January 28, 2009

Identifying Unethical Adoption Agencies 101

First, a PSA: New post up at Anti-Racist Parent. Please go over, read it and share your thoughts there. And while you're there, check out all of outstanding posts by ARP's contributors and staff.

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Many thanks to Mia for sharing this information.

A adoption agency maintains two websites. One, whose name makes it clear that adoption is their goal, has a photo of a pregnant woman in its header captioned with the words The Greatest Gift of Love. The other shows a picture of a blissfully sleeping baby, and has the words Helping Couples on their Adoption Journey as its tagline. The website's designs and styles make it clear that they work in tandem, a joint effort targeting pregnant women and couples seeking to adopt.

The site targeting pregnant women offers them these services:
  • We offer a toll-free phone number where our staff is available to you 24 hours a day/7 days a week- 1-800-807-0848.
  • We can assist you in making a personal adoption plan. We realize that you want to provide the best life for your baby and we can help you do that.
  • We will support you during your pregnancy and birth of your baby. We will offer you counseling, medical care and legal assistance.
  • We have a caring, supportive, and dedicated staff that desires to give you the respect and level of service you deserve.
The one focused on adoptive parents offers this :
    1. *NEW* Caucasian/African-American Boy, 2/10/09, UT, $23K + potential medical expenses, *BM used marijuana during pregnancy and wants open adoption with poss visits
    2. *NEW* African-America/Hispanic Girl, 2/28/09, Maryland, $20K, Alcohol exp during pregnancy
    3. *NEW* Caucasian/Hispanic Unk Gender, $35K, May
    4. Caucasian Unk Gender, $37K, June
    5. Caucasian/African-American Boy, $30-35K, Apr
    6. Caucasian/African-American Boy, $30-35K, June
    7. African-American Boy, 2/23/09, $20K, GA
    8. African-American Girl, 3/10/09, $20K, AL
    9. African-American Boy, 3/13/09, $20K, GA
    10. African-American Boy, 3/25/09, $24, UT
    11. African-American Girl, 4/11/09, $24K, UT
It also offers a sliding scale for its adoption services:

Minority Adoption Program Services:

  • Personal Adoption Consultant that will guide you through your adoption from start to finish
  • Discounted Home Study Fees* (Minority Adoption Program savings of $250.00)
  • Discounted Family Profile Services (Minority Adoption Program savings of $200.00)
  • Discounted Consulting Services and access to our nation wide agency network (10% off all consulting services- except Do It Yourself Consulting Package- $100 off)
Please go over and take a look, first from the point of view of a frightened, pregnant woman, and then from that of a prospective adoptive parent. I did, and here are a few of the things that kind of smacked me in the face. They would send me running to the hills if I were looking for pregnancy counseling or adoption services:
  • I saw no mention of 501c3 status, which if correct would mean these are for-profit agencies.
  • Beyond the licenses these agencies claim to possess, I saw no affiliations or connections to any reputable non-profit adoption organization, nor any reference to any involvement with the wider adoption ethics community.
  • Language on both sites, and particularly the clearly-worded names of the agencies and the taglines The Greatest Gift of Love and Helping Couples on their Adoption Journey, make it clear that the end goal of any pregnancy counseling is adoption.
  • Pregnancy services appear to offer support for medical fees for pregnancy and support.
  • I did not see a fee breakdown anywhere, although it could be buried on one of the pages I didn't see.
  • Photos of pregnant women on both sites are either generally faceless or avoid direct eye contact. What appears to be a post-adoption photo of a young woman who has used this agency's services shows her with books in hand and smiling, and is placed next to a paragraph that talks to her "hopes and dreams." This use of photos dehumanizes the pregnant woman and skews her decision toward adoption, which is presented as the way for her to achieve non-related goals.
  • Photos of prospective adoptive parents and staff are of smiling faces making direct contact. Photos on the site targeting prospective adoptive parents are largely of babies.
  • No post-adoption support are offered for mothers, adoptees or adoptive families.
  • Fee scales differentiate prospective adoptive parents by race, rather than income.
  • Fees for advertised "situations" are applied on a per-child basis, and are also differentiated by race, with African American children offered at lower rates than white children.
All this from just a cursory scan of the websites. I'll give these folks credit for one thing, though: they really get coercion. It's packaged so slickly that you can see how easily a pregnant woman or new prospective adoptive parent could be drawn in. But openly price-tagging children? And charging by race? Even if this agency's goal is to make it possible for lower income PAPs (which in their minds may equal minorities) to adopt, this is NOT the way to make it possible.

As long as dollars change hands in adoption, we have to be vigilant to the potential for abuses that could lead to human trafficking. Although I'm jaded enough to believe that there are plenty of agencies that purposely use this potential to their advantage and for their profit, I also believe that even well-meaning agencies can become complacent and leave the door open to the very corruption they are trying to avoid.

I therefore sent an example of the fees on this agency's site, which are there for the public to see, to the Change.gov "share your ideas" site. Although adoption reform isn't at the top of the new administration's to-do list, you never know when you might reach someone with an open mind and willing ear.

January 27, 2009

Korean adoption abuse cases ignored

Many thanks to Mirjam for alerting me to this article in the Korea Times: US Schools Here Blind to Adoption Abuse Cases. It led me to another by the same author from last December: Adoption Abused for Enrollment in Schools at US Military Camp. Both are eye-opening.

We APs of Korean kids have had a tendency sometimes to think that adoption from Korea is above reproach. Korean adoption practices have long been held up as the standard by which other transnational adoptions should be conducted, a fact that has been no small draw to Korea for many prospective adoptive parents. When Third Dad and I were making the decision to adopt, this perception definitely influenced us; I remember the word often used to describe Korean adoption practices back then: sterling.

Sadly, if these articles are based in fact, sterling takes on a whole new meaning. When stories began breaking several years ago that Koreans were paying Americans to adopt their children to make it possible for them to attend U.S. schools, I realized that the potential for corruption in Korean adoption stretches far beyond the agency-facilitated adoptions with which most of us are familiar - and they have plenty of irregularities of their own, too.

The involvement of dollars in adoption makes the line between ethical and unethical practices incredibly fine. The longer I ponder the best way to make adoption ethical, the clearer it is to me that dollars need to be removed from the equation. That, however, is unlikely to happen anytime soon, which makes it that much more important for us to add our voices to those crying foul when abuses like these come to light.

US Schools Here Blind to Adoption Abuse Cases

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporter

The United States Forces Korea (USFK) has turned a blind eye to allegations that U.S. base personnel have adopted Korean children who wish to attend American schools in army bases in exchange for money and other irregularities.

Following a Korea Times report on Dec. 8, the USFK had said it would look into the abuse of adoption by Americans working at military bases here.

Asked whether it plans to investigate the allegations, Dave Palmer, chief of the USFK's public affairs office, said, "We have physically no role in the process over somebody doing an adoption. We don't know if there is anything wrong.

"The adoptions are approved by your nation and our nation. Far above you and me. If the adoptions are approved then they are fit to enter school."

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) has not yet decided whether it will investigate the accusation, saying it doesn't have enough manpower in Korea.

According to some parents and school staff, there have been complaints related to their inability to get "legitimate"' children into Department of Defense (DoD) Dependent Schools due to them being overcrowded with Korean students.

Asked about the number of adopted Korean students, the Seoul American High School, one of the DoD schools, said the information was protected by the Privacy Act, which is a U.S. Federal Law that limits the amount of information the U.S. government can release from official records regarding an individual without their permission.

"Adoption is a very sensitive issue and we do not keep demographic data files on students who have been adopted. Students who meet the registration requirements for admission are not treated differently because of their race, religion, ethnic background or birth status,'" said Robert E. Sennett, principal of Seoul American High School.

According to a broker, a female working at the U.S. camp in Yongsan garrison was willing to adopt a Korean child for 200 million won ($146,000). She recently adopted her nephew to ensure his education at a DoD school. The broker did the documentation work as an agent during that adoption.

The adopted children can obtain a Green Card and then U.S. citizenship, normally in three years. It is already widely known that many Korean parents send their children to the United States for adoption because they can then get an American education cheaper and avoid obligatory military duty in the case of males.

Established in 1946, DoD schools are supposed to provide education for the children of American military and DoD employees stationed overseas. There are a total of eight DoD schools in Korea, across Seoul, Daegu, Osan, Pyongtaek and Jinhae.

Command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians with orders to Korea have priority for enrollment in the schools, which charge some $20,000 per year in tuition. Command-sponsored dependents and DoD civilians and non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military personnel attend free of charge.

The Korean government sets aside a large amount of taxpayers' money to maintain U.S. troops here, and this year plans to provide about 760 billion won to the USFK.


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Adoption Abused for Enrollment in Schools at US Military Camp

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporter

An increasing number of Korean parents have their children adopted by Americans working for the U.S. military to enroll them at American schools on army bases, according to parents and school staff.

They say the number of adopted Korean students has recently risen at the Seoul American High School (SAHS), a Department of Defense (DoD) Dependent School at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul.

“Recently, I saw a sharp rise in the number of adopted Korean students coming to this school. Korean people are very clever, so they do whatever is necessary for the education of their children,'' said a 40-year-old mother of two children in the 9th and 10th grades at the school. “If you visit immigration agencies in Itaewon, you can find many Koreans trying to have their children adopted by foreigners for education,''
added the woman, who declined to be named.

The school's students and teachers also admitted to the rise in the number of adopted students.

According to the school, about 670 dependents of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Civilian Personnel assigned to Seoul attend the federal public school. Among them, nearly 30 percent are Asians, mostly Korean.

Asked about the deliberately adopted Koreans who attend the school, Assistant Principal Bernard Hipplewith said, “We have some (adopted Koreans) here. Yes, we have quite a few of them. I don't think we don't have huge problems with them.''

DoD schools were established in 1946 to provide education from kindergarten through grade 12 for the children of American military and Department of Defense (DoD) personnel stationed overseas. Korea has a total of eight DoD schools in Seoul, Daegu, Osan, Pyongtaek and Jinhae.

Some immigration agents in Itaewon work as brokers between Korean parents and Americans.

An immigration agent who has worked in the business since 1974 said many Koreans who have foreign relatives usually have their children adopted by uncles and aunts who hold foreign passports.

“More than 90 percent of my customers wish to send their children to English-speaking schools. I handle three to nine cases per month,'' the agent said. He says he charges some two million won per case as commission.

He said fees parents pay to guardians differ widely. “When not related to the guardian, the fee depends on how much the guardian requests. Usually, you need to pay step by step when you obtain either U.S. residency or citizenship.''

He said it could easily exceed 200 million won ($150,000). He said it generally takes two-and-half years for an adopted child to get a Green Card post-adoption and another six months to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Moreover, the agent said he has witnessed many children, via “fake adoption,'' enter other international schools in the area, with many Korean university professors among his main customers.

Eligible applicants to such schools are categorized into four types; Command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians with orders to Korea and representatives of federally connected contractors; Dependents whose sponsors are employees of the State Department and other U.S. governmental agencies, the Red Cross, USO, and representatives of federally connected contractors; Non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military; Dependents of private U.S. citizens (including
retired U.S. military) and citizens of foreign countries.

The schools charge some $20,000 in yearly tuition, but command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians and non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military attend free of charge.

An international schoolteacher there hinted many children adopted by Americans are attending elementary and middle schools. Considering other U.S. military schools outside Seoul, the number of such children could easily be much larger.

A Korean staff member at the school said, “You know some irregularities always exist wherever you go.''

The Seoul Central District Court sees such irregularities as possible causes of legal disputes. “Fake adoption for other purposes from Korean parents who are able to look after their children could be legally problematic and there are cases in which courts cancel such adoptions,'' said a judge from a family court in Seoul.

“It could mean the fabrication of documents and abuse of adoption. But we need to take a closer look at cases of international adoption.''

Adoption agencies also expressed concerns. “This kind of fake adoption could only happen in Korea. A child can be a member of a new family via adoption. We need to think about the meaning and values of family and should know how it influences children when they are removed from their original family registry,'' said Kim Eun-hee, a spokeswoman of Holt Children's Services, a non-profit organization that facilitates domestic and international adoptions. “At the same time, Korean courts need to thoroughly scrutinize adoption hopefuls, as in other countries, to prevent abuse of the system.''


January 26, 2009

Sae Hae Bok Mani Baduseyo & other stuff

Sae Hae Bok Mani Baduseyo! That is, Happy New Year, or many blessings to you at the new year!

It is, of course, Lunar New Year, and in Asian communities across the country and around the world, people are welcoming the Year of the Ox. It's an auspicious year for Third Dad and me, as we celebrate hwangap this year, which I think I mentioned in a previous post: it means you've finished five cycles of the 12-year zodiac, which also means both Third Dad and I were born in an Ox year. You do the math.

Korean Focus is in the middle of planning for our annual New Year Celebration, which we co-sponsor with a local Korean church. It's grown to be one of the best Korean new year parties in the DC area, with 350 to 400 people typically attending, tons of activities for kids and adults, great food, Korean items for sale, and lots of socializing. I think this is our 15th anniversary, no small accomplishment for Korean Focus and for the volunteers in the Korean community who have supported this event through the years. If you know any Korean American or adoptive families in the DC area who might be interested in attending, please feel free to pass this information on.

The new year fervor that incites me to clean closets and throw away junk continues, but has moved into cyberland. I did a lot of soul-searching over the weekend, and have come to the conclusion that I simply can't keep up with the online presence most of you are able to maintain so easily. I have to maintain the Korean Focus website and eBulletin, I want to blog here, and I enjoy Facebook. My other blog and Twitter were the straws breaking the camel's back, so I've pulled out of Twitter and have taken Fourth House on the Left offline. I never really spent much time doing either of these, but they were things that took my attention away from other things I should be doing, at home and for KF. One good thing came from my adventure into Twitterland: I learned where my breaking point lies, and also realized that I was able to pull back when I saw it interfering with things I HAVE to do. I'd still like to do a more general blog some day and go back to blogging memories of the kids, so I didn't delete Fourth House, I just took it offline like I did Komapseumnida. Some day, when I've retired maybe, they'll be there waiting.

At the moment, however, I have to focus. And right now I'm focusing on getting some sleep. I've also figured out that sleep deprivation has been wreaking havoc on my body and brain, so this year sleep is a priority. Amazing how much better everything functions when it's had enough rest!

January 25, 2009

The experience of a lifetime

It's hard to know how to start this post, except to say that Tuesday, January 20th, which I spent on the National Mall participating in the inauguration of Barack Obama, was the experience of a lifetime. The emotions of the day haven't faded too much yet, they're still very close to the surface, even though the work of digging our country out of the hole the past administration pushed us into has begun in earnest. You can already hear the veiled and not-so-veiled criticisms of Barack Obama's decisions on the news, and the hate-mongers are back at their posts spewing their venom. But I still feel the glow of the goodwill and hope that blanketed the Mall on Tuesday. I hope it will be with me for a long, long time.

A good friend had come down from Chicago for the event and stayed with us on Monday and Tuesday night. After his arrival on Monday evening, we went to bed fairly early to get as much rest as possible before what we knew would be a long day, and were up early on Tuesday, from excitement as well as the need to get on Metro early. My friend was participating in a documentary about people who traveled to DC for the event, so we were met early by the young man, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, who would be doing the filming. Third Dad drove the three of us to the closest Metro to our house, which happens to be the Virginia end of the yellow line - perfect, since our plan was to get off at L'Enfant Plaza and then walk over the Mall.

Well, the crowds simply exceeded the square footage of the station, and with the stations on and near the Mall closed for security reasons, the closest station at which we were allowed to exit was Chinatown. So along with thousands of others from our train and those before us, we exited the station and started the trek down to the Mall.

It was cold, but honestly with three layers of close and a day blessed with brilliant sunshine, it wasn't bad at all as long as you stayed on the sunny side of the street and kept moving. We zig-zagged our way back toward the Capitol, and finally ended up around Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd St. NW. Unfortunately, upon asking a policeman where our best chance of getting onto the Mall might be, he told us that there was no chance from the Pennsylvania Avenue side, and suggested that we walk back around the Capitol to the Independence Avenue side to try our luck there.

Which is what we did, heading first up to 2nd St., then down 2nd until we hit Independence, and down to the Mall from there. The mood of those with whom we walked was festive. We passed a couple of protests, but honestly, no one paid attention. It was day when, for once, the voices of doom and the naysayers weren't getting the bully pulpit. But people weren't overly gregarious, either. It was kind of like everyone was exhaling, all at the same time and all for the same reason.

Once we reached the Mall on the other side, we tried getting on near the Native American Museum, but by then (it was nearing 11:30) even ticket-holders were being blocked. It was simply too crowded; the Mall is, after all, a finite space. And so, just a couple of minutes before 11:30 AM, we found a perch at 1st St. SW and Independence near the Botanical Gardens, from which we had a distant but clear shot of the Capitol and the viewing stand.

From this vantage point we were able to hear anything loud, like the announcements and Aretha - holy smokes, she was amazing! - and the roar of the crowd. We needed the help of radios (God bless the lovely woman who loaned me an earbud so I could share her iPod!) for the quieter moments, such as the swearing in itself and Barack Obama's speech. When Joe Biden was sworn in, everyone near me yelled No more Cheney! at almost the same time, which of course led to lots of laughter.

I'll never forget the moment when Barack Obama was sworn in. There was a little lag between the audio system on the Mall and the radios, so we could hear the crowd screaming before the oath had been administered over the airways. And then we started, too - cheering, shouting, crying, hugging strangers - we all just jumped and screamed and let the tears roll. There was so much history and so much relief in that moment - I'll never forget it, ever.

When the ceremony was over, my friend and I headed back to the Native American Museum to see if the rumors that the museums were open were true, and indeed they were. They were also offering free hot chocolate, which cold as we were after standing up on the hill for nearly 45 minutes (which was really the only time we were cold) was a welcome treat. We had a cup, rested a bit, and then ventured out onto the Mall itself, which by then had already pretty much emptied out. After snapping a few photos (including the one at the top of this post,) we headed back to try to catch a train back up to Capital Hill to join friends for lunch.

We should have know that THAT wouldn't happen for a long time. Thousands of people immediately headed for Metro, and I learned later that waits were two to three hours. Fortunately, we had the sense to just start walking, and in little more than half an hour we were on the Hill with his friends.

My pictures don't do it all justice. I wish I could convey the magnitude of the crowds and the emotions as I experienced them, but I hope this post gives you a little taste of it. As I mentioned in my last post, if you're on Facebook, I've got more photos there.

So now we go back to our everyday lives, but with this new President we've elected. And even though we're already back to politics as usual, I for one have hope again that we can surmount the challenges that face us. And I have the emotions of Tuesday to keep my hope alive.

January 21, 2009

Amazing, exciting, exhilarating day

Reflections on spending yesterday on the Mall will follow, but in the meantime I'll share that being there was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. As someone interviewed on NPR this morning said, we didn't just see it, we felt it with all of our senses. It was simply wonderful.

I've uploaded a few photos to Facebook if you're there.

January 16, 2009

Somehow I know Julia would support this

Erica Murray was a young Asian American woman who succumbed to leukemia on December 4th. Bone Dry will document her battle with the disease and her effort to find a Eurasian marrow match. It's being produced by Global Narratives; you can find more information about the project on their website. If you live in the Sacramento, California area, consider attending a fundraiser for the project, which will include a showing of the IMAX movie Everest and a bone marrow donor registration drive. If you live somewhere else, you can still support the project by donating online.

January 15, 2009

Election day robbery

It is absolutely time to end adoption practices that prevent adoption and fostering by gay and lesbian people. I am so, so tired of hearing news like this, where narrow-minded opinions close the door on a family to children who might otherwise be able to grow up in one. I'm tired of watching the struggles of my gay and lesbian friends to form families where laws have been created to tear them apart. When I say "form families" here, I mean it in the sense of developing bonds as respected as those we take for granted in two-parent heterosexual families - not in the sense of "family building" as we often see it in adoption, where it signifies entitlement to adopt by choice or as an alternative to infertility.

I applaud the work that Adam Pertman and the staff of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute are doing to raise awareness about this issue.

Election day robbery

For many boys and girls, Election Day did not bring new hope; it robbed them of it.

That was certainly the case in Arkansas, where voters decided to slash the number of families available to provide safe, caring homes for abused and neglected children languishing in the state's foster care system. They did that by approving a referendum — aimed squarely at gays and lesbians — prohibiting unmarried, cohabiting couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents.

Viewed through the prism of what best serves the interests of children who need homes, the debate about gay and lesbian parenting (within or outside of marriage) is not a close call. The research is clear: Children grow up far better in families than in temporary care or institutions, and their outcomes are comparable whether their parents are straight or gay.

A new report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, “Expanding Resources for Waiting Children,” which I head, points out some critical facts:
  • About 129,000 children in foster care are legally free for adoption, and not enough adults are filling the need in any state; the 25,000 who “age out” of the system each year face a very high risk of negative outcomes such as homelessness, poverty, incarceration and early parenthood.
  • Gays and lesbians, studies show, are more willing to adopt children with special needs — which most boys and girls in foster care have — than are heterosexuals.
  • Adoption from foster care yields between $3.3 billion and $6.3 billion in savings nationally each year, while a nationwide ban on foster parenting by gays and lesbians would add $87 million to $130 million in total costs for states to find other caretakers.
The report suggests that joint adoption (when both parents adopt at the same time) and second-parent adoption (when a partner or spouse later adopts the child) should expand from the handful of states where they are currently permitted for gays and lesbians to become the norm from coast to coast. The arguments for doing so are based principally on the benefits to children, ranging from health insurance to legal protections to the emotional security of feeling part of a “normal” family.

Because these arguments apply to marriage as well, many child advocates are concerned about the results of Nov. 4 voting in California, Florida and Arizona to allow only heterosexuals to marry. But the most direct, problematic result for children that day clearly took place in Arkansas.

While the referendum was aimed at gays and lesbians, it also removes qualified cohabitating heterosexuals from the pool of prospective adoptive parents. It is an audacious action that undermines the prospects for needy children to get homes, made all the more unnerving by reports that its advocates plan to build on their “success” by working to repeat it in other states.

Whatever anyone may believe personally about parenting by lesbians, gay men
and unmarried heterosexual couples, can it really be acceptable for some children, by law, to be granted less of a shot in life than others? Most troubling, can it really be true that there are people who think a child is better off with no parents than ones who are living together outside of traditional marriage?

On the eve of a new presidency, if we as a nation are to bring real hope to vulnerable boys and girls who have so little of it, we need to finally address those troubling questions.

Adam Pertman is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. Originally published in the Arkansas Times.

EBD publications on gay and lesbian adoption can be found here.

Ridiculously OT, but I think it was funny

I was commenting on a blog yesterday and eating a Ferrero Rocher and a biscotti at the same time. Guess what the verification word was?


Yeah, talk about a kick in the pants!

January 14, 2009

What's in my heart?

I found a blog not long ago that has quickly become a favorite: Blackbelt Oma. In graceful language, Oma writes about anything and everything, with a wry, but never cynical, sense of humor. I love her voice.

Oma writes a lot about her son, Boo. That nickname caught my eye because it’s one of many we’ve given to our son. For some strange reason, we’ve created nicknames for our kids in pairs: Boo and Moo; Bug and Duck; Angelface and Monkeyface; Goober and Goofus; Big Guy and Stinky. Some of these are horrible, I know, but there you go. To us, they're all terms of endearment, and so far the kids haven't protested.

Oma stopped by and left a comment on the post I wrote yesterday about a little tiff I had with The Boy on Sunday that got me thinking about how gratitude becomes so tangled up with adoption. Her question: I was wondering why you didn't tell him the truth of what was in your heart.

This morning I was reading a series of posts at Dawn’s – here and here - that you must read. They’re wonderful, for Dawn’s wisdom and for the discussion that followed them. But honestly, I struggled through the dialog and could think of nothing to add, save a lame remark intended primarily to acknowledge I’d been there and read. With every point and counterpoint, the only thing that kept going through my head was Tell the truth of what’s in your heart.

What’s in my heart at the moment is complex. There’s my belief that we – meaning first parents, adoptees and adoptive parents – can actually influence and change adoption for the better. From unbiased pregnancy counseling and support, to stopping unethical adoption agencies, opening adoption records, and improving attitudes toward adoption, I believe in my heart that we who live adoption can do it. Yes, I believe that with all my heart.

One comment in particular, written by a blogger I love, stopped me:

It is ironic that adoption makes more sense to me when it is done by people
just blindly grabbing at a baby, lost in fantasy, I mean obviously that will be
harmful for the child but smart people trying to do it “right” only brings into
sharp relief how truly bizarre/harmful the whole situation is.

I understand what Joy is saying, at least I think I do. When we adoptive parents step back from the joy we experience, and look at adoption objectively (at least as objectively as we can,) we have to say that it’s bizarre. It’s bizarre that we infertiles consider adoption as infertility treatment - and let me tell you, I truly believed the "win-win-win" of that for a long, long time. Or, how do we think we can eradicate our children’s pasts with new names, closed records and demands to be their one-and-only mothers and fathers? Sometimes I think the worst thing of all is the way we turn against the very children we’ve adopted with our “angry adoptee” comments in forums and such. Yes, when you step away and consider it objectively, adoption IS bizarre, no matter how hard we work to prove to the world that our families are as unremarkable as any others.

But what’s in my heart?

Well, this is a problem. Although my head believes every word in that paragraph above, my heart is telling me something different: I love my children beyond reason, and I love the family we've created together. I long desperately for them to know their mothers and fathers, and selfishly long to know them, too. I’m sad, incredibly sad, that the losses will be with them throughout their lives. I’m thankful that they’ve been able to work through the issues that adoption has presented them, to this point in their lives anyway. And I’m hopeful for their futures.

These emotions, even the sorrow, soothe, and make me want to run away from the adoption world, bury myself in my family, and protect them from the ugliness of adoption’s cold hard truths. My head and heart seem to have diverged, with each running along a separate track that leads to different, contradictory ends. Reconciling the two no longer seems possible.

But as I poise myself to run, my head reminds me that there’s work to do, and so I stay. I’ve come to realize that this impossible situation is at the root of my inability to say anything of value about adoption anymore. The hypocrisy of working for change and loving my children so much has become almost too painful to face. And so I read and think and feel, but the words stay barricaded in my head.

January 13, 2009

Gratitude and adoption

The Boy went back to college yesterday. I always feel melancholy when he heads back, although he has become downright blasé about it. I think this means he’s growing up. I also think it means I've got a case of early-onset empty-nest syndrome.

We had a little tiff on Sunday that got me thinking about the issue of gratitude in adoption. Third Dad and The Girl were out of town this weekend, and since they weren’t returning until very late Sunday night, I thought it would be nice for The Boy and me to go out for dinner. He was good with that. When he woke up on Sunday morning, I reminded him, and we decided to go to Mass at 5 and dinner afterward. I asked him to pick a restaurant, and figured between noon (he’s a late riser) and 5, he would.

On the way out of the church parking lot after Mass, I asked him again where we were going. “I don’t know,” he replied. So I started throwing out suggestions, and one after the other they were declined. Pretty soon “sit down restaurants” were categorically dismissed, then “fast food.” Um, what’s left after that?

“I’m not hungry and I really don’t want to eat anything” came next. “What’s the big deal about going out to dinner anyway?” “It’s your last night home for several months and I wanted to treat you,” I replied. And off we went.

At one point I found myself retreating to the argument that, even though going out was no big deal to him, it was to me – the reasons being that I wanted him to have a nice meal that night, that I would miss him when he was gone, and also that I’d made no plans for dinner and frankly didn’t want to cook. “You know,” I told him, “I work hard all week so you and The Girl can have and do what you want. Would it have killed you to pick a restaurant and spend an hour with me before you went back?”

Although I didn’t use the g-word, I was clearly talking about gratitude. Adoption wasn’t in the mix at all – this was a plain old “look at everything I do for you” guilt trip. But if you are an adoptee struggling to find your identity, a parental guilt trip like the one I laid on The Boy could look and feel very different, like a string attached to your adoption. And adoption should have no strings attached.

Now, if you’re a hard-working parent, ANYTHING that might motivate your kids to help a little more and be a little more attentive to your efforts may seem like a good thing. So a little motivation-by-guilt may seem like a good idea from time to time. But at what cost?

Think of a time when someone made you feel you should be grateful for something you didn’t ask for or didn’t like. I can think of a good example, brought to me by one of my husband’s friends. She’s a lovely Korean American woman who enjoys cooking, but has no one to cook for. Her husband’s health prevents him from eating her specialties and her daughter doesn’t live at home. So she’s started giving Third Dad the fruits of her labors. Sometimes she gives him things no one in our family likes; sometimes she just gives him too much. He eats what he likes and ignores the rest, so I have to figure out where to store it and what to do with the leftovers. I feel terrible that I’m not grateful, and frustrated that we’ve been forced to throw some of it away. It’s a lousy feeling.

Now, what if the cause of that lousy feeling was your family and your adoption, neither of which you asked for? Even when you love your parents, it has to be very hard not to share the mainstream view that you were chosen, or you’ve been blessed, and you therefore should be grateful for each and every thing your parents provide, whether wanted or not.

A lousy feeling indeed. Writing this, I realize how deeply the desire to avoid this feeling could permeate an adoptee's relationships. I think I understand better what adoptees mean when they say they won't pursue a search because they don't want to hurt their parents, and how this decision may be influenced as much, or maybe even more, by society's expectations of gratitude than it is by anything the adoptive parents may have said.

Adoptive parents hold much, if not all, of the power in adoption. We therefore have to set those who talk about adoption in terms of gratitude straight. We also have to avoid taking our kids on guilt trips. I failed miserably on Sunday, but God bless The Boy for forgiving me.

Although the stinker really could have gone out for a burger with me, it wouldn't have killed him.

January 7, 2009

Korea moving toward dual citizenship

With thanks to Gang-Shik of KADNexus, some exciting news.

The details are still being established, and the subject of military service remains unresolved, although it appears that the Korean government is working toward a plan that would allow KADs, and potentially those who apply for Korean citizenship under this law, to complete some alternative service. It looks, however, like applications can begin immediately, and that some dual citizenships will be granted this year.

With this change in Korean law, everyone in my house will be able to hold dual citizenship except me. Third Dad is in the process of completing his application for U.S. citizenship following the passage of a law in Germany several years ago that made dual citizenship possible. He's excited that the kids will have the opportunity to regain their Korean citizenship, and has already begun encouraging them to apply. I'm pretty sure The Girl will follow through; The Boy seems less interested at the moment, but that could change. It's just really good to know that he'll be able to if he chooses.

The following is from JungAng Ilbo. KADNexus has another article from the Korea Herald, but their website was causing attack warnings on my PC, which is odd, because I've never had trouble with that site before. Anyhow, you pick up the link on KADNexus, or go directly to Korea Herald to see if the problem's been fixed.

Ministry paves way to allow dual citizenship

Korea’s Justice Ministry yesterday announced a plan to allow some people seeking Korean citizenship to maintain their original citizenship as well, a step aimed at attracting more talent to the country.

The ministry also announced a plan to ease rules giving permanent residency to foreign investors and entrepreneurs whose business helps create local jobs.

In reporting its 2009 plans to President Lee Myung-bak yesterday, the ministry said it wants to allow dual citizenship for foreign-born ethnic Koreans or Koreans who were adopted by foreign families at a young age.

Male applicants would need to complete the two-year mandatory military service that is required of all Korean men.

“We will work harder to change the public’s negative sentiment on dual citizenship by requiring the applicants to complete the military obligation first,” the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The ministry said it would allow the dual citizenship for some ethnic Koreans who have excelled in science, the arts and other areas.

Dual citizenship has long been considered a tactic by sons of rich families or celebrities here to avoid mandatory military service.

Korea recognizes as a citizen anyone whose father or mother was also a citizen, regardless of their place of birth.

Many married couples here have been criticized for visiting the U.S. only to give birth, which gives their children U.S. citizenship.

Before 2005, that meant their sons could be exempted from the mandatory military service as long as they gave up their Korean citizenship.

But in 2005, local citizenship laws were changed so that males can only give up their Korean citizenship after completing the required military service.

According to yesterday’s announcement, foreign investors or entrepreneurs who hire more than 20 Koreans will be eligible to receive permanent residency, dramatically easing the current rule that require such foreigners to create at least 100 jobs for Koreans.

Designed to give more incentives to foreigners to do business here, the 100-jobs rule was first established in June 2007.

No foreign investors have applied for permanent residency under that program.

The ministry also reaffirmed a plan to collect fingerprints of all foreigners who visit Korea through the airports in what it called an effort to block those with criminal histories from entering the country or to tighten the monitoring of such individuals during their stay.

By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

January 6, 2009

The sad case of Adam Herrman

Theresa has been covering a heartbreaking story that’s currently unfolding in Kansas. I should say the sad outcome is unfolding – the actual story began with the adoption of a little boy born Irvin Groeninger, who then became Adam Herrman. He was one of three children adopted by Valerie and Doug Herrmann, who from what I gather have at least one biological child as well.

It’s hard for me to capture the range of emotions I felt upon reading the stories below. There was the initial shock of another sad case of child abuse and possibly murder. Then disbelief about many of the things I read – the fact that this family either did away with this little boy and hid the fact for so long, or (giving the benefit of the long-shot of doubt) never reported him missing, and that family members who witnessed his abuse stood by and did nothing.

We might be tempted to say that this horrible event could happen in any family: Adam's adoptive relationship with his parents might, in fact, play no role at all in what was done to him. But the fact that he WAS adopted, and was so at the mercy of people who were in fact strangers to him brings adoption into the picture, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

There’s first of all the issue of how someone as clearly unbalanced as Valerie Herrmann could have been given approval to adopt in the first place. There's also the issue of Adam’s first parents, and their right to know what has happened to him. Right now, right at this moment, it's very likely that a woman is reading Adam's story, doing the math in her head, and desperately wondering if this was the little one she surrendered 21 years ago. Edited to add that Adam's first family does indeed know what is happening.

Last night I reading some blogs I found from a Wordpress search on the phrase “Korean adoption.” I came across several in which the authors praised the adoption of Korean children by their friends. There’s a post coming about that, but the attitudes I saw in those blogs intersect this story because they represent the attitudes of much of the mainstream: adoption is charity, and those who choose to adopt must therefore be charitable and inherently good people. This kind of thinking numbs us to the reality that bad people adopt in numbers undoubedly proportionate to bad people who conceive and give birth. I wonder if such a view of adoption closed the eyes, ears and minds of Adam's family and friends who stood by silently for so long, leaving him at the mercy of people who clearly did not have his best interests at heart.

We must do better. In adoption, in the care of our children, we simply must do better. And we can. The first step is educate the public to the reality of adoption, and to debunk the notion that adoption is charity and therefore intrinsically good. Hopefully the change our nation is embracing will open up the closed eyes, ears and minds, and make ethical, just, respectful and caring adoption practices a reality.

More on the Adam Herrman story here:

Jan. 01, 2009 Butler County boy may have disappeared in 1999
Jan. 03, 2009 One answer found in missing-boy case
Jan. 06, 2009 Relatives say missing Butler County boy was abused
Jan. 06, 2009 The biological daughter of Adam Herrman's adoptive parents contacts KSN
Jan. 6 & 7, 2009 Missing Boy's Uncle Blames Sister
Jan. 7, 2009 Adoptive mother denies she abused missing boy

Additionally, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has released an age-progression photograph and details about Adam at the time he went missing.

January 5, 2009

Don’t Misses 1-6-08: 2009 will be loaded

I’m excited about all the activities that are stacking up in the adoption community for 2009, so to kick the year off, here’s a sampling of things to look forward to.

FauxClaud is back! If you haven’t read her blog yet, now’s a good time to start. I’m thrilled to have her voice back online.

The Fresh Air Fund

A reader tipped me off to an organization that is doing some really good work in NYC. From the Fresh Air Fund’s website: The Fresh Air Fund provides free vacations for children living in the five boroughs of New York City who meet our income guidelines. Children between the ages of six and twelve are eligible for the Friendly Town program (a one- or two-week visit with one of our volunteer host families). In order to attend one of our sleep-away camps, girls must be between the ages of eight and twelve, and boys must be between the ages of eight and fifteen. Consider making a donation here.

The 11th Annual KAAN Conference:
Extending the Family of Korean Adoption

This year’s KAAN Conference will take place from July 31 through August 2, 2009 at the Adams Mark Hotel in Denver, CO. Registration will open in February, and proposals for sessions and activities will be accepted through January 15th.

Adoptee Rights Demonstration Philly

The second Adoptee Rights Demonstration is scheduled for July 21, 2009 in Philadelphia. Check the Philly and main Adoptee Rights Demonstration websites frequently for details.

Services for Korean Adoptees and Adoptive Families from InKAS and KoRoot

InKAS and KoRoot offer programs and services in Korea to adoptees and adoptive families, including accommodations, scholarships to Korean university language programs, culture camp, homeland tours and seminars. Check out both websites for details on each organization’s programs.

American Adoption Congress Conference in Cleveland
Presented with Adoption Network Cleveland

The American Adoption Congress and Adoption Network Cleveland present the 2009 National Conference, April 22 through 26, 2009 in Cleveland, OH. Details are
available in the conference brochure. Online registration will open soon.

IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Associations) Gathering in New York

AKA (Also Known As) will host the 2009 IKAA Gathering in New York city. Visit the AKA and IKAA websites periodically for details.

Adopted: The Movie Available for Purchase

From the Adopted website: Adopted reveals the grit rather than the glamour of transracial adoption. First-time director Barb Lee goes deep into the intimate lives of two well-meaning families and shows us the subtle challenges they face. The results are riveting, unpredictable and telling. See clips of the film here on YouTube, and purchase your copy at the Point Made online store (I just bought mine, cannot wait to see it again.)

Evan B. Donaldson Institute Publication and Event

Although this announcement is late, I’m posting it just in case you missed it. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a new paper in September 2008 entitled Expanding Resources for Waiting Children II: Eliminating Legal & Practice Barriers to Gay & Lesbian Adoption from Foster Care. Save May 14, 2009 for EBD’s Annual "Taste of Spring" Gala, which will take place New York City at the Midtown Loft, 267 Fifth Avenue (29th Street). Details to follow on the Evan B. Donaldson

Origins-USA Video

Reposting. From the Origins-USA website: Adoption is not about unwanted babies, it's about unwanted mothers. We know this and now we have an exciting opportunity to tell others. Award winning filmmaker Sara Aderhold has graciously donated her time to produce an Origins-USA promotional video featuring mothers telling their stories of surrender, loss, and reunion. Presenting these experiences is the most effective way to change societal views about adoption and birth. Read more to learn how you can contribute to this valuable project. Donate your time to the production or make a monetary donation and get your name listed in the film credits!

And so a new year begins

The holidays have always been a really special time for me. My family never did anything particularly exciting at this time, but what we did marked the time as different. What made the holidays special for me wasn’t so much what we did, although as a kid there were special activities, like going down to Halle’s to visit Mr. Jing-a-ling or watching his show on TV, that I remember fondly. What really made them special was the fact that my family treated the time differently. Our holiday season was long, starting at Thanksgiving and stretching all the way to Epiphany. The decorations started coming out the week after Thanksgiving, the baking started a few weeks later, along with the wrapping of presents that became part of the decorations until given out to their recipients. Our Christmas tree usually went up the weekend before Christmas and stayed up until Epiphany. The holidays were six weeks of “special,” and still are for me.

This year they were particularly enjoyable. There was a poignancy to our celebration caused, no doubt, by the realization that this was the last holiday our family would spend with the kids living at home full time. The Boy's in college and The Girl’s on her way in September, so next year Third Dad and I will celebrate the first weeks of our holiday season as empty-nesters, until the kids come home for winter break. We’ll adjust, no doubt, but just knowing that things are poised to change made this year’s holidays sweet indeed.

Our trip to Ohio was excellent. My Mom is doing so much better than last year, and actually admitted out loud that her knee replacement has made a tremendous difference in her life. She moves very well now and is experiencing much less pain than before the surgery. The brush with diabetes she experienced in the hospital spurred her to make some changes in her diet, so she’s lost quite a bit of weight and is now doing nearly half an hour on her exercycle every day. At 85 she is often mistaken for someone in her 60s. What a blessing, for her and for us!

We spent time with my brother and his family and with my aunt and uncle, too; did some shopping; watched movies; and just plain relaxed. It was a good trip, with uneventful drives as bookends, which is something else to be grateful for. We returned to a quiet week of a little work for me, friends and activities for the kids, a peaceful New Year’s Eve (The Girl went out to dinner and to a sleepover at a friend’s house; The Boy had a party with some friends from school who spent the night and the next day with us; and Third Dad and I went out to dinner and watched Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs until the ball dropped;) and a very productive couple of days around the house.

We cleaned closets and have tons of clothes to donate. I did some reorganizing in the kitchen and held my annual “get rid of the old condiments” event. The pile of mending is nearly done, one more zipper to repair and The Boy's pants wardrobe will be complete again. On Saturday we got together with friends for a pot luck. I finally caught up on my email, too, and the bills. It feels good to go into the new year a little more organized than we ended the last one.

2008 was a hard year for many people. My family took its hits, primarily in the 401k, which I still won’t look at after my accidental peek right after the crash. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to says the same thing now: Why torment yourself over something you can’t change? Either the market will rebound or we’ll have to work longer, but either way there’s nothing we can do. I’m incredibly grateful to have a job, and am taking a more active approach to protecting it in light of the RIFs where I work. For the next four years, my main objective is to stay employed and get my kids through undergraduate school. After that I can reassess where I am and what I want to do going forward.

2009 is going to be a big year for Third Dad and me: We’ll both celebrate hwangap this year - that is, we turn 60, and God willing will have completed five cycles of the Asian zodiac. In Korea, this used to be a big deal, and maybe in some places in Korea it still is. But when I mentioned this to some Korean friends not long ago, they pointed out that no one celebrates it here in the states. Just my luck. But Third Dad and I will celebrate for sure.

It’s scary to even say: 60. Six-oh. But my gosh I’m grateful for every one of these 60 years, particularly when I reflect on how many people don’t even get close. And you know, I feel really GOOD, all things being equal. I have excellent health, most of my friends and family are still alive, and I'm still active. Yeah, there are things about getting old that suck, but plenty that are worth waiting for. What I can’t wrap my head around is how quickly all this time has gone by, with all the experiences that have filled it. Amazing, really, and a blessing.

I usually don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I have a few this year:
  • To bring my lunch rather than eat in our ridiculously overpriced cafeteria which usually makes me sick
  • To find an exercise routine I enjoy and can stick to every day, or at least three or four times a week
  • To simplify wherever possible. This is going to be my year for getting rid of junk, and stopping the acquisition of new stuff
If at the end of 2009 I can look back and see The Boy continuing to enjoy college, The Girl successfully starting her college career, Third Dad and I happily past our 60th birthday, me still employed, and a little success with my resolutions, I’ll say it was a very good year.

So here’s to 2009, to health to those who have it, healing to those who need it, peace in all the war-torn places in the world. Here's to success in adoption reform, too: open records for adoptees, rights for single mothers, ethical adoption practices everywhere. Now THAT would make this new year really great!