Open adoption in Korea

From the ICAR2 Conference in July 2006. Thanks to Professor Lee for sending this to me.

Open Adoption in a Traditionally Closed Society:  Problems and Needs for Post Adoption Services   

Hyang-Eun Kim
Kosin University, Dongsamdong 149-1, Yeongdogu, Busan, Korea

Adoption itself has been rare in Korea. When it occurs, it has been the norm for a sterile  couple to adopt a boy confidentially. Recently, adoption is seen as an alternative and a few  families have adopted children openly. These revolutionary changes imply that adoptive  family groups will be growing in Korea, and the support systems and research for adoptive  families are needed.  Adoption is a developmental process that lasts for the whole family’s lifetime. Therefore,  long-term  approaches  help  us  to  understand  adoptive  families’  adaptation  and  family  development. Despite this, there has been little research on adoptive families in Korea.  There is a strong demand for the research to be focused on the developmental changes of  adoptive families as time goes by.   

This pilot study attempts to assess the current status of open adoption, analyze problems  faced by open adoptive families, and identify their needs for post adoption services. The  purpose of this study is to gather preliminary data of the longitudinal research about Korean  open adoptive families. It also aims to provide ideas for building effective support systems for open adoptive families based on the results of this study.   

The subjects of this study were 32 open adoptive parents. Sixteen were fathers and sixteen  were mothers. They were members of a self-help group. Through interviews with these parents, their current status, problems and needs, and self-help group experiences were  examined. Frequencies and percentages were used for the analysis of the collected data.   

The current status of adoptive families   

The main motive of adoption was sterility. Some  parents adopt a child because they don’t want their first adoptee to feel lonely. Others felt  more confident after they had adopted the first adoptee. More than half of the parents have  their biological child. Many parents have two children including the adoptee. Their biological  children were frequently distributed from 19 to 24 years old. Typically parents adopted one  infant, but a few couples adopted a child over 6 years or adopted more than 3 children. More  girls than boys were adopted and mostly distributed from 2 to 5 years old.   

When parents adopt a child they got positive responses from others, but there were still  negative responses. Most were satisfied with their adoption and would like to recommend  that people adopt a child. About half said there was no particular problem related to their  adoption, but some pointed out the unreasonable laws for adoption, the problems related to  open adoption, the maladjustment of adoptees, social prejudice, and the deficiency of postadoption  services.  They  want  more  consolidated  legal  systems,  financial  support  from  government, developing post adoption services, and activation of domestic adoption. 

The problems faced by open adoptive parents   
These families adopted a child openly  because they thought there was no reason to keep the child’s status confidential. They feel  better for adoptees to know rather than being shocked when the adoptees learn about their  status suddenly. More than half still did not let their adoptee know, and they have conflicts  about the timing and process for telling them. Some parents already told their infant and  quite a few adoptees came to know their status naturally from the self-help group.   

Most were very satisfied with their open adoption and would like to recommend that people  adopt a child openly. Open adoptive parents feel free from the burden of confidentiality, and  they could get positive feedback from others. However, they worried that they might have  problems  including  managing  the  traumatic  experiences  of  their  adoptees,  the  public’s  negative view of open adoption as “showing off”, and treatment of these adopted families  either with special favours or prejudices. 

Self-help group experiences   
Almost all parents needed self-help groups. They got to  know or contacted this group through other adoptive parents, mass media, and community  groups such as churches. They participated in their self-help group activities once a month.  They were very satisfied with their self-help group and would like to introduce their group to  other adoptive families.   The main activities consisted of adoptive family’s case presentation, parent education, and  sharing  intimate  information.  Parents  evaluated  it  positively  because  of  the  emotional  support, useful information, and friendly relations between the adoptive families. However,  they evaluated it negatively especially for the non systematic program, limitation of time and  place, and the difficulties of attracting members. They needed more diverse, systematic, and  specialized programs and more active publicity for self-help groups.


First, there is a demand for consolidation of support systems based upon the current status  of  adoptive  families.  Versatile  support  is  required from  diverse  resources  like  adoption  agencies, community services, and government departments. There was no serious maladaptation of adoptive families from this study, but their developmental continuity should be  examined, and post adoption services for those should be prepared.   

Second,  there  is  a  demand  for  counterplans  for  open  adoptive  families  in  Korea,  a  traditionally closed society. We cannot be sure if openness has similar effects as in many  western  countries,  because  developmental  challenges  and  tasks  are  varied  with  the  sociocultural contexts. We need further studies in this area and diverse support systems to  help open adoptive families get over their problems. 

Third, there is a demand for activating self-help groups based on the adoptive family’s  experiences and needs. It was shown that self-help groups were very effective resources for  open adoptive families. Therefore the strong points of these groups should be included as a  core part of the program. At the same time, their weaknesses must be overcome when we  make more advanced programs. 

Fourth, there is a demand for activating further studies which support the adoptive family’s  adaptation. Further studies should deal with pre and post adoption matters through family life  cycles, adoptive family relationships or dynamics, factors leading to a successful adoption.  Larger, more diverse research is needed with greater links to international comparative  studies.      

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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