As most of you know, the Korean adoption program has underwent a major overhaul since the passage of the new adoption law in 2012. There is virtually nothing about the program that is the same, other than the country.
While we were in Korea for the first of our two trips for this adoption, I had some really interesting conversations with our Korean social worker about their opinions on the new rules. They feel that the new rules have hurt single mothers rather than help them. Now, all babies must be registered on the mother's birth registry until the time that they are adopted. At that point, the records will be stricken. The aim of this is to give adoptees more access to their birth records/family of origin.
I asked whether she felt the passage of the law has led to more single women choosing to parent their children, (the intent of the backers of the law), and she said not really. She said there has been a decline in the number of children being placed. According to the social worker, more women
are turning to "other" means---instead of adoption they are choosing to abandon their children or
choosing abortion. I have also heard that because the new law requires that birth mothers cannot relinquish the babies until 7 days after birth, that some of the mothers have changed their mind during this time and decided to parent. Our social worker said yes, this has happened on occasion, but it is rare. So very sad.
We looked at the Baby Reception area of the agency. The beds were very full and many of the children seemed older than when we had seen this area before. Typically, the babies only stay here until they are 5-months-old and then they are placed into foster families. But because the process is taking so much longer now, there are not as many foster families available.
Another huge change for the program is the court process. With Little Man's adoption, we saw him once at his foster home and then took custody a few days later. We were technically his foster family here in the U.S. for the first 6-months we had him, and then we finalized in U.S. court where his name was legally changed and he became a citizen.
With the process change, adoptive parents must have mandatory visits with the child and then go to court in Korea to get an adoption decree.
The court process was intimidating and nerve-wracking. We just had no idea what to expect. Our agency didn't tell us a thing other than the date/time of our court date and that I had to wear a dress or skirt. We met at our Korean agency at the appointed time and three other families loaded into a van. We were handed a single sheet of paper for all the families to review with possible questions the judge would ask us. They ranged from what were our child-rearing philosophies, how we handled marital conflict, if we would give the child freedom of religion, and what pre-adoption class we found most beneficial. We were told to smile a lot and talk to the judge and not the translator.
We arrived at court and our judge was running over a full hour ahead of schedule! We thought we had time to mentally prepare, but next thing we knew, they were calling in people from our group. We were last in the group of four, and each family was only in there about 5 minutes. They all walked out saying it was easy and more like a conversation than a hearing.
Finally it was our turn. We had given Little Man a coloring book and bribed him with ice cream if he sat quietly during the hearing. The courtroom was just like a U.S. courtroom. We sat on the left table, the translator at the table to our right. The judge was young and very nice. He smiled at us, but immediately launched into questioning me about my line of work. I am a news photographer and he wanted details about the type of work I do. I kept my answers pretty simple. Partially because I went blank, and partially because things get complicated when you are dealing with a translator. He wanted to know what our child care plans were and how I was going to handle work and being a mother. I told him how much time I'd be taking off for maternity leave and how our son is only in daycare 3 days a week, and we'd follow the same plan for Little Brother.
He asked my husband if we had met Little Brother and if we loved him. (We answered yes, we loved him in our hearts but it would take time for all of us to grow to love one another. He seemed to like this answer.) He asked what our parenting philosophy was (teach children to be kind to others, do good things in the world).
He then moved on and wanted to ask questions of Little Man. I wasn't sure how Little Man would handle this because he usually clams up when asked direct questions by strangers. The judge asked if he had met his brother (he didn't look up but answered yes). He asked if he was ready to accept his responsibilities of being a big brother. (All we could do was get Little Man to do was nod.) And there was some other question that I have forgotten. The judge didn't really seem to care that Little Man was being shy.
Then made us promise to love and
care for Little Brother throughout his life. We said yes, of course, and he
said "I am 100% positive that you will be excellent parents." It was then that I
burst into tears. Our translator looked over at me, worried, and said "you did really really good". I told her I was crying because I was so happy.
And that was our court appearance. In all, it lasted about 8 minutes. But it seemed to take forever.
One nice thing is that we had to give our Korean agency our son's American name and evidently our adoption decree will be given in his American name so there won't be a need to readopt here in the states. Our adoption will be finalized in Korea, meaning once we take custody, he's ours. His social security card is supposed to be sent to our home (instead of multiple visits to the SS office trying to get it) and we will be sent his Certificate of Citizenship (which also took a long time to get with Little Man's process).
One more huge difference with the new process is that birth mothers can choose, at the time of relinquishment, if they want to be contacted before an adoption is processed. If a birth mother should choose this, the agency must contact her before the court hearing. If they are not able to make contact, the process may be delayed. An agency must attempt to contact a birth mother three times. If they are successful, she has 14 days to evaluate the action. If she does not protest the action, then the preliminary adoption decree may be issued and another 14-day waiting period begins before the decree can be final. If they are not able to make contact with the birth mother, then a public notice of the action is posted on a website for 14 days. If no one protests the public notice then the decree is issued and the final 14-day waiting period begins.
I know this is really confusing, but for families stuck in this waiting period, it's really brutal. It's something that I'm not sure many families in process actually even know about. I've heard of many families being frustrated that they have not received their final adoption decree weeks or even months after their court appearance. It's likely that many of these families' cases have had birth mother contact issues and they were not aware.
The new process is definitely not easy. It's a challenge because many of the procedures are being worked out and continue to be in flux. Agencies seem to be struggling to keep up with these fluctuations and changes. And state-side social workers don't seem to be well informed about what's happening at all. There are times when I wonder how this entire system even manages to keep operational.