LOS ANGELES—There is a silent and often unspoken tragedy growing in the Korean-American community involving broken families and the children they leave behind.
According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Los Angeles, the number of Korean children in foster homes has risen steadily in recent years, an effect of the increasing number of divorced or single parents choosing to give up their kids for adoption.
What’s worse, for many of these “deserted youth,” foster homes have become their final destination, as few in the Korean community are willing to adopt.
Kim is a 20-something Korean mother who left her child with DCFS a week after giving birth. An international student, Kim, who asked that her last name be withheld, says her family back in Korea never learned of the pregnancy. “I had no choice. I don’t have the capacity to raise the child and could not bring myself to tell my parents.”
Despite three days of counseling with social workers from DCFS, Kim made the decision to give her baby up “for the sake of my education.”
In a similar case, Ms. Park, a young mother, left her one-year-old daughter with DCFS following a bitter divorce from her husband of three years. Although she was given custody of the child, the
30-year-old divorcee said her daughter would prevent her from ever being able to remarry and start a new family.
Efforts by DCFS to reunite the daughter with her father were unsuccessful, officials said, as he had returned to Korea and remarried soon after the divorce, showing no interest in taking responsibility for the child.
DCFS says the number of such abandoned children has spiked in recent years, attributing the rise to increased instances of unwed mothers and broken families within the Korean community. They add that while the number of such cases is still relatively small compared to the larger population, among Asian communities the situation has grown particularly acute.
Chung Ja Kim, a social worker with DCFS, says it is becoming more common for her to come across young Korean mothers looking to give their kids up for adoption. “Last year I worked on 10 cases involving single Korean mothers who were unwilling to raise their children, three of whom were newborn infants,” she noted.
Kim added that most women were either international students from Korea or Korean Americans in their early 20s, and that a majority of them were driven to give their children up for adoption out of concern over their own futures. “I recently came across one mother who gave her first child up for adoption several years ago. She had recently gotten pregnant again and was looking to leave her second child with DCFS.”
For some parents, alternatives to adoption include abandoning their children with a friend or with a day care center. According to DCFS, many of these children are traumatized by the experience.
Experts say the issue of adoption remains an awkward one within the Korean community, where the emphasis on blood ties remains strong. Soon Ja Lee is a practicing psychiatrist in the Los Angeles area. She says that compared to other ethnic groups, “Koreans tend to lay a great deal of stress on blood relations.”
Kim with DCFS says that in recent years there has not been a single Korean family that has approached the organization seeking to adopt. She adds that many Koreans harbor preconceived notions about the nature of abandoned children.
And while there is a consensus among adoption experts that abandoned children do better when adopted by parents from the same ethnic group, statistics show that on average the number of adoptions among Korean-American families remains miniscule at best. DCFS adds that there is not one Korean family registered on their list of eligible foster care homes.
“The Korean community has to step forward,” says Kim. “It is essential that they take more interest in the welfare of these children.”
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