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Susan Soon-Keum Cox on Adopting a Child
In 1956, after the Korean War, four-year-old Susan Soon-Keum Cox was one of the first Korean adoptees whisked away from her homeland to the safety of the United States. Cox now paves the way for the adoption of children from many nations in her job as the vice president of public policy and external affairs for Holt International Children’s Services—the same agency that placed her in America. She’s been involved with heritage camps for mixed-heritage families of adoption and has led tours to Korea for adult adoptees, adoptive families and adopted couples. She’s the author of Voices from Another Place: A Collection of Works from a Generation Born in Korea and Adopted to Other Countries. Here, Cox talks about the adoption process.
What are the first steps in adopting a child?
When a family begins looking to adopt, they don’t realize how much they don’t know. This will be one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make. Sometimes, people make more of an effort in buying a house than researching how to adopt. The more you know at the front end of adopting, the better off you’ll be. Collecting information on what your next 30 days will entail will help you make decisions.
You need to be informed and there are so many resources on the internet. To help narrow down your interests in terms of adoption in a non-biased way, I suggest going to the web site for Child Welfare Information Gateway and click on the adoption information. It’s a great, neutral resource that talks about all the different kinds of adoptions, agencies, private, public and more.
You should learn about the resources and adoption laws in your own state. Visit adoption blogs and adoptive parent sites to get a hint at what it all means. People from all angles have their own biases; you have a view of it all. Then you can narrow down your own choices.
During the first 30 days, how important is it for prospective parents to talk with veteran adoptive parents?
You can look at all the information and brochures you want, but you’ll put your trust first in another parent who relates how it happened for them. Adoptive parents are very invested in being a resource or being advocates for those who come after them. They want to find families for the children still left behind.
These parents remember the unknowing that they went through during the beginning of the process. You’ll get a different perspective from a parent than from an agency. Sure, you’ll have important relationships of trust with your social worker or adoption attorney, but those people have a lot of other things to do instead of endlessly saying, “How are you doing today?” You can be frankly honest with an adoptive family. There are no judgments attached to it. Adoptive parents—like the adoptees as they grow up—need to know they’re not alone in their feelings.
What are the pros and cons to an international adoption?
Adopting internationally provides a rich, new culture and heritage to a family. It expands the scope of a bigger world. It eliminates barriers. Children have that capacity to transcend races and all the complicated things that we, as adults, deal with everyday.
International adoptions can be more streamlined. Many times, children have been relinquished and their legal identities have been established. The domestic process has gotten a lot better, but sometimes the international process has fewer layers and is less cumbersome.
On the other hand, you may get to learn about a new culture, but it’s a world away. That can make things complicated when it comes to transportation, finances and the culture.
What are the major differences in the adoption process for international adoptions?
Not only do you have to deal with laws and procedures of our own country, but you’ll have to deal with the laws and procedures of a different country. You’ll be dealing with an entirely different government, policies, language and culture. Logistically and geographically, it might be hard to get there if you need to go to the country.
How long does it take to adopt a child internationally and what are the costs?
It has become much longer than it used to be. Many times, it used to be a year. Now, we tell people it’s closer to two years. The costs range from $15,000 to $25,000 and up.
When searching for an adoption agency, adoption lawyer or facilitator, what are some red flags?
You should be able to ask as many questions as you want. If they have been around a long time, they know what they’re doing. Ask if they’re non-profit or for-profit. If the motivating factor is profit, that might not be a good match for your own beliefs. And just because an agency is non-profit, that doesn’t mean there aren’t expenses involved.
Ask if their license has ever been revoked and why. Ask for their audited financial statements. If they say “no,” ask “why not?” Ask about their post-adoption support. Ask what kind of support they supply while in the other country. Ask if they require the overseas fee in cash, and who delivers the money.
What advice would you give to parents for the first 30 days after the child comes home?
Make sure there’s enough private time to bond with the child. While there are many eager family and friends who want to see the new family member, the priority is that the family needs to be together and learn about each other without too many distractions. Particularly for older children who are old enough to know what’s going on around them, they need to know they’re comfortable and safe with their new parents and surroundings.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
[I] try to be still and listen to my instincts as I move forward.
“The best thing about change is...”
...It takes you to another place and you sometimes discover courage you didn’t know you had.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
To celebrate my 40th birthday, I decided to take back my Korean name: Soonkeum. It was the beginning of truly connecting to the Korean part of me and to my birth heritage.
For more information on Susan Soon-Keum Cox, visit www.holtinternational.org