Edited by Elaine Ramirez (elaine@groovekorea.com) COvER STORy www.groovekorea.com / September 2014 38 ety’s reception and valuation of them,” she says. Now there are a number of adoptee-run NGOs, advocacy groups and activist organi- zations that are instrumental in law and policy change. Shannon Heit, an adoptee who works with the Korean Unwed Mothers Families Asso- ciation, sees Korean adoptees as a diaspora returning to address the ills of Korea’s past. She and other activists have joined hands with unwed mothers’ groups to stop what she calls a legacy of loss. Positive aspects of adoption are emphasized in the public, but Heit argues, “No matter what ‘positive’ things we have gained from our adoptions, we have all lost our families and our cultural heritage.” Ishida came to Korea in part because she felt the need to communicate with KAS and her agency in person. However, she found their English services were sorely lacking. “I can’t do anything without a Korean-speaking person,” she says in frustration. The glaring language errors on the KAS website are in- dicative of their inability to communicate ef- fectively with international adoptees. What’s more, the English and Korean websites are different, says Jane Jeong Trenka, founder of adoptee group Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK). “KAS does not translate English-language requests from adoptees into Korean on its website.” According to KAS post-adoption services social worker Sara Yun, just four staff members are able to speak English. Birth family searches are even more difficult for non-English-speaking adoptees. There is almost no support in European languages, apart from KAS’ sole French-speaking volun- teer. The agencies are similarly lacking. As in many cases, the institution Ishida visited had both English and Korean versions of her re- cords, but she found inconsistencies between the two: “Some documents are not translated to English and few are sent to the adoptive agencies abroad. The Korean documents are the most important,” she says. off The record Beyond the language barrier, getting access to adoption files is still difficult. Records are not owned or held solely by the government, and until recently, they were considered the private property of adoption agencies. The aforementioned revisions to the Special Adoption Law were intended to address this, with KAS being mandated as the govern- ing authority for post-adoption services and tasked with compiling the central database of all adoption records. At present there is only one social worker at KAS who deals with birth-family searches — Sara Yun. “I am also in charge of building networks with overseas adoptees and adop- tee associations, and other related organiza- tions. I sometimes help overseas adoptees with translation as well,” she says. Due to the hundreds of adoptees searching for their birth parents each year, an average day for her is extremely busy. “I take requests and queries from adoptees regarding birth family search via email, (in person) and on the phone and respond to them. I am also working on orga- nizing and managing our special events.” But there is no set deadline to complete the transfer of records to KAS, and no additional funds or staff have been allocated to this task. Adoption agencies still hold most information. “KAS is merely a router,” says Leith. The orga- nization is meant to petition the agencies for any information, but she says their services are inconsistent. Agencies are required by law to provide adoptees with all the information in their file, apart from the name and address of their birth family, yet are not held accountable. “The Ministry of Health and Welfare and KAS are unwilling to force the agencies to uphold their obligations under law, citing their lack of budget, lack of manpower or lack of authori- ty,” says Trenka. After KAS failed to help Ishida, she went directly to her adoption agency for her file. “I went back three times to get my documents and every time the documents changed,” she says. “KAS said the reason my file keeps on changing is because of the Special Adoption Law. There was no further explanation.” The law states that KAS can request information from public organizations and adoption agen- cies as needed, and these agencies are obli- gated to comply. According to this, she says she should have been given all the informa- agencies facilitated speedy adoptions, assuring that the children Would never return to search as adults and With the assumption that the relinquished children Would be forgotten. in consequence, maKing contact With a child or parent years later is often impossible.