What the Heck is Going on With International Adoptions?!?

Dawn Davenport


what is happening with international adoptionsI’m a compromising sort of gal. After practicing law for a number of years I wearied of its adversarial nature and moved to mediation. I am always inclined towards finding the perfect solution that meets all needs and makes everyone happy. Unfortunately, the messiness of life often gets in the way, and one of the messiest of all life events is the birth of a child to parents who are not ready or able to parent. There are no perfect solutions in this most imperfect of situations, but the possible changes to adoptions in Korea sure seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

It is important to note that we really don’t know exactly what is happening, and much of what is whirling around on the internet right now is speculation on worst case scenarios. This is what we do know. On August 5, 2012 Korea passed a new adoption law which put a significant priority on increasing domestic adoption and reducing international adoption.  International adoptions begun after August 5, 2012 must now be approved by the Korean family court. The Ministry of Justice is still in the process of figuring out how this process of approval will look in practice.  I think it is fair to say that both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health and Welfare are proceeding with caution—feeling out their new working relationship and procedures.

How Long Will Adoptive Parents Have to Travel

The travel requirements for adoptive parents will likely change, but we don’t know how they will change. Steve Morrison over at Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea says that adoptive parents will now have to remain in Korea for 3-4 weeks, rather than the current policy of less than one week. He also thinks that during the two weeks after family court approval, the birthmother will have another chance to change her mind. If this change were to happen, it would add greatly to the cost and uncertainty of adopting from Korea.

This is yet another example of the complexities of international adoption and the difficulties of balancing all the competing interests. With international adoptions birth mothers already have 5 months to change their minds while their babies wait before they become available for international adoption. On the surface an additional 14 days seems entirely reasonable until you realize that most of the children have already been living in a foster home since birth and are now usually between 18 to 24 months of age. Adding 14 days at the end of the process cannot be in the best interest of the children or their first mom. or their adoptive families. In fact, it seems cruel to all concerned.

But again, this is all guessing since no official policy has been announced. The adoption agencies I spoke with stressed that they do not know what the travel requirements will be, nor whether there will be an additional birthmother reconsideration period. As you would imagine, the international adoption agencies in Korea are working feverishly to get answers as soon as possible. Susan Cox with Holt International  said, “Everything is up in the air right now, and we are doing everything we can to get answers. Until then we are holding our breath.”

Why are Children Waiting Almost Two Years for Adoption

While we don’t know how long adoptive parents will have to be in Korea to adopt their children, we do know that the average age of a child adopted from Korea now is between 18 to 24 months. Talk about an imperfect system! How in the name of all that is holy did we get to the point where children who are relinquished at birth are close to 2 years of age before they are adopted??? For once, the answer is relatively simple. As part of Korea’s push to increase domestic adoption, babies must remain on a domestic adoption registry for five months. While it’s hard to argue that this is in the best interest of the actual children waiting, I can understand how this might improve domestic adoption rates, which is a laudable goal in the long term. After this 5 month period, however, the reasoning gets murky.

Korea has a quota on the number of children who can be placed for adoption abroad. This quota is not related to the number of children who have been relinquished and are waiting for a family; rather it is related to the number of children that Korea wants to be adopted internationally. If only wanting made it so. Woe be the child who draws the unlikely place in line. Once that year’s quota is filled, the child must then wait until the next year. Period.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I feel for the Korean government. They are trying to craft a solution in a very imperfect situation, but something if fundamentally wrong with the direction they are moving when children wait two years for permanency.  Birth mothers need to be given a fair chance to change their mind. Quite frankly they likely need some concrete help figuring out how they might be able to parent, and governmental assistance wouldn’t hurt either.  But whatever system is developed needs to provide homes for children sooner than 18 months to 2 years.

I can’t help but see the irony of the news of yet another potential slow down for international adoptions following on the heels of my interview with the producer of the documentary Stuck, which focuses attention on the harm caused to children by the delays and increased costs in international adoption. (I’ll be blogging more about that tomorrow.) There are more questions at this point than answers. We are trying to get the most up to date information and will share it with you. We communicate primarily through our weekly e-newsletter, so sign up at the top left of this page.

P.S. You might enjoy a thorough analysis I did on what is happening to children in need of families in Korea: South Korean Adoptions: Canary In The International Adoption Mine?

Image credit: Emmanuel Dyan

28/02/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 19 Comments

19 Responses to What the Heck is Going on With International Adoptions?!?

  1. Avatar Sue says:

    I’ve spoken to the State Department Department of Children Services. According to Steve, there goal is to stop all International Adoptions. Looks like there doing an excellent job.

    Can you adopt internationally anymore? I think technically the answer is maybe, but for the average Joe the answer is unfortunately No.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Sue, I don’t think it is fair to say that the goal of the US State Dept. is to stop all international adoptions. Yes, it is possible to adopt internationally now, but it is true that the time and cost have increased.

  2. Avatar Marie says:

    As some previous comments speak about the potential for extra bonding with child as part of a longer stay, the decision has not been made that children will even be placed with adoptive families during the longer wait period in country. Or to that matter how many if any visits we’d be granted while in country. So it is yet to be seen if these changes will support early family bonding as other countries currently do.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Marie, while we are all speculating here since no final decisions have been made, I think you raise an excellent point. IF these changes were to go into effect, it is highly doubtful in my mind that Korea would allow or encourage bonding between adoptive parents and child before the adoption is completely finalized. I have no inside info here, but this would be in keeping with their general attitude of how they’ve approached parental time in Korea in the past.

  3. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    Also, in this country, you don’t have the adoption hear until 2 weeks to 3 weeks after you’ve spent lots of time with our kids. Except for the first day and the last day, we spent at least 15 hours a day with the children, sometimes having them overnight.

  4. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    The country my kids are from often require a 3 week to 6 week stay as part of the adoption process. (In our case, we went for 3 weeks and then came back for another 2 weeks a month later with their new older brother and their new maternal babchi for all the final paper processing.)

  5. Avatar Jen Tang says:

    Christine, do you feel that efforts to promote domestic adoptions are actually effective? My relatives who live in China do not seem to think so and share with me the question of where are all the orphans then? I think similarly, the govt does not want anyone to know they exist. The whole stupid Asian “lose face” thing at the expense of the children. I guess I am allowed to say that since I’m Chinese right? Lol!

  6. Avatar Kim Militello says:

    When we adopted from Russia 7 years ago we had to go there two times and after meeting our child it was so hard to leave him there not knowing when our court date would be to go back to get him. But I did enjoy being able to see some of his country.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Kim, as you say, traveling to your child’s country has some real advantages for the parents and the child. I don’t think that is what the folks adopting from South Korea are objecting to. Most already travel to South Korea to pick up their child. They are concerned about the length of the trip (3-4 weeks), which will add greatly to the cost and reduce the # of families who can afford for both the mom and dad to be away from home and work for that length of time. They also object that this rule might be applied retroactively to those families who are already in the process. Lastly, and perhaps most important, they object that birth parents are being given the last minute chance to change their mind after the adoptive parents have already traveled and been in country for a couple of weeks and after the children have already been in foster care for close to 2 years. However, as I have pointed out, none of these rules have actually been implemented, but they apparently are being considered.

  7. Avatar Christine Ashton says:

    The sad truth is that orphans still don’t have much of a future there. Parents spend lots of $$ on their kid’s educations because of so much competition. Schools are ill-equipped too. Kids go to school all day, then go to other schools later on for instruction in foreign language, science, music, etc. All to get into one of the best universities later. Orphans have no such advantage.

  8. Avatar Christine Ashton says:

    Many of the kids in Korea are in orphanages because their parents weren’t married when they were born. Korea has a big stigma on single parents. Also, many divorced mothers put their kids away too. The govt. should support the single mothers more. Maybe more of them will keep their kids that way.

  9. Avatar Christine Ashton says:

    I lived in Korea. I feel for those orphans because the govt. is making it so hard for them to be adopted. Already they have so many orphanages filled with kids. Korea just doesn’t want to be known as a country to get babies from. I am very glad that Korea is promoting more domestic adoption. Yet they need to stop putting roadblocks to int’l adoption.

  10. Avatar Whole Child says:

    Yes, throwing in more requirements is kind of a low blow…every family chooses a particular country for particular reasons…some families can not afford to be away from home for so long and choose countries that allow multiple travel dates and shorter time in country for that very reason…to change the rules mid adoption really really stinks.

  11. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Jen, great question. Waiting time and costs are increasing across the board for most countries open to international adoption. That is one of the reasons that the # of international adoptions has decreased so dramatically. There are other reasons as well–such as the closing of countries that provided “healthy” infants, but there is no question that the increased obstacles to international adoption have had an impact as well. Check out my blog today where I talk about some of this. Tell me what you think in the comment section to that blog. http://ow.ly/ib6XI

  12. Avatar Jen Tang says:

    Dawn, you specifically give examples from Korea, but the title of the article and some parts refer to international adoption as a whole. Are you either seeing or predicting this trend for all international adoptions?

  13. Avatar Whole Child says:

    Actually, from a different perspective, a month long stay can be a very good thing. When my parents adopted from Latin America 20 years ago (two different times) my father had to stay two weeks, and my mother was there for between four and six weeks each time. They took me with them the second time to help with my sister while the rest of my siblings stayed with different family friends. The bonding that happens in country is AMAZING, and the chance to experience your child’s culture/routine/etc is great. It is like a second honeymoon for many couples, and it is also kind of like when you first bring your baby home from the hospital and hole up on maternity leave and do nothing. Plus, only having to travel ONCE and buy one set of plane tickets saves thousands of dollars. Emotionally, I could not imagine going over and meeting my child only have to leave him/her for another few months in order to do paperwork. We are in the process of adoption from Ukraine, and counting travel expenses and staying in the country for a month to two months, the total adoption is still under $30K which is almost what we would pay to adopt domestically! Buying plane tickets is the most expensive part of the travel…actually staying in the country for a month is very very cheap.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Whole Child, you are right that the time in country can be a great time to bond with your new child and a time to allow your child to acclimate to you while still in familiar surroundings. Certainly less shock to the child’s system than having to adjust to new parents and a new country. It’s also, as you point out, a time when you can focus just on bonding because often all the other things on your to-do list are put on hold because you are out of the country. However, it definitely adds to the cost. Depending on the age of existing children, it may not be feasible or in their best interest to have mom and dad gone for a month. It also has thrown a huge curve ball to those families who were already in the process of adopting from Korea and had not known of this added requirement.

  14. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Michelle, I hear you. A month long stay also would increase the cost of adoption to beyond what many families could afford. And it isn’t just work commitments that make it prohibitive. What about if you have children who you don’t want to bring with you or can’t afford to bring with you.

  15. Avatar Michelle Girsch Fuller says:

    If any of this is in fact true, it is very sad. Extending stays to that long is not realistic for most families – especially those where both parents work. You need to spend time off bonding with your new child at home. When we were in So. Korea, we didn’t even receive our son until the day we left. Our son came home after quota delays – he was 14 months and the grieving was awful as you can imagine. The longer they stay with their foster families the more attached they get and the harder the transition/bonding period MAY be. I don’t even know where to begin with the birth mother having additional time to reconsider – to have that uncertainty on this end, I don’t know if I could do it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑

Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.