Read Part One here.
After emailing KAS to follow up on the status of my request for information regarding the whereabouts of my Korean parents, I received a response the next day. When I opened the email, I started reading it like any other business related email that I sift through on a daily basis, until I reached this sentence- “KAS was able to locate your birth mother’s current whereabouts”.
KAS was able to locate your birth mother’s current whereabouts. KAS was able to locate your birth mother’s current whereabouts. KAS was able to locate your birth mother’s current whereabouts. I couldn’t stop reading it. I kept reading that sentence, over and over again. When did they locate her? What if I hadn’t followed up? Is this really true? Is it really her?
The email response from KAS went on to explain to me that they were in the process of preparing a letter to my eomma. I know other adoptees who have been through the same process, and the letter is a standard second step taken after a family member is located. KAS advised me that some birth parents respond promptly, while others do not respond at all.
I’ve also heard anecdotally from other adoptees that the letter sent to a potential family member is very generic, and sometimes is mistaken for junk mail and not read at all. Other adoptees have told me that the letter doesn’t provide any information regarding the adoptees desire to reunite, it only requests that the recipient contact the agency handling the search. Also, I imagine some birth parents ignore the letter because of social stigma and shame related to unwed single motherhood and child abandonment. In other cases, birth parents do not want to reunite, and will not respond to the letter for that reason. With all of these scenarios in mind, I was prepared for no response but still hopeful that I was one step closer to reunification.
KAS gave me the good news first. The bad news was that they told me that they did not have enough information to locate my Korean father. The email said that only the name and age of my father were in my file. I desire strongly to know who he is but I don’t know that I have the energy to exhaust my search efforts for him at this time. I am also hopeful that if I am able to reunite with my eomma, I may gain more information about my father that can be used to locate him when I have the capacity.
I replied to KAS, thankful that they had communicated to me that my eomma was located but also curious to know what the contents were of the letter they were sending to her. I asked KAS directly if I could have a copy of the letter for my records. Unfortunately, this request was never acknowledged and I have yet to receive a copy of the letter.
I’ve held a wide range of emotions throughout this stage of the process. I’m happy my eomma was located but also anxious about what it will feel like if she declines to respond to the letter or does not want to reunite. I’m disappointed that my father wasn’t found and skeptical about how much effort was put into looking for him. Ultimately, I think the most overwhelming part of this process is not having any control over something so meaningful to me.
So far, my experience with KAS and in doing my family search has led me to believe that there is a lot of room for improvement in this process. First and foremost, I can make a recommendation to KAS in that if they want to operate more compassionately, they would conduct business from a trauma informed-human rights perspective.
Adapted from literature regarding trauma informed treatment in mental health care systems, I think this infographic developed by the Institute on Trauma and Trauma Informed Care at the Buffalo Center for Social Research does a good job at encapsulating the primary tenets of creating a trauma informed system (Simpson & Green, 2014).
Where I see applicability in terms of trauma informed care in post adoption services is the assertion that the separation of a child from their mother is a traumatic event. As Nancy Verrier (1993) explains in The Primal Wound, separation trauma can exist even when there is no conscious recollection of the trauma.
The abrupt separation and transference of a young child from a familiar place to an environment that is unfamiliar, with all new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches can lead to the perception that one is unsafe. Neurologically, research suggests that the brain responds in a very specific way to perceived danger, even at a very young age (Verrier, 1993).
According to the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network (2015), a young child’s brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma because the brain is still developing. When an environment is perceived as unsafe, the brain responds accordingly and sends a message to the child that they need to be in a constant state of vigilance. Some research has shown that early childhood traumatic experiences have been associated with a reduction of the brain cortex which is responsible for many high level functions including thinking, language, and memory. Perhaps the research on early childhood trauma, separation, and international adoption correlates with the fact that adoptees are also overrepresented in mental health settings (Kaplan, 2009).
I need to be cautious here because I don’t want to generalize or ever make the suggestion that adoptees on the whole all experienced trauma and therefore have adjustment problems. To the contrary, my life is full of brilliant, successful, and creative adoptees that inspire me to be the best that I can be. In fact, I think often times normal responses to experiences as a cross-cultural/cross-racial adoptee can at times be incorrectly pathologized as a mental health issue.
My point is that my experience thus far with KAS suggests that the organization is not adhering to the principles of trauma informed care (safety, collaboration, choice, empowerment, and trustworthiness). Therefore, it at times can feel dehumanizing and retraumatizing to work with KAS. I have no trust in the system because I have zero control over the process. The communication has been sparse and in a level of English that can be cryptic and difficult to understand. I have not been allowed to collaborate such that I’m even provided with the letter that they send to my eomma to let her know that I’m looking for her, let alone have any choice in what the letter says. Further, I have no power in this process because to KAS, I am number 85C-671, and there are thousands of numbers to process for family searches.
To find out what happens next in this process, keep following for Part Three!
Simpson, R., & Green, S. A. (2014). Trauma Informed Care Infographic. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/social-research/institutes-centers/institute-on-trauma-and-trauma-informed-care/about-us/trauma-and-trauma-informed-care.html