3802OPINION | Revolt of the widgets: The geopolitical becomes local in international adoption downsizing
- Aug 28, 2012OPINION | 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
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.