Last week the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare came out with a press release as they move toward ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The small but mighty group of Korean adoptees working in Korea and the many who support them Stateside declared this to be a document worth many thanks. Here in New York, I am skeptically saying thanks.
In reading the translation of this press release, I am left with tons of questions and lots of curiosity. Just how does Korea think she will honestly, transparently and fruitfully fulfill on her words. All these services outlined, who will do this work? What will their biases be? There aren’t enough social workers in Korea to meet all these demands. My own experience in social work school and talking to my fellow Korean international students, not a one was going back to Korea to provide clinical services, nor had much interest in child welfare issues. None were curious about adoption, family work, family preservation or institutionalization. Those who expressed interest were not going back to Korea, they were staying here to get more training and do clinical work here in English.
I am left wondering if we really think we will get all that is promised in this document? Are we setting ourselves up? The Hague Convention does little to address the growing need for full post-adoption services. We can’t even hold our own country accountable for the patchwork quilt we call PAS. Dare I join in the celebration when all I could do was sigh a sad sigh? The group of adoptees in Korea pales in comparison to the tens of thousands overseas. For most it remains an impossibility to go to Korea, look at their records and gain cultural competence. For most, the journey of understanding their adoption must be done in the context of living overseas. Organizations like the Overseas Koreans Foundation has dismantled the ability for Korean Adoptee organizations to seek funding for their work. If such a foundation doesn’t recognize Korean adoptees as overseas Koreans, then this new statement is useless to me and countless others who cannot or will not live in Korea and consider themselves Korean Americans.
If search and reunion and access to full files by US agencies remain inconsistent, how do I expect to trust a country to be their word when they consistently fail to respond to an adoptee sitting across the table from them in tears asking for more information? Taking these records away from the agencies in Korea means that bureaucrats will be the gatekeepers of this invaluable information?
All of this boils down to money. Is there enough money for PAS, family preservation and subsidies to increase aid to unwed women who want to parent their children? Will PR really work to raise the numbers of domestic adoptions? Ratifying the Hague will not change the antiquated system of educating and supporting children adopted domestically.
There is one glaring omission in this translation. What will happen to the children still in care, in orphanages, in foster homes, in crisis from being separated from their families. I would like to believe this statement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is more than just making amends for the past, but also looking at a way to fundamentally change the way Korea views international adoption, domestic adoption and child care now and in the future. There will always be vulnerable children. There will always be a need for adoption and a system that responds to the need to care for children not in their families of origin. Anecdotally, I am seeing older children adopted from Korea and the amount of services and assistance families need to care for them is mounting. These are not children that Korean families are willing to adopt.
I acknowledge the Ministry for a beautiful document with words of promise and an attempt to meet the demands of adult adoptees seeking change. Included is the step forward toward ratification of the Hague Convention, something that I think South Korea is long overdue in pursuing. But like the Hague, we have come to see that no one document will change the perception of how adoptions should be conducted or how the records of the children soon to be adults, whose lives fundamentally change from adoption, should be preserved or honored. Now many years later, we in the US have come to realize that that there remain many more concerns and still children in questionable adoptive homes with more in-care waiting for a change in their future. But if the simple acknowledgement was what we needed, then I suppose this press release is a great first.
I realize all of this sounds like I have a case of “Monday morning quarterbacking.” I am not in Korea challenging, toiling and advocating. I fully realize the sacrifice it takes to do that and I selfishly covet my life here as a mother (then a social worker) just living life. But I am not idly wanting either, waiting for others to do the work for me. I hope these words will penetrate in some small fashion as my peers move forward in seeing these promises come to action.
I am taking this goodwill seriously though. For the likes of Jane Jeong Trenka to believe this is great, then I am willing to stay engaged but not feeling so generous with my thanks. My soju is still in the fridge.