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