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Korea Waiting Parents

Questions to ask Foster Mom (International Adoption)

Hi all,

My husband and I are waiting to adopt a little guy (currently 2 1/2) from Korea, and will likely be able to bring him home sometime in 2016, so we are still a ways off. Our US agency social worker is visiting this summer as part of a homeland tour, and will have a chance to meet with our little guy and his foster mom. We can ask three questions (she has LOTS of kiddos to meet and limited time) - given this constraint, any suggestions of what would be most important to ask? We have a decent amount of basic info (medical, height, weight, birthparent history, etc.). The first question we plan to ask is whether there is anything specific we can send that would help out (e.g., vitamins, clothing of a certain type/size, etc.). I’m trying to take a long-term view with this and think of things that our son might like to know later - perhaps what a typical day with him is like, personality traits, favorite/least favorite things, stuff like that, but I don’t know if there’s something more important I should be asking about. Hopefully, we will have the chance to meet with and talk to our son’s foster mom when we go to Korea next year, and we hope to maintain a relationship with his foster parents once we have adopted him, but I don’t want to waste this opportunity and would like to use it to get some info that our little guy would be glad to have later in life, just in case! Also, I’m sure things will be different in a year or so, and his foster mom may not remember all the little details of his life/personality/likes/dislikes now. I guess we’re just trying to get a good picture of him at this age, and aren’t sure specifically how to ask those questions.

Thanks for any suggestions!


We are also in the waiting process and will probably be traveling in 2016 to bring our little guy home (although I’m still hoping for 2015!)  We were able to meet him and his foster family recently.  One of the things we asked was what words is he saying now (at 14 months old.)  You may want to ask what his first words or first foods were.  That’s something that my bio kids love to hear me talk about from their baby history.  Also, asking what is his favorite toy?  What makes him very happy?  Does he prefer foster mom or foster dad?  Those are facts that will help him picture a personal history later on, I would think.

Posted by CajunMtnMama on May 08, 2015 at 11:07pm

Oh Amma B, blunt as ever, huh? Has it occurred to you that the OP is working with an agency that Is following Hague protocol? How about something helpful that she could ask the foster mom instead of bringing it back to your opinions and your experience.

Posted by babydreams on May 09, 2015 at 12:39am

Hi.  We adopted children of various ages from Korea years ago.  I also am an adoption therapist and have worked, over the years, with many children adopted internationally, as pre-schoolers, as well as at other ages.
  Some possible questions:  Can you help this child to meet and get familiar with people who look like us?  Can you share photos of us and talk with him about what will happen?  Can you teach him some basic sign language so that we can communicate: hungry, scared, sad, need restroom, mother, father, car, etc…?  How do you comfort him when he is scared or sad? 
  Why not write a letter in which you ask ALL of the questions to which you would love to have answers to, and get it translated?  Ask your social worker to take it and give it to the foster mom, and ask that she answer the questions so that you can have them when you travel or beforehand via mail/e-mail, if that is allowed.  Send photos of you and a FEW of your home, put into a SMALL photo book that your child can hold and look at with the foster mother—and ask that she share it with him often. 
    Biggest focus should be on helping him with the transition, as that will be traumatic and will drive his behavior once he is with you, for years to come.  Try to think from the child’s point of view, knowing that sense of smell is acute and remembered (think about what the scent of something potent evokes for YOU).  Language is not only frustrating and difficult, it will cause gaps in his memory to lose one language and be in-process of learning another for many months while he is having intense emotional experiences.  Learn and teach him some basic sign language.  That will hasten his language-learning and provide more immediate means of communicating in a way that is easier for a child living through a traumatic move.  If you can ask the foster mom to sleep with something—a cuddly stuffed animal, a small blanket—then it will carry her scent and evoke a sense of comfort that you can take home with you.  A photo of her that you can point to as you give him whatever the item (with her scent) will help him know that you know he is grieving for her. 
    Good luck!

Posted by Jane Brown on Jun 14, 2015 at 5:10pm

Thanks CajunMtnMama for the suggestions. One of the questions we ended up asking was what his favorite things were (toys, activities, people, etc.). Tried to cram a few related questions into one. grin Best wishes for a 2015 travel date!!

Jane Brown, thanks for your input as well. We have sent photos of us over recently, and we know that the foster mom shared them with our little guy. We definitely plan to get a letter together for the foster mom, and get in translated, but we’re only allowed limited contact with her at this point in the process. We are very hopeful for a continuing, open relationship with her once we meet her and bring our little guy home, and I have already looked into some resources for getting a letter translated. We also sent over a stuffed animal that we slept with, for our little guy to get used to our smell, but that is a great idea to get his foster mom to do the same for him before we come home - I hadn’t thought of that. We have several photos of her with him as well, and of course hope to get more once we travel. She seems to care deeply for our little guy, so I bet she’ll be willing to help us out with the transition, and hopefully continued contact. As an aside, I don’t post here a lot, but I do read a lot of posts - I appreciate your perspective and welcome any advice for helping little man with the transition and keeping him connected to his culture. Hearing from adoptive mamas who have been there done that, and know it from an academic/social work perspective as well is so helpful to me in figuring out how to support our little guy during the transition and as he grows up.

Posted by waiting2015 on Jun 16, 2015 at 9:35pm

It is so exciting that you got to ask the foster mom question about your little one.  We are also in the middle of an adoption from S. Korea.  We are waiting for our court date and hope to meet him this year.  I would have given anything to have gotten to ask questions about my little one.  I think the questions you asked where great and I hope they help you with him.  I hope you get to bring your baby home in 2015 or the first of 2016.  The hardest part is the waiting.

Posted by anma on Sep 09, 2015 at 5:16pm

In general, South Korea, a prosperous and modern country that has been placing children with Americans for over 50 years, has a wonderful adoption system.  It is ethical and organized, and has changed over time to reflect current beliefs about the best interests of children; as an example, it is much more open, now, to giving young adult adoptees birthparent information and facilitating reunions, and the Korean government even lets young adult international adoptees who lost their Korean citizenship at adoption become dual citizens if they wish to maintain close ties to their cultural heritage, without having to worry about conscription into the Korean military.  (This was OK’d by the U.S. government, as I understand it.)

The children get very good medical care, including things like reliable immunizations and physical therapy (if needed).  The one issue that, perhaps, should be better handled is diagnosis and reporting of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.  Where possible,  the medical reports do mention birthmother smoking, drinking, or drug use, if any of these things occurred, but we all know that birthmothers aren’t always completely candid about substance use, and some children are not born in hospitals or did not have birthmothers who got prenatal care, or were abandoned.  We also know that some effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol don’t show up until a child is of school age, when deficiencies in impulse control or quantitative reasoning often become apparent.

But there are sometimes hints of what is to come—facial features, certain behaviors, things that are known about the birthparents, and so on.  Today, there are a good many adoptive parents discovering that their adopted Korean children have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, mild or serious, in part because birthmothers are no longer just very sheltered young women who got pregnant on their first sexual encounter; they are sometimes fairly worldly young women, who date, drink, smoke, live on their own, and so on.  It would be wonderful if the doctors, the foster parents, and the Korean social welfare agencies would make more of an effort to look for and report possible signs of FASD, and if more American agencies would alert prospective parents that at least some children coming home will have FASD, whether minimal or severe. 

Too many American prospective adoptive parents still say, “Oh, Korean women don’t drink,” or “There’s a national drink called soju (19% alcohol or more) that has been used for generations, and it doesn’t harm the fetus.”  In fact, these statements are wrong. Alcohol use by females is actually increasing in Korea, and the percentage of teen girls who drink is now higher than the percentage of teen boys who do.  Ten percent of Korean women who drink do so more than twice a week and drink more than five glasses on each occasion (high risk binge drinkers). And although 20% of Korean women don’t know that alcohol use during pregnancy is harmful, soju is just as likely to cause brain damage in a baby as any other alcoholic beverage.  Koreans, overall, don’t drink as much as Americans, and certainly don’t drink as much as Russians—alcoholism is a huge public health issue in Russia—but they DO drink, and some pregnant women DO deliver alcohol exposed babies.

Another good thing about Korean adoption is that the Korean social welfare organizations try to choose and supervise foster parents very well; the foster care system in South Korea is one of the best in the world.  Many of the children are cared for by very loving families, who often grieve when the kids go to their new homes in the U.S., and who work hard to stimulate their foster children’s physical and intellectual development.  But, let’s face it, no foster care system is perfect.  There are going to be a few children who come home showing signs that all was not well in their foster home.  There may have been an adult in the home who was physically or emotionally abusive, or who didn’t believe all the “nonsense” of how children should be raised today, or who was just in it for the money.  Just as when adopting from any country, including the U.S., families should recognize that their children’s experience in foster care may not be as ideal as their agency’s literature portrays. 

Do send a list of questions, but recognize that you may not get answers to all of them; foster parents, like adoptive parents, get mighty busy, and some may not be good at writing.  And the stuffed animals or blankets with the scent of the foster parents and the adoptive parents are great ideas, as are little scrapbooks designed for the children, with laminated pictures of their new Daddy, Mommy, sister, brother, doggy, and kitty, their new bedroom, the swing set in the yard, etc..  You can also send a couple of disposable cameras, so that the foster parents can record milestones or special occasions and save the cameras to return to you on the day you meet your child in Korea.  That way, even if you didn’t get to see your child’s first steps, or his first haircut, or his first birthday celebration in person, you’ll have a record of these moments, even if the foster families don’t normally take pictures using cell phones or computers and save them to a CD for you.

Do remember that Korea, though non-Hague, does tend to follow many Hague practices designed to reduce corruption in the adoption process.  As a result, you may be limited in the contact you are allowed with the foster parents before adoption.  Korean social welfare organizations and American agencies don’t want to see money changing hands, except for the official adoption fees, lest birthmothers come to expect extra payments from adoptive families, or lest a culture of bribery and child-buying develop.  So respect your agency’s rules about what’s permitted, and recognize that, even if you don’t get a scrap of information about your child’s time in foster care, you will learn quickly about your child’s likes, dislikes, and temperament once he/she comes home.  Kids are amazing in terms of letting parents know what they expect of their Mommies and Daddies.  And while your child will almost certainly grieve, regardless of how much you do to facilitate his/her transition, it is nothing short of remarkable how quickly most bond with their new families.


Posted by sak9645 on Dec 05, 2015 at 8:29pm

So helpful to read all of this!! I’m 2 months from turning 25 and then we are going full steam ahead into a Korean adoption. It’s so hard waiting to just get started! I’m curious, have you brought your son home yet? How is the transition going for him being almost 3 yrs old? How long did it take for him to come home from the time you got the referral?

Posted by AllisonS on Mar 09, 2016 at 7:42pm

Hi AllisonS,

We are actually taking custody next week - leaving on Friday for Seoul! grin Once you are further into the process and have your application sent off to Korea, there are a few good Facebook groups - PM me when you get to that point, and I’ll add you to the groups.

Posted by waiting2015 on Mar 16, 2016 at 2:18pm

If the foster mom is so busy with so many kids I wonder what kind of care the child has been getting?

Can you get pictures of the other children as well. He would view them as siblings

Posted by Regina on Mar 16, 2016 at 3:28pm

Hi Regina,

I may not have been clear in my original question - my son doesn’t have any foster siblings, he is the only one in care with his foster family. I just meant the discussion of “lots of kids to meet with” as an explanation of why we could only ask 3 questions - our U.S. social worker had lots of kids to meet with (all with different foster families) and a limited amount of time.

Posted by waiting2015 on Mar 16, 2016 at 3:56pm

Oh it sounded like the foster mom was caring for a lot of kids. Maybe you should get a private interpreter and spend more time with the foster parents maybe ask them to dinner or something. The more the child sees the people is attached to with you, approving you the better. It will be a tough transition for him.

Posted by Regina on Mar 16, 2016 at 8:20pm

China 2 they do not get to choose and for some children that is an issue they feel kidnapped not adopted. The child has been with the other family a long time it is easier for a child to attach to a new family if the ex-family gives support and permission.

Posted by Regina on Mar 17, 2016 at 1:14am

With Korea, some families CAN meet the foster parents of their child.  In fact, some families continue to correspond with the foster family once they are home.

With Korea, you don’t finalize your adoption in that country.  Your child comes home under a decree of guardianship, and you actually adopt him/her in your home state.  As a result, your child does not become a U.S. citizen until you finalize the adoption.  You can get a SSN for him/her beforehand, but you can’t get a passport or CoC, because those things are given only to citizens.

It used to be that virtually all of the children were escorted to their new parents by a representative from the adoption agency or the Korean social welfare agency—all U.S. agencies must be linked with at least one of four social welfare agencies in Korea.  The child was handed over to the new parents at the arrival airport. 

Today, most American and Korean social work professionals prefer to have families travel, especially if they’re not of Korean heritage and haven’t been to Korea before.  The travel really helps families develop an appreciation for their child’s birth culture.  I adopted from China, not Korea, but I must say that I agree that the travel is one of the most wonderful parts of the adoption experience. 

When parents travel, nowadays, they generally do not have to stay very long—under a week in most cases.  However, between killer jet lag and the desire to see the important places in their child’s birth country, some families choose to stay a bit longer.  To keep costs down, at least one of the four Korean social welfare organizations maintains a guest house for adoptive families who come to pick up their children, although many families stay in regular or “extended stay” hotels.  One nice feature of extended stay hotels is that they generally have a full kitchen and a clothes washer and dryer.

For those who are traveling to Korea, I’d recommend flying Korean Air.  The service is great, and there are almost always Korean families traveling with children, so passengers are used to a little bit of noise from a crying baby or a toddler trying out a toy.  You should also know that the Seoul airport is very user-friendly for families with children.  I actually flew to and from China via Korean Air, and there was a layover in Seoul, so I got to watch a religious ceremony dedicating a new airport shop—quite a fascinating experience.

Because of the quality of Korea’s foster care system, there is a good likelihood that your child will grieve for his/her caregivers—but will also adjust to life with your family rather quickly, because he/she has been in an actual family setting while waiting.  While it is nice if the foster parents actually hand the child to the new family, most children will transition decently even if that is not allowed.  And while new parents should expect a certain amount of crying and anger, especially at night, many of the children will be pretty bonded to their new family by the time they arrive in their new home.

A nice bedtime story for newly adopted Korean kids is “Through Moon and Stars and Night Sky”.


Posted by sak9645 on Mar 17, 2016 at 7:17am

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