Posts Tagged With: unwed mothers

Australia’s National Apology for forced adoption practices, Korea, and Social Work

What happened?!

For many across the globe, March 21st, 2013, will be remembered as a very important day in child welfare. It was on this day that Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, delivered a National Apology to those impacted by forced adoption practices in Australia, which you can view here:

Australia’s National Apology for forced adoption practices

My first impression:

When I first listened to this speech, I was taken by surprise at how great it was. The speech was well written, very informed, and well-delivered byPM Gillard. She not only made an official apology to members of the adoption triad and others who had been affected (including natural fathers and extended family members) but she also spoke to the systemic and societal environment between the 1950’s and 1970’s which left unmarried mothers feeling as if they had no choice but to give up their children for adoption. Even mothers who intended to keep and raise their child on their own, were often coerced, disempowered, and even bullied into signing the consent form which would free their child for adoption.

According to a report that the Australian government released last year, it was found that many medical personnel, social workers, and adoption agencies used coercion and even administered prescription drugs to unwed mothers as a way of attaining their infants for adoption.  These methods were frequently used in maternity facilities in order to obtain more infants and meet the demand of the adoption industry.

This reminded me of what I had learned through journal articles and class discussions about truth and reconciliation as well as national apologies came to mind. I also wondered if the social workers, agencies, organizations, and hospitals that implemented these methods felt the need to apologize since they were the ultimate system which oppressed and exploited these women. After the weekend had passed and I searched the internet news, I was surprised to find that one of the hospitals did issue an apology.

Melb hospital joins PM in adoption apology

While these apologies do not take away from the disenfranchised grief and marginalization that unwed mothers and others in the adoption triad experienced, recognizing the experiences of “victims”, the unethical malpractice of adoption, and as Gillard put it perfectly, the denial of the “fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children. You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and support” by “the bullying arrogance of a society that presumed to know what was best” is one way the Australian government can take responsibility.

How is the South Korean government and/or public reacting to Australia’s National Apology for forced adoption?

I was not surprised to learn that the news of this historical moment in Australia did not reach headlines in Korea, especially with everything being centered on the increasing tensions between North and South Korea and the recent cyber attack on South Korea. However, I didn’t think it would be almost invisible since South Korea is noted by many as the “#1 baby exporter” and one of the “founding fathers of adoption practice”. If there were to be another national apology for forced adoption practices, I would immediately expect it to be South Korea next (or possibly China).

While searching for more information about the case of Australia, I was not able to find any kind of coverage from a Korean publisher about this issue. Using the keywords “Australia”, “forced adoption”, “South Korea”, “Korean adoption” on a Google search, I was not able to find any news articles related to the issue. In fact, I could not locate any recognition or news story written about the forced adoption apology in Australia on the three Korean news websites published in English: Korea Times, Korea Herald, and Chosun Ilbo. Since I have a barrier with Korean language, it is possible that I am wrong about it being “missing” from Korean discussion. If this is the case, please let know if and where there is any information about Australia’s National Apology in the Korean news (written in English or Korean) or discussion, please let me know since I’d be interested to hear the opinions and views of Koreans on the recent event.

On the other hand, Australia’s National Apology has had an international impact and seems to have started a movement as other countries are beginning to question their own adoption practice and policies in their own countries: New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, and most recently, Great Britain and Ireland. I found it very interesting, but not surprising, that adoption practices and child welfare programs across the globe are in speculation. I think I can make an educated guess that the use of coercion and force, the lack of economic and government support, and the societal stigma and values surrounding unwed or single mothers is not specific to Australia (i.e. similar experiences and historical context of women, children, and families in the U.S.)

Calls for probe into forced adoptions (Ireland)

Irish Women emerge from shadows of ‘National Shame’ (Ireland)

Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: I hope my birth mother can now rest in peace (Ireland)

Australia’s scandal of forced adoption is happening here in Britain (Great Britain)

Origins Canada

Origins Scotland

I believe that organizations in Korea such as KUMSN, unwed mothers, and other organization’s or women’s groups should look to Australia as an example of the power that collective social movements can have. I also think it is also important to increase public access to these types of stories and help them to make the connection between what has happened in Australia and what is still a common practice in the maternity homes and hospitals in Korea. Since the majority of the population is not getting the information from the news media and may not be aware there is an issue, it is the responsibility of NGO’s, volunteers, and anyone else who feel strongly about the issue and social justice for unwed mothers and women in Korea, should assume this responsibility.

Forced adoption practice and the role of social workers

In the U.S., many people do not fully understand or are unable to explain what social workers do or who they are because social workers work in a variety of environments and in a variety of roles. However, a common perception of the social worker’s role is the ‘family divider’ or ‘child remover’. This is most likely because of the establishment of Child Protective Services and the role of social workers in America’s child welfare history. As the privacy of the family and home became a public issue and the issue of child maltreatment and domestic violence was revealed, CPS workers (called social workers) removed children from their families and home for their protection. While the focus has shifted to the preservation of families with programs such as kinship care and the increase in parental rights, some still have negative views of social workers.

The exposure of unethical and malpractice in adoption by social workers, medical professionals, religious groups and non-profit or charitable organizations in Australia will most likely perpetuate these views and the perception that social workers are “breaking families apart”. In reality, it IS what social workers did and it IS what happened. While I’d like to believe that most of those involved in practice at that time were well-intentioned and following the practice standards of the time, social workers from that time and afterward should take responsibility. It wouldn’t be the first time that the social work field has evaluated past practice as being poor or malpractice, but it is more important that future social workers learn from past practice and work towards improving the standard of practice. It is also important for social workers to advocate and seek social justice for the populations we serve to prevent systemic marginalization and oppression as exemplified by the recent events in Australia.

More resources:

Australia PM Gillard sorry for ‘shameful’ forced adoptions

Categories: Child welfare, Family issues, Field Experience, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summary of the 1st Week

It has been about a week since I started field and things have been pretty difficult with the language barrier and cultural differences. I feel as though I may have had a rocky start with KUMSN because I was unaware of some of the cultural norms regarding greetings, giving gifts, and even meal times.

Greetings and farewells are much more formal compared to my experience in the U.S. and is essential in the Korean work culture. In jobs that I’ve worked in the past, saying “hello” and “goodbye” to my co-workers and supervisors were not something that I normally would of as important or that I would spend time doing. At my current job as a case manager, employees arrive and leave the office on different schedules depending on their own agendas, so It has never been a priority for me to greet or say goodbye to everyone.

Despite these struggles, I have been learning so much more about the social environment that has led to the unwed mother’s perception of not having any other choice than to give their child up for adoption. I also am beginning to identify and better explain how the discrimination and struggles that unwed mothers experience are related to several other dynamics in Korean society which I hope to go more into later.

Family Ties by Lee Jun-il

Family Ties by Lee Jun-Il

On my second day of field, I stayed afterwards to attend a study group that KUMSN holds at their office once every other week. The participants are all KUMSN members and are in various professional and academic fields. There is a lawyer, an accountant, two in PhD programs for women’s/feminine studies (including one male), an international tourism professor, an unwed mother, as well as other KUMSN employees including my field educator, Seunghee.

The group’s focus is to study and learn more about unwed mothers and their experiences to gain a better understanding since most study group members are not unwed mothers. Currently, the study group is reading Family Ties: According to the change in the concept of family: the rights of unwed mothers and adoptees by Lee, Jun-il.  Click on the book for more info.

Although my understanding of Korean language is very limited, I can understand the conversation topic and can somewhat gather the position and some thoughts of the speaker during discussion. They also distribute handouts or an outline of the discussion as a guide, however it is also in Korean.  In the past the study group has also reviewed research and academic journal articles about other relevant issues such as the status of women in Korea and international adoption.

Shinhan Bank book

so cute!

With the help of KUMSN, I also established a Korean bank account with Shinhan Bank so that I could transfer money more easily between my bank in the U.S. and Korea since the foreign exchange and ATM fees are very high. It is also more convenient to add money to my mobile SIM card and my T-money card. Even before coming to Korea, I have always liked their cute stationary and office products. I was even more excited to find that even their bank books are cute!

Categories: Field Experience, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meeting KUMSN

It has been only three days since I started my field placement with KUMSN and so far I’ve found it to be energizing and exciting, but also difficult and at times frustrating.

The KUMSN office is actually located in an apartment building rather than a formal office building, so it is a very home-like environment. Based on the stigma on unwed mothers and those that openly support them, finding affordable office space may have been difficult for KUMSN. Their sole office is located in a district called Mapo-gu (which is not too far from where I am staying in Seodaemun-gu). There are three full-time office staff including the Executive Director, the Project Public Relations Chief Manager, and my field educator, Han Seo, Seung-hee (family name, given name), who is the Research & Education Chief Manager. The board chairperson, Angela Kang, also has her office here but only comes once or twice a week.

KUMSN cute sticky notes that say  "All the mothers of the world have the right to raise their own children,"

Translation: “All the mothers of the world have the right to raise their own children,”

After getting lost on the bus system and walking in the freezing cold, I finally arrived (an hour late) on my first day. I met with Seung-hee and learned about KUMSN’s current activities. She provided me with brochures in Korean and English, as well as some cute post-it notes with their information on them.

Although KUMSN was founded in 2007, they were registered as an organization in the U.S. Very recently in 2011, KUMSN became a registered organization with the Korean government although they do not receive any government funding or support. Through the foundation that Dr. Boas established in the U.S., KUMSN will have a funding source for its first two years in Korea with the goal of becoming self-supporting by June 2014. Additional funding is obtained through donations (both monetary and in-kind), sponsoring members, and memberships for their budget. However, because of the stigma on unwed mothers, it is difficult to gain the support of businesses and organizations who do not want to be affiliated with KUMSN.

This month, they have been very busy preparing for their U.S. tax audit that they must complete since they receive funding through Dr. Boas’ foundation. At this time, I have been helping by doing miscellaneous office tasks such as copying, filing, organizing, etc. Although these tasks are not directly related to our roles as social workers, I have come to accept that paperwork and organization are important and will always be part of the job, especially in an administrative or management position.

My other responsibilities will include reviewing and proofreading the English website as well as the news and academic articles after they have been translated by KUMSN volunteers from Korean to English. I also search for academic research and news articles (in English) related to unwed mothers, intercountry adoption, birthmothers, and families in Korea and other areas of the world.

It is also a reflection of cultural differences in that Korea has a very different work environment than what I am used to working in the U.S. It is common for the newest person to the company or organization to do these kinds of activities such as copying, getting coffee, and filing. Working beyond the designated work hours is also common and a regular occurrence, but is not reflected in their salary or wages. For example, a friend of mine who is a Korean National, started working for KT Telecom and has been working from 9 am until 11 pm most days although he’s only paid until 6 pm.

I am very excited to work with KUMSN because of my own thoughts and feelings about the issues unwed mothers face in Korea and I do believe that woman have the right to become mothers and to keep and raise their children. It is also important to me because it is this stigma that has really fueled the Korean international adoption industry.

KUMSN's banner on adopted children

As a woman, it is also important to me because of the traditional Korean beliefs and norms that historically and continues to place greater value on men: not only in families which are the private and domestic sector, but also in employment, owning property, politically, economically, educationally, and even in everyday public and social interactions. I hope to go into greater detail with my thoughts and understanding of these aspects throughout the time that I am here, but I think that I have written enough for tonight.


Categories: Child welfare, Field Experience, Korean Culture, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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