Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Door Finally Opens for the Children of the Baby Box to Families

The Door Finally Opens for the Children of the Baby Box to Families

The practice of sending the children of the Baby Box to institutions for 10 years has now been broken. They now have chance to be adopted and grow up in families.  

Mr. Oh Chang Hwa and his wife hold an infant baby from the Baby Box as they are new foster care parents. Rep. Kim Miae is next to his wife.

On August 11, 2021, a baby from the Baby Box was transferred over to a  new temporary foster family by the Seoul Child Protection Center (서울아동복지센타) to the  waiting arms Mr. and Mrs. Oh, Chang Hwa.  Mr. Oh is on the board of MPAK-Korea, and the leader for the Korean Adoptive Families Alliance (KAFA), the organization that made this new policy possible.

While the baby is under the care of the foster family, the Kwanak District will issue a temporary ID certifying the birth of the child, and a determination will be made to which agency the child will be assigned to be adopted.  Not sure whether the child will be available for intercountry adoption, but most likely not as there is no official document on birthparents' relinquishment decision.

Previously, once a baby is abandoned at the Baby Box, the police, under the direction of the Kwanak District takes the baby to the children's hospital for examination.  Once this is done the baby is transferred to the Seoul Child Protection Center. The Center then assigns the baby to an orphanage.  Once the baby is under the care of an orphanage, the orphanage director has the full custody rights and registers the baby's birth record with his him/her as the guardianship of the child.  When this happens, the baby is highly unlikely to be adopted as most of the orphanage directors are unwilling to give up the child for adoption for various reasons.  The baby is pretty much stuck in the orphanage until aging out at 18 or at most 24 (current law now enables an aging-out youths to voluntarily stay in their orphanage up to 24 years old, but free to emancipate after the age 18).

The problem with the old method was that there was a deliberate omission of the requirements in the law by the Kwanak District and the Seoul Child Protection Center to place higher priority in giving the chance to be in homes (either by foster care or by adoption) before sending them over to institutions. However, because of their carelessness and refusal to take additional steps necessary, they simply assigned the children into institutions as this was much simpler and easier to do.  They did not pay higher priority in handling these children to find homes, but simply reassigned them to institutions.  This  malpractice was investigated and discovered by Mr. Kim Ji Young, an adoptive father and the general manager at KAFA. 

Mr. Kim Ji Young, an adoptive father, whose hard-nosed investigation and tenacity laid the groundwork that made this possible

Mr. Kim took the matter to both the Kwanak District and to the Seoul Child Protection Center and challenged them of their negligence to place higher priority of allowing children to be in homes first before sending them over to institutions.  While the Kwanak District acknowledged the omission and agreed to fix the process, the Seoul Child Protection Center refused to acknowledge and continued to send children to institutions.  Mr. Kim then went to the Rep. Kim Miae and laid out the story of what was happening, and she agreed that something must be done about this.  Their solution was to meet with Mr. Oh Se Hoon, the mayor of Seoul.

Seoul's Mayor Oh Se Hoon accepts the proposal for the protection of the children from the Baby Box by Rep. Kim Miae

Rep. Kim Miae and Mr. Kim Ji Young met with the Mayor Oh on July 19, 2021, and together they concluded that both the Kwanak District and the Seoul Child Protection Center (both under the jurisdiction of Seoul) violated the due process and the Mayor decreed an order for both to follow the proper procedure of giving higher priority to place the children of the Baby Box to into families (foster or adoption) than to institutions.  This was especially important as the mayor Oh was just elected as the mayor of Seoul on April 7, 2021.  During the 10 years, there has been around 1300 babies sent to institutions with virtually no chance to be adopted. The other 600 or so babies have been reclaimed by the birthmothers after they were provided with counseling by the staff members at the Baby Box. 

Mr. Oh Chang Hwa and his wife are new foster parents as Rep. Kim looks on.

In the span of 10 years, 1300 children have lost their opportunity to homes of their own due to the negligence of the government workers that chosen easy way out to handle many babies that came through the Baby Box.  I'm almost in tears just thinking about these children.  I hope there is a way to reach back to these children of the earlier period and attempt to find families for them.   

Now that the children of the Baby Box will be given the higher priority to find families of their own, there is another hurdle to cross over. Finding the temporary foster families to take care of the babies, sometimes two to four weeks before they are assigned to the agencies and the babies will be taken care by their own network of foster parents until the children are adopted.

Thanks to Mr. Kim Ji Young for his hard-nosed efforts in making this possible, and thanks to Rep. Kim Miae and the Mayor Oh Se Hoon for their cooperative efforts to find a solution that should have been there all along.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Korean Government’s Dramatic Announcement to Help Aged-Out Orphans

 Korean Government’s Dramatic Announcement to Help Aged-Out Orphans

The Korean government made a dramatic announcement on July 13, 2021, on their plan to support the aged-out orphans by increasing the emancipation age limit from 18 to 24.  Having realized the great sufferings by the youths, the Korean government stated that the health and welfare of these youth is the responsibility of the government. 

Vice Minister Yang Sung-il of the Ministry of Health and Welfare making the dramatic announcement with a sign language interpreter in action.

The announcement was welcomed by all, especially those organizations that have for years advocated for such needs by being voices for the aged-out orphans.  Sunhan Mission, Brothers Keepers, Love Beyond the Orphanage, and the Oak Tree Project are few of many organizations that have sprung up in recent years giving voices to such youths. Great thanks to these organizations that have been instrumental in making greater awareness by public with increased media coverages that have helped to elevate the public awareness of such problems.

Each year there are approximately 2500 aged-out orphans leaving their respective institutions in Korea when they turn 18. And most of these orphans are unprepared to face the world.  They have been dependent on their orphanage care for most of their lives. They lived with what they were given without having to earn anything or work towards the goals of any kind.   Aging-out and being emancipated from orphanage systems require independent living where they must make decisions on their own.  They must fend for themselves to find living arrangements, get jobs, or get educated.  Most of them do not fare well, as they suffer the pressure to survive in the real world where they must look out for themselves.  Many boys turn to crime and girls to prostitution.  The result of this is that there are many unwanted pregnancies where the young mothers abandon or relinquish their babies for adoption or take them to institutions. And the cycle repeats again. For many orphans it is a vicious cycle they must suffer for not growing up in homes.  However, there are some success stories, but they are rare.

What stood out the most in the government data presented was the comparison of suicidal thoughts among the aged-out youth was 50% compared to a normal youth at 16.3%, thus the aged-out youths were 3 times more likely to think about suicide. 

The Korean government came up with six different areas of support to strengthen the youths from childhood protection to independent living:

Graphical representation of the government's roadmap to support the Aged-Out orphans in the future.
Source:  Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare

1) Increase the rights of the protected youths to stay in institutions up to the age 24 (instead of being forced out at 18) but make this voluntary as some youths may opt out earlier to live by themselves.

2) Become Companion by establishing Self-Reliance Support Center throughout Korea where the youths can turn to for help or assistance.

3) Strengthen the Pillar of Independent Living by ensuring adequate income and residential assistance. This is done by increasing the funds for aging-out orphans as follows:

a.       Emancipation funds to increase from a typical $5,000 per youth to $10,000.

b.       Steppingstone Bank Account for each outside donations made in a child’s name will be matched 2:1. For example if a child receives an outside donation of $100 per month, the government will kick in additional 200%, thus resulting in $300 each child per month.  If a child admitted into an institution as an infant and stays for 24 years, the child will have $300 x 12 months x 24 years = $86,400 by the time the person is emancipated.

c.       In addition to this generous program, once a youth is emancipated, he/she will get increase in the government support from three years to five years.  For instance, the typical government support at $300 per month for five years will amount to additional $18,000 by the time the youth turn 27.

d.       Housing Support – While this is not completely free, the housing support makes it very favorable for the youth to obtain and live with minimum affordable cost. The housing search will begin 8 months prior to emancipation and have it available by the time the youth separates.

e.       Bottomline:  While each child’s case would be different, it is likely that an emancipated youth may depart the orphanage with over $100,000 cash with affordable housing available.

     4) Support the gradual transition to future by providing exploration in academic and career opportunities and independent living. 

     5) Allow peace of mind by providing emotional and psychological support needs.

     6) Lay the foundation to support the independent living by establishing needed laws, change the terms related to aged-out youths, and create a better communication channels.

While the announcement by the Korean government is very welcome, and it is long overdue, and many orphan youths will benefit from this new program.

However, there are a few areas of concern which must be addressed now or later as the program progresses.

1.     The critical area of support is needed in youth mentoring as these youths have grown up since their childhood to adults without much personal guidance or individual care.  The emancipated orphans, even with abundance of funds and housing available, they are still living alone and need to turn to someone for guidance.

2.     The other critical area is the need for the youths to be properly trained and guided so that they can find appropriate jobs and hold onto them for long time.  This one is a challenge as many youths that began new jobs have often quit very easily or simply not show up to work with no prior notice.  The same is true of academics even when they are given the opportunities to get educated.  It is all too often among the orphan youths to quit their school without graduating.  They are simply not motivated to study or stimulated as they have no family members.  The biggest challenge is not in providing them with enough financial support, but helping them to be more responsible and know early on what is right from wrong.   

3.     If an orphan is emancipated with a housing and with such a large sum of money at hand, why would he/she be motivated to look for a job?  Getting an education at 27 is not very likely.  Therefore, a disbursement structure must be built in on how and under what condition the youth will receive the money.

4.     This program will be a temptation for some cunning biological parents to put their children into orphanages rather than raise them at homes.  By putting their children into orphanages, the parents do not have to foot the bills of raising their children.  By the time their children age-out of the orphanage system as youths, their children will have large sums of money and housing.  I pray no parents will choose to do this. A system must be in place to avoid this type of abuse.

      All in all, I believe this announcement by the government is a very welcoming for all the aged-out orphans that have struggled for years to survive.  At least their fear of being alone in the world with no support will be lessened. And that they will have more time to prepare to get educated and be prepared and trained to find jobs and stay on will truly help them to be independent.  If some type of systems can be put in place to avoid the pitfalls and abuses, the program can really work.  I believe this is a great start but a work in progress.  But most of all, this will be a path forward for all the emancipated orphans on the way to becoming successful and productive citizens in the community.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Korea’s Revised Adoption Process - On the Road to Socialism

NOTE of Clarification:  I am sorry for the confusion that this blog may have caused all the adoptive families in the adoption process.  This blog was not meant to scare any of those that are already in the process.  The adoptions that are currently in process will continue to be handled by the agencies.  Only the new adoptions that are taking place starting from July 1 will be affected. The only process that will be changed is the process block highlighted in 'red' in the figure below.  All the other processes are still being debated and no law has been passed on them yet.  Therefore the remaining processes are still being determined.  The process described here is what the Ministry of Health and Welfare is pushing for.  The agencies are not being closed.  They will continue to operate as the government will need to work with them. So there is no worry for those that are already in the process as your cases will not be disrupted by the changes.

- Steve Morrison


MOHW (Ministry of Health and Welfare) has recently announced their plan on the Revised Adoption Process, which clearly shows the path towards the government controlled Socialistic system.  The first portion of the change (the red block in the figure below), is to be enacted on July 1, 2021.

MOHW’s announcement basically states that majority of adoption duties performed by the agencies in the past will be taken over by MOHW and NCRC and the local government entities.

MOHW made the announcement only a month before its enactment. There was no discussions nor prior announcement on what they were planning to do. Even the members of KAFA (Korea Adoption Family Alliance) were caught in a surprise, and this happened behind their backs as they have been fighting against this for nearly three years.

The key Adoption Process Change Summary Proposed by MOHW and NCRC is supposedly to strengthen the responsibilities by the central and local government regarding decisions on adoptable children, protection, matching, and post adoption services.


What seems to have caused such a dramatic changes in the adoption process?  

There is a great amount of mistrust on the adoption agencies by the government and the public. The agencies had years of unfavorable media coverages due to a few adoptive children that died at the hands of adoptive parents, where the agencies were blamed for continued intercountry adoptions, and the agencies usually did not defend nor respond promptly to the critics. Strong campaign to get rid of adoption agencies by the anti-adoption organization groups is one of the main causes of this movement. But perhaps the greatest reason is due to the general political environment in Korea that has rapidly moved towards the Socialism by the Moon government.

Current media coverages of the adopted baby Jeong-in’s abuse and death by an adoptive parent certainly did not help, nor another abuse case brought two months later seem to have cemented the death of the agencies.

Adoptive family members of KAFA is putting up some fights to overturn the changes, but not sure how successful they will be. On the other processes, KAFA will continue to fight, especially in the areas of matching children with families, and on the post-adoption services.

The bad news of the government taking over the adoption duties from the agencies presents the following dangers:
  • There is absolutely no infrastructure established at MOHW, NCRC, and local government to do what they are seeking to do starting July 1, 2021. In the words of one of the officials I spoke with, it is typical for the government to enact the law first and then perform the jobs as they learn-as-they-go method.
  • All unwed mothers or birth mothers now must go through their local government offices to receive counseling or to give up their babies.
  • This will deter a significant number of birth mothers as they do not wish to meet strangers and receive counseling, nor the government staff will have the expertise to help the mothers.
  • This will result in greater number of abandonments, deaths, and the increased intake at the Baby Box.
  • Culturally this is not acceptable to expect the unwed mothers to report to the local government for their relinquishment desires or receive counseling from the local government staff.
  • Government staff lack adoption experience and expertise. It was these staff that put the policy plan together. It clearly shows their lack of insight and knowledge in putting this plan together.
  • Staff rotation of two to three years will not establish adoption expertise. New members will have to be educated and perform their duties short period of time before being re-assigned elsewhere. Thus presents a real danger keeping adoption expertise.
  • Lack of expertise and knowledge will cause excessive delays in decision making, thus prolonging further delays in adoption.
  • Perhaps the biggest issue would be the delays in placing children in homes as young as possible to avoid adjustment/bonding issues.
Bottom Line – Fewer children will be placed in homes. The law will put more children at risk.

Latest as of this posting on 6/17/21.

Rep. Kim Miae (김미애 의원) met with the MOHW minister Kwon Deok Cheol and asked some tough questions such as, 
"Have you even thought of the countless number of babies that will be impacted by your decision?" "If I was an unwed mother with an unplanned pregnancy, would I be able to get an appropriate counseling at a local government starting July 1st?"

This exchange is in Korean only.

The minister had very little to say, but only to say he will take all the questions and points made and review/examine further. This has got to be a very embarrassing moment for MOHW to drastically try to centralize all the adoption processes that the agencies have built for over 60 years and take them away. I admit that the agencies are not perfect. They make mistakes every now and then. However, there is no question the government's attempt to implement the socialized structure will only hurt the children. I wouldn't be surprised to hear the increased number of abandonments and more children being given up at the Baby Box.

But I wish to applaud Rep. Kim Miae for speaking out on behalf of the voiceless children.

The Solution is to let the adoption agencies do their jobs.  They are the experts in what they do with very little turn over – thus maintaining expertise. They are the people with compassion and mission to provide for homeless children. 
Change what’s lacking rather than a complete replacement with an unproven methods with no expertise.

Regarding the Baby Jeong-in
What happened to the baby Jeong-in should never have happened.  Recent tragedies with Jeong-in should be viewed as child abuse rather than as an issue with adoption. 
According to the MOHW Child Abuse and Neglect data from 2019 (see graphic below), of the 30,045 cases of child abuses reported in 2019, the Nonadoptive families’ abuses and deaths of children far outnumber those by adoptive families. 

Of all the abuses reported, 75.3% abuses is by biological families, Schools/Institutions abuse 16.6%, Relative abuse is 4.4%, Non-Family abuse is 2.2%, Others at 1.2%, and 0.3% by adoptive families.

Note: Data for 2020 or 2021 is not available. But it is believed that the reports of abuses increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic period. But the abuse by the adoptive families is still expected to be around 0.3%.

Where are all the people that protested against Jeong-in’s parents when there is no protest against the nonadoptive families that have committed much more abuses and significantly higher number of murders? Why the double the standard?

Why is it such a big issue when an abuse is with an adoptive family and not with biological families that commit abuses in significantly larger number? Why are the adoptive families judged with a different yardstick? 

Many adoptive parents have become sensitive as there have been reports of some local officials calling many adoptive families to check on them. This has hurt many adoptive parents as they are now looked on with some suspicion.  It's a hard time to be an adoptive family in Korea these days.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Movie "Forget Me Not - A Letter to My Mother" - My Perspective

I heard of this movie, "Forget Me Not - A Letter to My Mother" a month ago while I was in Korea. Here is an article on her interview.

When Sun Hee Engelstoft, a Korean-Danish filmmaker, decided to make a documentary in Korea, she had planned for it to be a happy tale about a young woman's journey to becoming a mother.  She had strong convictions that unwed mothers in Korea wanted to keep their children, but always ended up working out differently.

While this may be true for some unwed mothers, significant majority of unwed mothers really do not.  This is evidenced by so many babies being abandoned or given up for adoption even after multiple counseling and advices at the Baby Box and at the agencies. Even after two years after the initial adoption process, and being notified multiple times to take their babies back by the agencies, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the children's court, hundreds of unwed mothers do not want to take their children back.  Only a handful of them change their minds during the long process.

So her statement, "I’ve never met a woman who actually wanted to give away her child..." is her own statement, but in reality most unwed mothers do not want to keep their children. 

In truth, most women want to hide their child birth history as this will be a liability to them when they want to get married, or continue with their education or keep their job.  Of course the unacceptance by her family is definitely a reason.  Another reality is that there are many teen unwed mothers that are simply not  ready to be mothers or don't want to.  For most unwed mothers, they simply want to get out of the burdens.

What's interesting is that Ms. Engelstoft's birth mother didn't want to meet with her because the birth mother wanted to remain anonymous.  I feel so bad for Ms. Engelstoft for having been rejected, but this is not unusual.  Of all the contacts made with birth parents by adoptees searching for them, around 30% of the birth parents do not wish to meet their birth children.  The birth parents, in most cases have married with children and moved on.  They do not want their past history to come back and risk their existing families and relationships.

Perhaps the biggest drawback with this movie is that she is just one-sided in terms of her view of adoption.  Ms. Engelstoft should have met and spoke with many other women that have given up their babies, and this would have helped her to look at a broader perspective in terms of the complexities involved in unwed mothers that give up their babies. Her problem is that she wants to portray all unwed mothers as women that want to keep their babies, but in reality this is far from the truth. 

As for her, she should have considered what would have been the alternative if she had not been adopted. She most likely would have wound up in an orphanage, suffer the lack of parental love and care, and experience the loss of emotional support and the loss of stimulus for  the development of intellect and education (it is a well known fact that children that  grow up in institutions suffer delayed mental and emotional development).  

She would be labeled as an orphan, ridiculed by her peers in school, and face discrimination from the society, and would be forced out of the system at age 18 and live the rest of her lives with so much struggle and loss.  

Her other statement, "“instead of building on the infrastructure, supporting their population and taking care of our own children, they have been sending the problems away.” is a naïve statement, or a willful rejection of reality to fit her narrative against intercountry adoption.  The true reality of the infrastructure in Korea is that if you don't get adopted, you go into an orphanage.  Would she have preferred this instead?  

It is so unfortunate that during the eight years of making this film, she has not even attempted to understand the hearts of the thousands of orphans in institutions that long for families of their own. I still remember visiting an orphanage and in my conversation with the orphans there I asked the question, who among you would like to be adopted?  Without a single exception every one of the children raised their hands. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Let Us Meet At SEOUL - Meet Me Via Zoom

I am honored and privileged to be a guest speaker at "Let Us Meet At SEOUL" - a program by Rev. Sung Chul Park of the Korean Adoptees Ministry (KAM). I will share my adoption story and the current development/happenings on the intercountry adoption law in Korea. This is followed by a demonstration on making "Bibimbap", a delicious Korean dish that is widely gaining world attention.

The Program is scheduled for June 19th (Saturday) at 1 PM PST, 2 PM MST, 3 PM CST, and 4 PM EST.
Below is the Zoom information:
ID: 88539565487

Hope to meet many of you at the meeting.

-Steve Morrison