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Adopting from Korea - A Parent's Guide to Korean Adoption

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With so many international adoption programs
to choose from, why Korea?

Brief History of Korean Adoption

First, today's South Korea (Republic of Korea) bears little resemblance to the Korea of the early 1950s as typified by M*A*S*H. Even with its up and down economy, South Korea is a modern, industrialized nation, on par with its American and European trading partners.

The Korean adoption program dates back, however, to the early 1950s when US servicemen were fathering children with Korean women outside of marriage. Illegitimate, mixed race children, to use the old-fashioned terms, had little place in traditional patriarchal Korean society. These children were severely scorned and abused. Henry and Bertha Holt, founders of what is now known as Holt International, began their international adoption program in Korea with the adoption of eight Amerasian children.

Since that time, it's estimated that more than 150,000 children have been adopted from Korea to the US, Australia, Canada, and much of Europe.

Bear in mind, Korea, like many other countries, is highly ambivalent by its successful intercountry adoption program, and is increasingly stepping up efforts to encourage more domestic adoption. Through a series of yearly quotas, it is hoped that Korea will be able to reduce intercountry adoption entirely.

However, Korean culture and its emphasis on blood/genetic ties and family name continues to remain a difficult obstacle to reaching that goal. Therefore, your ability to adopt from Korea within a reasonable timeframe shouldn't be affected any time soon.

For more information on the history of the Korean adoption program, I encourage you to read these helpful articles:

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Benefits of the Korea Program

Here's what we personally found to be most appealing:

  • The availability of healthy infants and toddlers - There are many children, also, with mild and/or easily
     correctable special needs, too. (Note that the wait for healthy girls can be considerably longer than boys.)

  • Foster family care - The babies aren't housed in orphanages. Korean babies are placed with foster families where they are well provided for in warm, loving homes until placement.

  • Excellent medical care. Korea's medical care system is first-rate and comparable to the US and Canada.

  • Reasonable timeframes - Approximately 12-14  month timeframe from application to arrival of our baby (note that agencies with smaller programs will have longer timelines and vice versa)

  • Less onerous paperwork (although what is required is plenty enough!) - Unlike other countries where separate dossiers are required, the Korean program accepts the US homestudy as documentation enough.

  • Lower costs than other intercountry programs. Approximately $18,000-$24,000.

  • Travel or escort options. You can choose to have your child escorted to the US rather than having to travel (although many parents do indeed travel to pick up their children and I would urge you to do if you can.)

  • No religious restrictions or infertility requirements - some countries require a particular religious affiliations, others require a specific diagnosis of infertility.

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Overview of the Korean Adoption Program

Our agency, Adoption Service Information Agency, is affiliated with Eastern. These four primary Korean agencies are responsible for protecting and providing for its orphaned and abandoned children. They are answerable to the Korean government and only work with certain adoption agencies who have been approved to place Korean children.

Requirements and Restrictions for Korea

These are the basic, rock-bottom requirements. (Note: these requirements are sometimes modified for children with special needs. Ask your agency for details.) Your American adoption agency may have additional requirements and restrictions:

  • Marital Status: Married couples, married at least 3 years. One divorce for each member of the couple is acceptable. Singles not accepted.

  • Age: No more than 45 years old at the time of the baby's arrival in your home.

  • Infertility: No restriction. However, no more than 4 children already at home.

  • Family Income: $25,000 minimum.

  • Weight: (This is a peculiar requirement to Eastern Social Welfare, SWS and their affiliated agencies) Parents may not weigh more than 30% of what is considered normal body weight for their respective heights. Your agency, if it's affiliated with Eastern or SWS, will have a weight/height chart for your review. Holt and Korea Social Services do NOT have a weight restriction.

Think you may be over the weight limit?
View the Weight/Height Chart used by the agencies

NOTE - Eastern has liberalized their weight requirements. If your doctor testifies to your/your spouse's current good health and normal life expectancy - and you're amenable to a weight loss plan - you should be OK. Contact your agency for more complete details.

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For more information, check out the State Department Guidelines for Korea.

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Photolistings and Other International Adoption-Related Websites

Now that you've explored the general side of things, here are some (again, not all) online resources I think you'll find interesting and useful. I've chosen a grouping of Asian and non-Asian sites. Some of these include photolistings of waiting children. Some wait because they are a bit older. Others due to mild to moderate special needs (many of these highly correctible.)

A word about photolistings: There are many schools of thought about these. Some adoption professionals and parents dislike the "puppy and kitten" advertising quality. Others are concerned about the child's privacy. I think these are important issues. I, however, believe when handled ethically and properly, photolistings do indeed help find needy children homes. But it will be up to you as a prospective adoptive parent to thoroughly check out the agency behind the photolisting. There are many unscrupulous agencies who will photolist particularly cute children who are, in fact, not available for adoption at all or will "bait and switch" unsuspecting adoptive parents. So be cautious and smart.

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Korean, International and General Adoption-Oriented Email Lists and Forums

Electronic mailing lists are an excellent way to find out what's involved in adopting internationally. From paperwork to the latest proclamations from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, here's a chance to ask your questions and meet like-minded folks! These represent just a few that are available to you. (See YahooGroups and check out their complete listing of adoption-related groups - there are hundreds!)

NOTE: The hyperlink is the mail address, the secondary comment is what you put in the body of your e-mail message, if applicable.

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Are You Ready To Be An Interracial Family?

When my husband and I attended an introductory open house at the adoption agency we eventually selected, a newly adoptive family was featured. The couple appeared to be in their 30s and had one biological child. They were white. Their adopted son was under a year old. A smiling handsome boy with an Asian face.

During their talk they told our group about their experiences with the agency and the adoption process. They spoke about waiting for their referrals and bonding with the few photos we all receive. Then the mom, sitting with her happy son upon her lap, remarked that when she first gazed upon her son in person at the airport, her first thought was, "Whoa, this baby is really Korean!"

Of course, one minute after that thought, it was done with and forgotten. Their son was home. But I appreciated her candor. It's been said if you wouldn't consider marrying outside of your race/ethnic group/religion - or wouldn't want your son/daughter marrying outside those parameters - transracial adoption might be more than you're ready to handle. (And no, love isn't enough. Nor colorblindedness. Race is a real deal in America - a subject few of us deeply understand until we have children of color as our sons and daughters.)

And if you think I'm overstating the case, think again. These are some of the very same issues your social worker will ask you about during your homestudy. But don't think for a second that race in a racially-conscious society doesn't matter. It does.

Adoptive families ARE different. Multi-racial, adoptive families are REALLY different. And if you decide to go this route, how you and your family see and are seen by the world will change dramatically.

I personally like those kind of challenges. Being of a minority religious faith, I have the vantage point of knowing -- in my heart and in my bones -- how it feels to be different. How our children deal with being both a racial and religious minority -- in addition to being adopted -- well, remains to be seen. But it's my hope that a strong sense of self and humor will help them make their way successfully in their own personal journeys. (For more thoughts about transracial adoption and parenting issues, see the adoptive parenting section.)

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By now you've decided on Korea (or some other international program.) Our next step? Choosing the right adoption agency.



Why International?

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