I admit that some of my thoughts as it relates to the new Korean adoption legislation can easily (and perhaps even legitimately) be swept under the rug. After all, I once wore my “agency professional” badge loud and proud. Additionally, I stepped away from the adoption community for a few years and a lot happened during that time. And, as some have figured out, I’m facetious 50% of the time on Land of Gazillion Adoptees and so it’s difficult to determine how serious some of my statements are. In light of this, I’ve approached a few other adoptees to get their opinions and insights.
Unlike me, Dr. Robert “Bert” Ballard, a professor at Pepperdine University in communication, isn’t easy to dismiss. Bert, a Vietnamese adoptee, has the chops (academic/researcher/educator/expert on intercountry adoption), and he has been gracious enough to offer the following thoughts.
P.S. As an update to the “Let’s Give Away $10,000” post, we’re currently sitting at 12 pledges ($600), 188 away from the 200 pledge goal. What do you say, dear reader? Want to send me an email, kostvollmers(at)gmail.com, and join the resistance?
I do plead both ignorance and naiveté on the specifics related to S. Korean adoptions. However, as a member of the adult adoptee community, as well as a researcher and someone who has convened an international conversation on intercountry adoption, I do have a response to what is and has happened. I offer these thoughts in the spirit of dialogue among and with my adopted brethren as a way to model conversation, collaboration, and complex thinking for the rest of the international adoption world to follow.
First, I think the legislation that has passed aims for family preservation and that is laudable. (Although I wonder about the real material effects of such legislation, but again plead naiveté to S. Korea’s governance system.) From what little I know about the adult Korean adoptees involved in this effort, this has been a high priority for their community. Indeed, family preservation should be the goal for all families everywhere in all cultures and in all countries. However, in the case of S. Korea, is this the best legislation for the current problems related to intercountry adoption? Is this, as we might say in communication, a fitting response? Is using intercountry adoption as the foil for family preservation the best way to address intercountry adoption? I don’t know the answer for S. Korea, but I do wonder if this might be an “unfunded mandate” so to speak, whereby prioritizing domestic options increases pressure on an already strained social support system. If this is the case, the question emerges: are we trading a “smaller” set of problems that are not under the purview of intercountry adoption for a larger set of problems domestically?
Second, if there is anything I have learned in my research as well as in the outcomes from the Summit I convened last September (http://adoptionsummit.uwaterloo.ca/outcomes.html), it is that intercountry adoption is extremely complex. It is hubris to think that one legislation, one policy, one process, or one standard will address the multiplicity of problems plaguing intercountry adoption. The system is simply too complex, too big, and encompasses too many players, agencies, governments, and political and monetary interests. If anything, when addressing the problems, and there are many, in intercountry adoption, we need surgical solutions. Is this a surgical solution, one targeted at addressing intercountry adoption AND, in this case, the dissolution of first families in S. Korea? I draw upon my own experience with Vietnam when they were shut down in 2008. There were a small number of provinces, orphanages, and hospitals involved in the corruption related to the adoption of some of the children, but because there was no legislative flexibility or precedent, all adoptions had to be shut down. Of course this is a completely different kind of problem than what is occurring in S. Korea, and the legislation that has passed related to family preservation would have no bearing on Vietnam’s situation, but that is exactly my point. Different countries, different cultures. Different governance processes emerge from and cultivate different kinds of values, and different kinds of values and cultures demand (command?) different kinds of legislative, relational, and cultural responses.
This brings me to my third point, which is the assertion that the Hague can be used as a justification for domestic, social issues. While any country that accedes to the Hague legislation will make changes to domestic policies, it is done because that country has made a conscious, intentional decision to follow the Hague standards. But to push forth legislation in a non-Hague country based on the Hague seems colonial. I state this because the Hague is primarily a Western document, crafted mostly by receiving/adopting countries from Europe and North America. Countries of origin should strongly consider Hague and interested groups – adoptees, birth families, agencies, etc. – should lobby them to do so, but we also need to respect the cultural context and framework within which those countries make those decisions and would have to implement the Hague. To cut to the chase, the Hague is a great starting point, but there needs to be more culturally sensitive conversation, decision making based on subsidiarity, and less colonial mentality in international adoption reform.
My fourth point is that adoptees are growing in voice and we need to handle that voice responsibly. The Korean adoptees are leaders and many international adoptee communities should be envious of their success and their leadership. However, I have often wondered if their efforts are about themselves or truly about international adoption and Korea. Is addressing the present day problems of Korea really a cure for all the terrible things we adults faced because of poor education or a poor system? Is our/their motivation really about Korea, future adopted children, or international adoption as a whole or is it about trying to fix ourselves and undo the things that happened to us? As adoptees, I believe we are in a unique position to affect the future of international adoption. But we must handle our positionality with responsibility that is not merely about ourselves and our own pain, but rather for others – other people, cultures, and posterity. We cannot go back and fix us or the past; we can, however, go forward in a way that does not duplicate what we have experienced.