“Others, fewer these, Tarrou may have been one of them, had desired reunion with something they couldn’t have defined, but which seemed to them the only desirable thing on earth. For want of a better name, they sometimes called it peace.” -Albert Camus
On October 17, 2014, I began to actively search for my Korean family. After years of self-examination, introspection, and reflection, I was ready. I’d like to share my process with you, but I think it is also important to note that only 3% of the 80,000 Korean adoptees who went looking for their lost families between the years of 1995 and 2005 were successfully reunited (Lee, 2014). Some adoptees choose not to search, and many search endlessly with no success. For many of us, there are roadblocks and barriers to reunification every step of the way.
In 2012, the activist efforts of several adoptee and single mom’s organizations culminated in revisions to the Special Adoption Law (SAL) in Korea. The collaborative efforts of groups like KoRoot, ASK, TRACK, KUMFA, KUMSN, Dandelions, along with the assistance of the Gonggam Public Interest Lawyers, resulted in provisions being put into place that seek to regulate adoption policy in a way that is more in line with international human rights standards.
One of the revisions included the creation of a centralized government body that would retain physical possession of adoptees’ birth records. This is policy not practice and there still does not exist a central database of adoption records. However, I did reach out to the Korean governmental organization charged with this task, Korean Adoption Services (KAS), for assistance with my search.
I emailed KAS after having no success in obtaining my adoption file from the domestic adoption agency, Love the Children, that processed my case on the U.S. side. Now defunct, Love the Children likely no longer exists because adoption out of Korea has decreased to the extent that it was no longer feasible to run an adoption agency that only imported children from Korea. As I browsed Love the Children’s website, I was directed to contact the Orphans’ Court of Bucks County Pennsylvania as they would take over possession of my file.
I had no success in obtaining my adoption file from the Orphans’ Court of Bucks County Pennsylvania. I emailed, I called several times, and I made very little progress. I suppose bureaucracy got in the way of me getting a copy of my file. There were several forms to fill out, and I needed the “court’s permission” to access my adoption record. When I couldn’t figure out how to properly fill out the forms and what exactly the fee was, I called again, and again, and was transferred, and was put on hold, and was transferred, and was promised call backs that were never received. I gave up.
Thus, after receiving some guidance from my field educator about what to do next, I emailed KAS on December 12, 2014 and requested assistance in initiating a search for my family. Two days later, a person responded to me on behalf of KAS. Attached to the response was a Petition for Adoption Information Disclosure Form, and detailed instructions as to my search options. Basically, KAS advised me that I could file the Petition either with them, and they would do the search, or I could file it directly with my Korean adoption agency, Eastern Social Welfare Services (ESWS), and they would do the search.
I chose the former because according to Article 29.1 of the SAL, adoption agencies in Korea are required to comply with KAS when a request is made for information necessary to carry out their duties. In my case, I requested assistance from KAS in carrying out a search for my family because I understood that the law compels ESWS to provide to KAS any information in their possession that is pertinent to my family search. After having a difficult time attempting to obtain my file on the domestic side, I was not eager to work directly with the agency in possession of my file on the Korean side.
I filed the Petition for Adoption Information Disclosure form with KAS on December 16, 2014. A month went by and I hadn’t heard anything from KAS about the status of my request, so I emailed them to follow up.
Stay tuned for Part Two to find out what happens next!