education
Adoptive Parents Credentials
Financial Reports

In particular, the adoptive father, Mr. O’Callaghan was examined by the Maryland Child Services four different times, and because he served in the military, his military service record was added (To examine any record of disciplinary actions or psychological problems).

Steve Morrison is an adoptee, and in his letter to Representative Min Hyun Ju and the Family Court Justices, he noted that despite the most rigorous investigation methods used by the NSA, they could not find any flaws with Mr. O’Callaghan.

■ Even the NSA’s rigorous investigation could not detect a flaw in O’Callaghan
The NSA in the US is a national security agency, and to qualify to work at this agency requires the most rigorous type of background investigation. But despite such stringent examination, the NSA could not detect a flaw in him.

In order to be employed by the NSA, one must go through a physical exam, Polygraph lie detection interview, psychological tests, drug tests, past residence history, etc.  To be in a position like the one Brian O’Callaghan had, one has to be cleared to have top secret clearance that lasts anywhere from 3–12 months.  The NSA conducts various psychological tests to weed out any undesirable candidates.  You may learn more about the methods used by the NSA to investigate a potential employee at ( 16430.html)
It is impossible for an adoption agency to investigate a potential parent to the level equal to NSA.  They lack the resources and manpower and finances to conduct such tests.  How can one expect an agency to find a flaw that NSA could not?  That is why O’Callaghan’s alleged crime (if he gets convicted in the trial) is really out of the norm and very exceptional, and it is not due to the adoption process.

Hyunsu’s adoptive parents visited Korea three times and have met with him ten different times, and they went through the 13-hour adoption education that touched on ‘What it means to have a multi-cultural familiy,’ ‘The impacts upon a child before and after the adoption,’ ‘Developmental Risk Factors,’ and other topics. 

Unlike how the media has portrayed them, the homestudy document produced by Holt clearly shows that their investigation was very thorough, and it was difficult to see that Holt has been negligent in finding good parents for children.

Below is the Post Placement Service Report on Hyunsu prepared by the Catholics Charities Child and Family Services.

The media has blamed Holt, that they did not do its job well regarding Hyunsu’s ICA post- placement service.  But this is different from the truth.  The American agency in charge of Hyunsu, the Catholics Charities has submitted to Holt the child post placement reports after his adoption on October 26th.  They also submitted to Holt the post-placement service reports on November 11th and on December 20th.

The requirement by the Special Adoption Law is that the post-placement service reports be submitted until the time a child is granted citizenship.  However, at Holt, they have a requirement to submit at minimum three post-placement service reports within a year.
IAMPeter is convinced after reviewing many of the documents, that rather than blaming Holt for the lack of investigation, I feel the need to offer a more fundamental solution.

The activists and a few civil organizations that are against ICA have accused Holt for having adoption fees that are very high.  However, one cannot reduce overhead expenses and hope that there is no impact on the investigation. In fact, this is nonsense.  If a more thorough investigation is required, then more expenses are involved, and if budget is reduced to investigate, then the investigative efforts will become weak.

Perhaps the Korean Government could get involved with the investigative aspects of ICA and domestic adoption, and only approve couples that have passed the investigation to adopt. (Except that this may produce other problems as the social workers may be overloaded and other unforeseen problems may arise.  So a separate budget and resources need to be planned).

# Holt’s Purpose in ICA is Because of Money?

Many have been misled into thinking that intercountry adoption agencies prefer to send children abroad to charge higher fees to make greater profits.  But IAMPeter has examined the data and this is also not true.

The Table below breaks down the revenue and expense comparison between a child adopted through ICA and a child adopted domestically in Korea for the year 2013.  The table assumes $1 = ₩1,060, and assumes that the agency holds a child for 24 months before being placed overseas.  So using this data, the total ICA revenue that Holt receives per child is $32,304 ($14,500 for overseas adoption fee, $1,380 for medical/visa/translation fee, $12,517 support from the Korean Government during 24 months, and $3,907 for an overseas sponsor program).

But the table also shows the expenses involved during the 24-month span while Holt is holding a child.  The total expense per child is $37,090.  This results in the loss of $4,786 when sending a child overseas.

In the domestic adoption category, the total revenue per child is $6,128 per child, but the expense involved (based on only a 5-months holding period) is $7,707 per child, thus resulting in a loss of $1,579 per child. 

So the bottom line is that Holt experiences a greater financial loss for sending child overseas (-$4,786) than placing a child domestically (-$1,579).   

The claim that the adoption fee for ICA is higher than the domestic adoption fee is true.  However, when you factor in the expenses involved, the loss due to ICA is greater than that of domestic adoption. 

The average time a child is in custody by Holt is 27 months, and during that time the total expenses involved for a child was $37,090. Holt has on average experienced minus $4,786, and this is not covered by the adoption fee, but by the sponsorship donations received by Holt.

In the case of Hyunsu, it was difficult to find a home in Korea, and up to the time he was placed overseas, the expenses accumulated for his medical needs far exceeded that of a healthy child being placed domestically. 

In 2008, Holt had received an audit on their finances related to the adoption fees.  The problem lies with the ever increasing length of time the agency has to keep a child before placing overseas, which causes increased expenses.  Therefore to complain that the ICA cost is too high is really meaningless. 
In order to resolve the accusations placed on Holt by the civil organizations, the Ministry of Health and Welfare must examine the financial reports submitted by the agencies, and make their reports on adoption fees public.  

# More Domestic Adoption than ICA at Holt

Many people think that the number of adoptions through ICA is bigger than that of domestic adoptions, but surprisingly the number of ICA is small.  The reason is that compared to the domestic adoption, the ICA is much more complicated and expensive.
In order to place a child overseas, the child must be held in Korea for five months as the Special Adoption Law has put greater priority in domestic placement of a child.  This is the reason why the ICA is on the decline.

The figure below shows the decline in adoption for both domestic and ICA.  The blue bar indicates the number of domestic adoptions while the red bar denotes ICA. 

The media ignores these facts and continues to sensationalize with the use of such old terms as ‘Orphan Exporting Nation’ and falsely portrays Holt’s number of overseas adoption to be larger than the number of domestic adoptions. 

But during the past three years, the total number of domestic adoption was 1,153 (61%) while the ICA was 722 (39%).

If Holt was interested in making money, then there would be no reason why they would return 171 children to their biological families during the past three years. 

# Why Hyunsu Had to be Placed Overseas?

Holt has worked with Hyunsu’s birthmother, who relinquished him for adoption on June 17, 2010, and up to the time when the boy was assigned for ICA on August 23, 2012.  For 26 months Holt encouraged Hyunsu’s birthmother to keep him or look for domestic adoption options.

<Holt’s Efforts to Return Hyunsu to His Birthmother>

Aug 2, 2010,  Hyunsu’s birthmother brought him over to Holt’s office for the first time, brought clothes and gifts for Hyunsu to keep (suggested the birthmother to keep the baby).
Oct 29, 2010, Hyunsu’s birthmother showed up at the hospital where Hyunsu was being treated (Recommended birthmother to take Hyunsu back).
Feb 13, 2012, The birthmother requested a meeting with Hyunsu.  Met at the Holt office (Another recommendation made to take Hyunsu back).
Holt has continually asked the birthmother to take the custody of the child, but the birthmother was firm in placing him up for adoption.

IMPeter has learned that Holt had met with Hyunsu’s birthmother on three different occasions and encouraged her to take him back.  However, despite the continued efforts, the birthmother maintained that it would not be possible for her to raise him. 
Holt has made efforts to find a family in Korea to adopt Hyunsu, but was not successful.

Below is a figure on a child age/gender preference for domestic Korean adoptions:  74.9% prefer under 3 years old, 25.1% prefer ages 3 and up, and 23.7% prefer males whereas 74.2% want females.

The biggest reason why Hyunsu could not find a home in Korea was that he was born premature, and he had special needs: hydrocephalus (water on the brain), language delay, and developmental delay.  74.2 % of Koreans prefer females (23.7% prefer males), and only12.5% are open to special needs children.
There is hardly anyone who would adopt a special needs boy like Hyunsu in Korea, and this is the reason why ICA may not go away.

Some have advocated that despite these factors, adoption should not have happened. But if a special needs child is forbidden to be adopted abroad, the child must grow up in an institution or a special needs facility.  However, in consideration of the prejudice and social stigma the child must endure in Korea, forbidding intercountry adoption regardless of these prejudices is not the best (right) choice for the child.

Below is a graphic illustrating the ICA process that Hyunsu went through.  He was born May 7, 2010, relinquished at the agency on June 17, 2010, placed for ICA on December 3, 2010, adoptive family identified on August 23, 2012, and departed for US on October 26, 2013.

Hyunsu was born in May 2010 and was relinquished by the birthmother, and could not find a family in Korea during the six months holding period (most likely) due to his special needs status.
Subsequently after 20 months of looking for a family overseas, the O’Callaghan family was identified on August 23, 2013. A year after the adoptive family was found, and after final adoption was granted, Hyunsu left for America on October 26, 2013.

Below is an image of a news article that appeared in the Korea Times regarding Hyunsu’s former foster mother who claimed that she wanted to adopt Hyunsu but Holt rejected her.  The headline of the article reads, “Hyunsu, I wanted to adopt him in Korea…”

Hyunsu’s foster mother’s interview with Korea Times (The original photo in the article had Hyunsu’s face shown, but IMPeter mosaic-ed out his face at birthmother’s request)

Some media interviewed Hyunsu’s former foster mother and stated that Holt had chosen to send Hyunsu overseas despite the foster mother’s desire to adopt him domestically.  

Hyunsu’s foster mother cared for Hyunsu from June 17, 2010 to January 20, 2011. The foster mother’s license to foster was revoked after Hyunsu was recalled back to the Seoul office on May 23, 2012.  The reason for the revocation was that the foster mother had two foster children from Holt, and two other children through another agency, thus totaling four children. (By regulation foster parents cannot foster more than two children at a time).

In the media Hyunsu’s foster mother claims that she had expressed a desire to adopt Hyunsu, upon further probing she had never officially applied for adoption (an adoption process can only proceed with the application of documents). 
It was said in the media that foster mothers are not allowed to adopt the children they are fostering, but IMPeter has found out that there have been 38 such adoptions through Holt in the past.

# Problems with Adoption is due to Ignoring the Reality

After the enactment of the Special Adoption Law, there has been 208 children who were abandoned through the ‘Baby Box’. 

As the media covered the ‘Baby Box’ stories, it became apparent that the media did not feature the information that birthmothers needed to see or hear, especially the problems resulting from the Special Adoption Law.

1. A baby left in the Baby Box can be adopted?

The birthmothers mistakenly think that by putting their babies in the Bab Box they will be adopted domestically or through ICA.  But the children abandoned through the Baby Box cannot be adopted because of the law.  
In order to place a baby for adoption, one must receive an approval from the Family Court, and according to the Special Adoption Law Article 12, a child must receive consent from the birth parents.  Without the approval from the birth parents, the children are sent over to institutions where they will grow up without being adopted.

Birth Records Gets Erased?

According to the law, an adoption is only possible if a baby is registered in to a family registry record. This is the reason why many birthmothers abandon their babies to remain anonymous.

Some believe that once a child has been registered and relinquished for adoption, the registration record will be removed. This is true.  However, the average adoption process takes over two years.  Because the registration record remains until a child is officially adopted, and during that time the mother is unable to get a job or get married, this results in them choosing the unthinkable.

Adoptees are Better Able to Find Their Birth Parents?

Each year many adult adoptees visit Korea to look for their birth parents. For those who are in support of the Special Adoption Law, their claim is that the law provides easier access to records that will help them find their birth parents. 
This is different from the reality.  It is true that adoptees can access the records containing information on birth parents.  However, if a birth parent chooses not to make the records available, then the adoptees cannot access them. 

Since 1980, the adoption agencies have maintained most of the records on birth parents.  This has resulted in many meetings between the adoptees and their birth parents. 
Since the new law, the law does not allow access to the records of birthmothers, and this has resulted in the agencies not being able to help with the birth parent searches.

The domestic adoption agencies make efforts to encourage biological parents to stay together as a family.  Despite all the efforts being made to encourage the birthmothers to keep their children, they continue to give up their children. 

The table below shows the rationale as to why unwed mothers choose adoption.  According to the 2010 data, there were 16,034 single mothers in Korea.  There were 2,262 babies from unwed mothers consisting of 91.8% of all adoptions taking place in 2010.  The financial support given to unwed mothers who are 24 years and under was $142 per month, and for those over the age of 24 were given $66 per month (up to the child’s 5th birthday). Strong social stigma against unwed mothers was another reason for them to not be able to keep their children as 89% attributed this as the reason.  78.6% cited the economic challenges as the reason for not being able to raise their children after they have decided to keep their children.

# Fix These Before Ending the ICA

IMPeter in no way is stating that Holt’s adoption system is perfect, nor claims that Hyunsu’s adoptive father is innocent (as he is waiting for trial and the results are not known) and I am not overly pushing to favor ICA in any way. 

However, we must be careful not to believe over-sensationalized news articles that are wrong, but objectively examine the whole issue of adoption and look at the issue of adoption with a keen mind. 

 [Notes on the figure below] The figure below shows some examples of benefits provided to unwed mothers.  In Germany, unwed mothers are provided with $1500–$2500 cost of living expenses (didn’t say whether monthly or annually, my guess is annually) depending on their income level.  The unwed mothers are given 14 months of maternity leave with up to $2,500 per month assistance, and assistance provided to continue with their education. 

In England, the unwed mothers are provided with educational expenses ranging from $35–$50 per month.  It also includes $270 per child assistance, and depending on the number of hours worked, they are given an income subsidy of $80–$100 per week.  They also provide educational programs such as ‘Sure Start’ to train the unwed mothers.

In France, unwed mothers are assisted with monthly increase of $120 /month on top of their basic family benefits of $480.  For unwed mothers with no income, they provide $800 monthly support, and for each child, an additional $1050 per month is provided.  Also unwed mothers are provided up to $380 per month for educational subsidy.

In these countries, the social stigma against unwed mothers is not that prevalent, and it is possible to live off of the assistance provided by the government. 
However for Korea, where unwed births are on the rise in a society filled with social stigma against unwed mothers, Korea is telling unwed mothers to raise their own children with the meager assistance of only $140 per month. 

People need to look at ‘adoption’ from the reality where in Korea, the system is such that even if an unwed mother wishes to keep her baby, she is not able to.

[Notes on above figure]  Instead of forcibly trying to put an end to ICA, the Government must pay closer attention in making it possible for keeping the biological families together and promote domestic adoption through social consensus. 
At minimum, the unwed mothers must be given the same amount the government spends to keep a child in an institution, which is approximately $990 per child per month.  Laws must be created to protect discrimination against unwed mothers (i.e. figure above mentions punishing a school official that makes an unwed mother quit school). 

If an unwed mother can’t keep her child, the government must provide a favorable adoption system, as the child is better off being adopted to a good family than to live in an institution. 

We criticize ICA and paint it as an evil practice, and yet we shirk away from adopting our own children, and we turn our face away from the children simply because they have special needs. 

 Hyunsu’s death has made many to pick up stones and cast them at Holt and other agencies.  But is it right to cast stones at them? We are labeling the adopted children as ‘unwanted children’ and we undermine their character by taking away the opportunities they deserve.

One can oppose adoption for the sake of protecting a child. But there are children and families where this is the only option available.  To ruthlessly oppose adoption, without due regards for making any efforts to remove the social stigma or improving the family structure in society, will infringe on the children’s basic human rights for care and protection.

The connection between unfortunate circumstances where a child cannot live with his birth parents to an opportunity that leads across the valley of pain, this connecting bridge is called ‘adoption.’ Instead of unreasonably opposing adoption and casting a stone of condemnation, we as citizens of this nation must build a stronger bridge for our children.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Family Court Justice Orders Full Battery Psychological Tests

I have seen in it all over Facebook, and I have verified it from Korea, that a family court justice on Friday, March 14th (Korea Time Zone), has issued a decree to Eastern that adopting families with court date appointments falling on certain days are required to take a “Full Battery Psychological Tests”. Only Eastern has heard from the court, but I suspect that SWS and Holt will hear of the same decree. There was no explanation as to why Eastern received the order from the court first while the other two didn’t. 
It is not known whether the decision was made by the Family Court as a whole or if it was just a decision by a particular judge independent of other judges who is requiring this. The deadline for getting the results in, interpreted, translated, and delivered to the judge is March 28, and the tests must be done by facilities run by federal, state, or county level.
This comes after the tragic death of Hyunsu O’Callahan. His adoptive father, Brian O’Callahan is officially charged with first degree murder. This incident has caused a significant uproar in Korea with current screening methods used to screen out potentially dangerous adoptive parents in order to protect children being adopted overseas. However, this form of psychological exam is not required for parents adopting domestically in Korea.
There are several challenges in adhering to the required tests, and here are some of them.
1. Lack of definition on what is meant by the “Full Battery Psychological Tests”
It appears that the justice’s mandate was not very carefully thought out before he/she issued it. In fact, the justice in question did not clarify by what is really meant by the term “full battery psychological tests”. Some phone calls were made to county and other private clinics, and not one place had the proper definition of what is meant by the term "full battery".  They all wanted to know what tests need to be included in the full battery. 
I didn’t know what was meant by the term “Full Battery Psychological Tests”.  So I searched the internet and found some descriptions as follows. The websites had no consistent answers, but they included the mix of the following tests:
a. A clinical interview and other history-gathering.
b. Some measure of mental status [e.g., Mini-Mental Status Exam, IQ test]
c. Achievement test (Woodcock Johnson)
d. A cognitive test of ability (e.g., the WAIS-III) or achievement (e.g., the Woodcock-Johnson).
e. Projective Personality tests (i.e., Rorschach, CAT/TAT, HTP, MMPI-2).
f. Specific brief screens [e.g., Beck Depression Inventory-2, a traumatic events scale, a malingering screen, etc.
g. Self-report Questionnaires (for parent, school, and the child)
Depending on the purpose of the test battery (a fancy term for a series of tests), various psychological tests may be used. Some of the most common include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2 is the modern version); the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT); Rorschach inkblots; intelligence tests; or more--there are hundreds. Tests may even include measurement of bodily responses or brain activity.
2. Inability to get appointments in time
Some families in the US got notified of test requirements and they frantically called many places to set up appointments to do the full battery psychological tests.  One mother told me she spent the entire day calling many places, even some out of state, and she was informed that the next available appointment was in two months.  She is one of the families where the test results must be translated and submitted to the court by March 28th.  Imagine the frustration and anxiety that she must have endured. The request by the court justice is nothing short of being insane. 
3. The requirement to test only at federal, state, or county level facilities
A mother tried to get an appointment with the LA County clinic, but was told that she wouldn’t qualify because the county cannot accept the test appointment unless there is a medical need that necessitates it.  This is one of the obvious reasons why the justice in question did not think through well on this matter. I recommend that this justice widen the field to include private examiners as well, and allow this test should be administered by state licensed psychologists like the home studies are administered by state licensed social workers.
4. High costs of full battery tests
One mother told me that when she called many places today, the cost of examination ranged anywhere from $700 to $4,000 per person.  It will take sever hours to several days to test, then another 2-6 weeks for the evaluation and report of these tests.
5. The Full Battery Psychological Test won’t prevent another Hyunsu-like tragedy.
Brian O’Callahan was employed by the NSA. Just to qualify for a position in the NSA, his capacity meant that one has to have top secret clearance, and this requires the most stringent background investigations anywhere. It requires interviews after interviews, physical and psychological evaluations, polygraph interviews, drug tests, visiting the neighborhoods where he lived for the last 18 years to interview the credibility of his past history, and more psychological interviews and evaluations, and on and on it goes for months. But despite all the investigations and tests, Mr. O’Callahan was found without any risk to be employed by the NSA. Even the NSA could not determine his character flaws and the adoption agencies or whoever could do no better. This is the reason why it leads me to conclude that Hyunsu’s tragedy was an exceptional case, and that one bad adoptive parent’s behavior does not represent the behaviors of thousands and thousands of good adoptive parents.
6. Filicide rate for non-adoptive families is ten times higher than adoptive families
It is believed that in the history of intercountry adoption, there have been 13 Korean adoptees that have been murdered at the hands of their adoptive parents in the US.  Over 165,000 children have been placed overseas in the span of 60 years.  Of which over 111,000 children have been placed into the US.  Therefore the filicide rate for the families that have adopted Korean children is 0.008%. 
However, according to the study conducted by the Brown University, there are approximately 3,000 children die annually in the US at the hands of their biological parents ( With approximately 4 million children being born each year for 60 years, and assuming annual filicide numbering around 3,000, the filicide rate for non-adoptive children is 0.075%. This shows that the filicide rate of non-adoptive families is ten times higher than the rate suffered by the Korean adoptees in the US.
The rate for the Korean adoptee filicide rate being much lower is probably due in part to the current system employed by the agencies in being able to assess, to the best of their ability, competent and stable parents, and without their efforts in this area, more children may have been hurt. This statistic alone is a testament to the current system, while not perfect, is much safer for adoptees than the children living with biological parents.
No amount of explanation can satisfy Hyunsu’s death. But adoption cannot be blamed as there are many adoptees whose adoption experiences have turned out positively. I was moved by one adult adoptee who eloquently stated, “If Hyunsu’s adoption is a reason to close the intercountry adoption program, then my adoption story should be a reason enough to continue.”
The adoption process has a long history of improvements and changes, but it is not a perfect process and as it can verify good parents ready for adoption, and it cannot uncover every bad parent. So while the adoption process is not perfect, improvements must be constantly made, especially through the lessons learned through this recent tragedy.
However, the recent mandate by the justice requiring a full battery of psychological test is an overkill, and this will only cause an extended delay for children who are already waiting at the expense of trying to glean out an additional 0.008% of bad parents.  Even the most stringent process will not glean out bad parents like Brian O’Callahan. The NSA could not.  It can never be perfect, and it will not guarantee a successful outcome, even in the future. This overkill will only hurt the children’s rights to be in their homes as they have already been waiting too long.