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My Response to “South Korean Adoptions: Canary In The International Adoption Mine?”

I totally resisted responding to Dawn Davenport‘s “South Korean Adoptions: Canary in the International Adoption Mine?” after a friend forwarded the piece to me.  But then I saw the comments on her website, saw adoptionechoes response, felt the fire in my belly…



My name is Kevin Ost-Vollmers and I run a blog called Land of Gazillion Adoptees (  I posted perhaps one of the most bizarre pieces to date today.  Midst the weird stuff I threw together, I mentioned your article and called it manipulative.

Firstly, if you’re attempting to be objective (which I understand is always your goal), then you should offer a little more context to your data.  For example, you cite well respected adoptee researcher Tobias Hübinett’s lengthy journal article when discussing single motherhood in Korea.  Do your readers understand Tobias’ perspectives on adoption?  Additionally, do your readers know that he was one of the individuals who helped with the passage of the Korean bill?  If your readers were aware of any of this, I think they would question why you opted to use Tobias and his work.

Additionally, in the single motherhood section, you fail to mention that there is strong evidence to show that most Korean women who place their children for adoption actually want raise kids in Korea instead.  You fail to mention that most Korean women who place their children for adoption are not young teenagers.  (They are women in their 20’s and 30’s.)  You fail to mention that during “pregnancy counseling,” Korean women have been for years mislead and lied to by the Korean adoption agencies so that the women make “adoption plans.”

Furthermore, in your opening paragraph where you cite the article “Ending South Korea’s Child Export Shame,” you don’t mention that the writer of the piece (Jennifer Kwon Dobbs) is a Korean adoptee.  And you say nothing about the fact that the Korean bill was pushed through with the great efforts of a coalition of adoptees (Jane Trenka, Tammy Ko Robinson, Kim Stoker, Tobias Hübinett), unwed mothers, and their allies.  For objectivity sakes, you could have asked the following question: why, despite evidence to show that “people adopted from Korean … are doing well,” is there a significant number of these “supposedly well adjusted” adult Korean adoptees who want to see drastic adoption reform in Korea?  Why do they want reform when most of their lives have been so good?

Secondly, I found much of what you offered in this article condescending, especially your “What Happens From Here” section.  You write: “The question of what to do from here is not ours to make.”  But then you continue with the following, which can only be read as your  opinions/judgements.

“International treaties, national laws, and common decency dictate that adults and governments make decisions for children based on what is in their best interest–not what is good for us or less embarrassing for us, but what is best for the kids that have been entrusted to our care…  Artificially limiting international adoptions before domestic adoptions and acceptance of single motherhood has caught up with the demand is not in the best interest of children…  [I]t is cruel to prevent children from achieving their mental and physical health potential.  Birth culture should not trump family.”  (my emphasis)

Dawn, in my past life I worked for two adoption agencies.  For both of them, I was a part of the team that “sold” the idea of adoption to potential adoptive parents.  If back then I would have come across this article, your website, your radio program, books, etc., I would have been delighted to use all of it to justify my work.  This fact is problematic.  Contrary to your push for objectivity, this article and your work are tools for the adoption industry, which wants nothing more than to see adoptions continue in Korea, the “model international adoption program.”

Thanks for your time.


Kevin Ost-Vollmers

8 Comments on My Response to “South Korean Adoptions: Canary In The International Adoption Mine?”

  1. Thank you – I could not access the comment section so could not leave a comment. I had several objections to the post including links that did not go to the right reports/abstracts, abstract of a 1995 meta analysis, another abstract that was predominantly AP survey reports of adoptees age 5-12 (566 vs 248 adolescent filled in surveys age 13-18) – hard not to get the results you want to get with that mix. Abstracts are also problematic as you cannot determine validity, the actual criteria including groups omitted, the type of questions, etc. Finally by omitting the most recent adoption institute report Beyond Culture Camp which would be a better choice in my opinion as it provides a fairly well rounded view. Truth is really important – avoiding the darker side does not serve anyone, least of all the adoptee – and that is what it is supposed to be about…

    • The adopted ones, you’re not the only one who has had problems posting/seeing comments on her website. She’s apparently having web issues… or she’s getting a lot of unwanted attention. At any rate, as you mention, her choice of research is one of the biggest issues here and her choice to stay away from the not-so-pretty stuff is problematic. To be fair, though, the writer has been very cordial during our email conversations.

  2. I didn’t see her post the way you did. The biggest problem I have with it is the end when she says something like birth culture should not trump family. At its heart I imagine that most orphanages/foster care is extremely hard on kids and growing up in a family is preferable, but the way she puts it is kind of in your face, like an ethical “gotcha!”, which negates all the other good points she concedes to, including that international adoption should be a last resort. (She did this in her discussion of transracial adoption too.)

    I think the narrative and retrospective on Korean adoptions is just hard to read, plain and simple. It is a long painful history for Korea and for its adoptees. She could have included the pieces you mentioned, but I’m not sure that omitting them invalidates her write up.

    Regardless of where we agree or disagree, I’m glad you chimed in. The blog forum can bog down with APs, and it is so important that you present an alternative view on behalf of child adoptees, because right now, they can’t speak for themselves.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Sarah, and I’m glad you chimed in here! Also, thank you for your compliment, but I don’t speak for child adoptees. I speak for myself and hope to encourage others to do the same.

  3. Oh, you never claimed to speak for anyone else. My bad, I need to stop making generaliztions like that. No matter who you speak for, alternative perspectives are a good thing.

  4. Dawn did a respectable job of finding statistical evidence for her point of view, which clearly support continuing adoption from Korea. In my opinion, she failed in presenting the work being done by individuals, organizations and agencies in Korea to improve opportunities for single parents and on the domestic adoption front.

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