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3802OPINION | Revolt of the widgets: The geopolitical becomes local in international adoption downsizing

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  • Sunny Jo
    Aug 28, 2012
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      OPINION | Revolt of the widgets: The geopolitical becomes local in
      international adoption downsizing

      By Martha Vickery, Korean Quarterly
      August 26, 2012

      As I told a coworker, about to enter the same policy degree program I
      graduated from, policy school is a mind-changing experience. You get
      the chance to take apart and put together policies, for practice, in a
      safe, apolitical environment, and see what makes things work. It’s a
      grind learning it. But there is a point. Ultimately, it can give you a
      handle on what government does well, and what it does poorly.

      Policy analysts (not me, but others I admire) are an interesting mix
      ---- some are weird bean counters, and others are big-thinking
      idealists. The really good ones ---- the ones that can really get
      things done ---- are a magical combination of both.

      I did a lot of fun and useless armchair analysis last summer during
      the state government shutdown. On the one hand, I found the shutdown
      to be completely irritating and unnecessary. On another level, I was
      fascinated to watch a system simply breaking down, and trying to
      figure out why it happened.

      Just recently, I experienced a similar episode of fascination in the
      announcement by two large, local adoption agencies, Children’s Home
      Society and Family Services (CHSFS), and Lutheran Social Services
      (LSS), about their recent merger. Their announcement, which made the
      Star Tribune and also Minnesota Public Radio, explained that they will
      combine services for international adoption and will be co-locating at
      the CHSFS headquarters in St. Paul, with LSS as the managers. The
      reason ---- international adoption is on the decline.

      A panel of experts on the radio talking about the merger and the
      reasons for it really got the attention of local adult Korean adoptees
      ---- three of the four experts on the show were adoptive parents, and
      there were no adoptees represented. There was an advance alert online
      by one adult Korean adoptee about it ---- soon, through the phenomenon
      of social media, there were many comments and demands to get the
      adoptee community’s point of view on the air and on the record.

      In the end, there were two shows, a week apart. The first show was
      with agency leaders and non-adoptee adoption experts, and a second
      featured adult adoptee experts, who talked about international
      adoption from a more in-depth perspective. Kevin Ost Vollmers, a local
      Korean adoptee activist and originator of the blog Land of Gazillion
      Adoptees, called into the first show, featuring CHSFS and LSS staff.

      As he was listening, Vollmers said, he realized that the panel’s whole
      approach to the topic of the decline of international adoption was “a
      glossing over of the facts.” Korean adoptions are decreasing, in part,
      he said, because of the new Special Adoption Law in Korea, engineered
      in large part by Korean adoptees and “first families” in Korea (a
      group of primarily single mothers). This law change, which KQ has
      reported on in the recent past, gives single mothers more benefits and
      more rights; as a result, the trend for single mothers to raise their
      own children is expected to increase, and international adoptions will
      decrease. This is only one of the many complex reasons for the
      decline. “It’s geopolitical,” he said. But that show never mentioned
      any geopolitical changes, which he found to be frustrating.

      “What I asked,” he said, “pointedly, was ‘what are you going to do for
      the, literally, tens of thousands of adoptees, and their families who
      live here, in this state?’” In the face of the decline, Vollmers said,
      agencies are trying to renew and create new relationships with
      international adoption partners in new places. They are acting like a
      business. What’s more, they are a business. “From a business
      perspective, you are looking for new markets,” he explained.

      When it comes to selling widgets, looking for new markets is a good
      idea. When it comes to distributing scarce resources in downsizing
      adoption agencies, looking for new markets becomes problematic,
      particularly in thinking about those of us who need the post-adoption
      services right now and in the future. What happens with the
      relationships between Korean and U.S. agencies, for example, when
      Korea is no longer placing adoptees in the U.S.? The idea is

      All of us associated personally with Korean adoption locally, know
      that post-adoption services are meager, while pre-adoption services
      are large. We are also realizing, with surprise and gratitude, that
      Korean adoptee organizations are starting to step into that gap.
      Notably, AdopSource is conducting a large and well-organized needs
      assessment of how post-adoption and other social services might be
      structured in the future for international adoptees. These are baby
      steps, and they are doing it on a shoestring budget, but nonetheless,
      it’s happening. These organizations are also struggling with the
      business model. Post-adoption services are just not that profitable.

      From a policy perspective, this issue is apparently a case of
      so-called “market failure,” which occurs when a worthwhile public good
      cannot be profitably supplied by private business. Public
      transportation systems are often pointed to as examples of this. If
      the bus riders themselves cannot support that system; who is going to
      pay for the buses that need to run on schedule, nearly empty, in the
      early morning or late at night? Ultimately, government needs to keep
      some systems running.

      Post-adoption services, and adoption itself, is in that category, I
      would argue. One adoption researcher, InSun Park, an innovative
      thinker and former adoption social worker in Korea, told me once in an
      interview that “adoption should be free.” The reason ---- the profit
      motive needs to be removed in order for the system to run ethically.
      If it were free, the Korean government would be working very hard to
      find alternatives to continuing expensive intercountry adoptions.
      Those that did occur would be absolutely necessary, and receiving
      families in foreign countries would be chosen in a more competitive
      environment, not self-selected by their income.

      Post-adoptions services? “Free,” she told me. The government owes the
      people it places for intercountry adoption. They should get the
      services they need from that government, not be paying hundreds or
      thousands of dollars to find their own birth parents. If such services
      were free, the Korean government would have the incentive to make
      access to records better, and more consistently available to searching
      adult adoptees.

      Just because we are only cogs in the works does not mean we shouldn’t
      look at the whole machine and evaluate whether it’s the wrong machine
      for the job. An organization, once formed, will struggle to perpetuate
      its own existence. That is not always a good thing. Our community
      should continue to be listening to those who are analyzing this
      system, and pointing to a better way.

      International-adoption-related interests can come together for some
      issues, as evidenced by the recent signing on of more than 20
      organizations to a letter sent to President Obama by Twin Cities adult
      adoptee advocacy organization AdopSource demanding a revision of the
      Child Citizenship Act. This revision would end deportations of
      non-citizen adoptees whose citizenship was not obtained due to errors
      of omission or negligence by parents or guardians. With the recent
      announcement of “deferred action” on non-citizen young adults whose
      immigration status was jeopardized due to their parents’ visa lapse,
      there is a recent understanding that strict immigration policies that
      do not consider the circumstances can be disastrous to individuals who
      are Americans in every other way.