Date: 1989-07-06

Times Union, The (Albany, NY)
Author: Peter Wehrwein Staff writer

Kathleen Wolterding had hoped it would happen over and over again:

The joyous, tearful scenes at the Albany County Airport, the anxious parents, reaching out and gently grasping their infant, adopted Korean child for the first time.

Now Wolterding, an Albany resident who is the mother of a 3-year-old Korean girl, is facing a new and harsher reality.

In recent years, the popular Korean adoption program has tapered off because of birth control and changing attitudes in South Korea toward children born out of wedlock, and State Department officials say it may end altogether. For couples without children, this has meant little or no chance of ever adopting a Korean child, or at least a very much longer wait.

For parents like Wolterding, the president of a local support group for Korean families, Korean Adoptive Families Inc., this has signaled the end of an era.

The change is particularly apparent in Albany, where a Parsons Child and Family Center program made the Capital District one of the major centers of Korean adoption in the country.

Parsons stopped taking applications for Korean babies six months ago. After placing up to 130 Korean children per year in the past, and more than 900 since 1981, Parson officials expect to place only 50 Korean children.

"It is sad, because it kind of closes off our community," said Wolterding. "We always had a sense of a growing community."

About 10,000 children were adopted by Americans from overseas in each of the last three years and more than half have been from South Korea. But from a peak of 6,188 children in 1986 - most of them born to unmarried women and thus objects of scorn in their native land - the number of Korean children adopted in the United States decreased by more 1,000, to 4,942, in 1988.

Some parents and adoption officials say that negative news coverage in the United States of American adoption of Korean babies - especially during the highly publicized coverage of Korea during 1988 Summer Olympics - triggered a clampdown in Seoul. But most point to gradual societal shifts, including greater social welfare spending and support for unwed mothers by the South Korean government, a rising standard of living and more lenient policies toward contraception and abortion.

"The babies are just not being born," said Susan Freivalds, executive director of Adoptive Families of America, a Minneapolis-based organization for families with adopted children.

It is a trend that is likely to continue, according to a State Department spokesman interviewed last week. American Embassy officials in Seoul have been told by adoption agencies that 40 percent fewer Korean children will be available this year than were in 1988.

Ten years from now, embassy officials have been told, there may be no foreign adoption of Korean children, the spokesman said.

American parents have started to go to other countries to adopt children, particularly Colombia and Chile. Because of the lack of government oversight, adoptions there can be riskier. They also usually cost several thousand dollars more than a Korean adoption and require the parents to travel to the child's home.

"It is much more expensive, time- consuming and difficult to adopt from Latin America, " said Freivalds.

Others are sticking with the Korean program. The Latin American and Indian programs tend to favor childless couples, noted a Loudonville mother, who has adopted four children, two of whom are Korean, but who wants a fifth.

"If Korea does not continue with its babies, we will not have any more children," said the mother, who asked that her name not be used.

Parents with Korean children are pleased that Korean orphans are finding homes in their own country but are still worried.

"I can't be sad - as long as they have homes," said Barbara Nichols Randall, former president of the support group.

Wolterding, on the other hand, said Korean social welfare programs may not be in place and a generation of children will grow up in orphanages.

"These things don't happen overnight," she said.

About one-sixth of the estimated 60,000 adoptions in this country each year are foreign children. Foreign adoption has become an attractive option, said Freivalds, because the children are young, the waits shorter and the adoption less expensive than for a white American infant. The Korean adoption program started in the years after the end of the Korean War in 1953. It was originally a religiously inspired movement to spare the unwanted children of Korean women and American servicemen from spending their childhoods in orphanages. The religious and humanitarian impulses behind the program are now overshadowed by the desires of American families who want children.

In South Korea, as in the rest of the world, most of the children available for adoption are born to unmarried women. The emphasis on family and on patrilineage in Korea has been so strong that these children might have a hard time entering a school, and later, getting a job. The same values also made adoption into another Korean family highly unlikely.

Only four adoption agencies are licensed in Korea to work with the U.S.-based agencies here. Korean adoptions have been "predictable" adoptions, Freivalds said. The waiting time of six months to a year was relatively short and no one was required to travel to Korea.

Korean adoption has also been less expensive than other foreign adoptions, ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, compared with $10,000 to $15,000 for a Latin American child, including the travel, Freivalds said.

At Parsons, parents pay $3,730 for the Korean end of an adoption, plus a fee of 6 percent of their gross income.

Latin American adoption is getting easier and faster as more Americans pursue it, contends Irwin Wein, assistant director of programming for Today's Adoption Agency in Honesdale, Pa. The waiting time is only four to six months, he said, adding that the requirement that the adoption take place in the child's home country is not a bad thing.

"If I was adopting a child from another culture, I would want to go there," he said.

Marilyn Rowland of Duxbury, Mass., has adopted two children from Chile. Rowland, the director of Latin American Adoptive Families, a national support group, agrees with Wein that the travel is a "worthwhile experience."

Latin American adoption, however, is more "uncertain" than the Korean program, Rowland conceded. Parents should get references and be wary of offers of adoption from lawyers or individuals "that sound too good."


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