'Mother of all Korean orphans' admits not every adoption perfect

Date: 2008-05-08

(Yonhap Interview)
By Kim Young-gyo

GOYANG, South Korea, May 8 (Yonhap) - A daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, who founded South Korea's largest adoption agency in the aftermath of the Korean War, has been following her parents' path of encouraging adoptions of abandoned children.

While nursing children at South Korean orphanages and helping them get adopted by new families since 1956 when she was 19, Molly Holt says she has always felt that a family is the best gift an orphaned child can have.

At the same time, however, the head of Holt Children's Services knows that not all adoptions have a happy ending.

"Like this family in Iowa, you know, where a father killed his wife and all his children, it was so horrible," she said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency Thursday.

In March, the members of the family in the U.S. were beaten to death by the father, who had been charged with embezzling nearly $560,000 from his former employer and with money laundering. He later committed suicide. All four of his children were adopted from South Korea through Holt Children's Services.

With tearful eyes, seemingly feeling guilty about the children's deaths, Holt continued.

"I got the folder. It was this big, because there were four homestudies. Before each child was adopted they (did) homestudies again and again. Four yearly reports with post-adoption reports done every three months for a year. Still, this happens. I looked at it, and there was nothing wrong. The only wrong was that the father was too perfect. He never had a traffic ticket. He never made mistakes."
A homestudy is a detailed written report on a prospective adoptive family, assessing the home environment before a child is placed in the family.

Holt, along with many Korean adoptees, attended the memorial service for the dead, which was held March 28 in northern Seoul.

"Sometimes people think in the beginning that we didn't have any investigating agencies, but we did. We had an agency that investigates, and we would get the reports to see if they were suitable families or not...They check their credit ratings, their police records, their backgrounds and their educational backgrounds," Holt said.

"We tried to find all the best families for our precious children, but sometimes they didn't have good families. They divorced, or they abused children. But it's amazing sometimes how wonderful the children turned out even in sad circumstances. Sometimes there were wonderful families and children ran away."

Unfortunately some adoptive parents give up their adopted children, as in the case of a Dutch diplomat in Hong Kong who drew public criticism last December for giving up his seven-year-old ethnic Korean daughter, whom he and his wife adopted at the age of four months.

"Sometimes they (adoptees) are brought back to Korea. We had maybe ten brought back to Korea. Some went back to orphanages, and some are here. Some are still here."

Often dubbed "Mother of all Korean orphans," Holt has been living at a 51.7-acre facility in Goyang, east of Seoul, where Holt Children's Services offers a home for over 250 homeless disabled people.

"One girl, she had several polios, she fell down a lot. She was normal mentally. She went to school. And we adopted her into another family. And she did fine," she said. "But people are all different. You can't say everything is perfect. But you do what you can."

"Some did have hard times. We are sorry," she said.

She said she will continue helping orphaned children get adopted, both internationally and domestically.

When asked about her plan for the future, she replied, "To make happy families. Adoption has always been our central piece, because adoption is the very best way to have children cared for, who do not have living parents or parents that can care for them."

Adoptions from South Korea began soon after the 1950-53 war and peaked in the mid-1980s when over 8,000 children a year went abroad, mostly to the United States, to join their new families.

The government has recorded about 158,000 foreign adoptions of Korean orphans in the over 50 years since foreign adoptions began.

ygkim@yna.co.kr

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