Sunday, September 13, 2009

On further reflection

Highlights from our recent visit:

It has been an amazing experience to be involved in the rapidly changing view of and supports for unwed mothers and their children in Korea. In the few short months since last I visited, there is now a vibrant and thoughtful group of mothers who are educating themselves and speaking out publically, excellent research on unwed mothers and public perceptions related to them has been published, programs such as AeRanWan have expanded their services into the community, the Hanbumo Support Center has expanded services and opened new facilities, the Government has asked for information about policies to support women and children, child support has been clarified, and the public seems increasingly aware of the value of supporting women and children from all walks of life.

For me personally, it was a great gift to reconnect with the wise and thoughtful people who had come to America for the first study tour in Vermont and New York. The fact that organizations were willing to support this learning experience seemed very important. It was exciting to watch as Korean researchers connected with American researchers, as practitioners shared experiences, as policy makers learned from one another and as parents shared their joy about the support they received to raise their children with people who were hoping to make the same opportunities available in Korea.

It would be very hard to pick out highlights from our most recent visit, but here is a short list:

Learning from a wonderful group of elementary school teachers when I had a chance to give a lecture on Multicultural issues at Sookmyung University .

Being part of the amazing presentation by the mothers group, now know as the Mama Mia group. Traveling across the beautiful countryside to Busan, and engaging with the dedicated people there from so many different agencies. Meeting staff from the Korean Human Rights Association. Being inspired about the future from the Korea foundation for Woman. Visiting the me You Us Center and the Doori Home. Talking with wise, knowledgeable reporters. And continuing to learn from the researchers at KWDI and the staff at KUMSN. Two especially personal highlights were meeting Betsy-Gay Kraft and her daughter Kristen and attending the Quaker Meeting in Seoul.

Dr. Cheryl Mitchell

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

further reflections on the August trip

It was a privilege to meet with a representative of The National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Established in 2001, NHRC guards against unreasonable discrimination (due, for instance, to gender, religion, skin color or marital status), and helps create a socially conscious nation. NHRC agrees that the issue of unwed Korean moms is one of human rights, and we will be discussing with them best ways of effectively approaching the issue.

Korean Women's Development Institute (KWDI) has just published Reviewing Issues on Unwed Mothers' Welfare in Korea: Intercountry Adoption, Related Statistics and Welfare Policies in Developed Countries, and Korean Public Opinion Survey on Unwed Mothers and their Children. These much-needed studies (both of which may be found on our website) were funded by KUMSN, providing objective data and scholarly discussion to Korean academics, policymakers, legislators, media and the public, providing a great opportunity for change beneficial to the mothers and their children.

Monday, August 17, 2009

reflecting on the trip

Our last day was an intense flurry of last meetings, back to back. We met with an artist who has created a beautiful piece regarding birth moms who relinquished their children, and a social work student who wants to study about the impact of social work counseling on unwed moms decisions to raise their children or not, and Dr. Boas had a final interview, did some work on our web site... and on. Then we ran for the bus to the airport and flew home.

Now, home and over jet lag we are reflecting on our trip. For all of us one of the main highlights was the meeting organized by unwed moms themselves. They are able to use the Seoul City Hanbumo Center to meet and discuss issues such as what kind of government support they may be eligible for and how to find jobs and the like. Eventually they plan to advocate directly for their needs. The energy in the room, as already written of in an earlier blog, was fantastic.

Another highlight was visiting the Me You Us center created by Aeranwon. Also mentioned in a previous blog, the number of women they are serving, with a very diverse range of services, after just 6 months of operation, is impressive.

Both of these stand out as they reflect two important changes. One is the readiness of unwed moms to become visible, to speak up for themselves. The other is the move of services to support moms while they live in communities. As there are so few places in group homes, most moms of necissity and probably to some degree choice, live with their parents, with friends, or in their own apartments. Community based, rather then shelter based, programs are essential for them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Second to last day in Seoul, more meetings

Such a surprise, more meetings!

The highlights of today were visiting the Ae Ran Wan "Me You Us" center and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

With support from KUMSN ARW started the first ( as far as we know) comprehensive, community based support center for unwed moms. (The government has since started several more affiliated with their family net program). In their first 6 months of operation they provided crisis counseling, small financial help to moms for medical care, job related expenses, housing and baby related expenses, parenting classes, helped moms finish school, learn how to search for jobs and then actually support them in the job search process, ongoing counseling, medical care, and organized and supported self help groups, all for the moms. In addition they shared training with a number of other organizations and have built a network they can refer moms to for various services. We were awed by how much they do, and how far they stretch their limited financial resources.

We asked Ms. Han, the warm and caring Director, what has been the most surprising thing so far, since opening the center. She said that it turns out they are in a great neighborhood, easily accessible to the moms, so that many moms have attended their programs or just dropped by they center. They have seen a quick increase in the amount of outreach and counseling they do and an increase in the parents attending parenting classes. When asked what is most challenging, she said that the social workers are overwhelmed and it is hard for them to work with so many people. Also, their space is too small for many of the programs they run, so they have to find other places to use.

Over all, we are just so impressed with the work the Me You Us center is doing for the moms.

The next stop was at the National Human Rights Commission. There we learned how the Commission works and the kinds of issues they address. They are concerned about discrimination and violation of human rights related to 20 areas of focus. Just a few are gender, race, religion, marital status, disability, mental health and age. They investiage individual cases and try to help the involved parties come to an agreement that respects human rights and Korean laws. They can make recommendations, review pending legistaion and initiate investigations. They do not have any enforcement powers however. We had a fruitful conversation about the rights of mothers to raise their own children, of children to be raised by their parents, of teens to finish school, of women to get health care, and to be safe from being fired or evicted based soley on their pregnancy or unmarried parent status. It is good to know about resources like this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another day in Seoul

Yesterday we met with some of the Korean Women's Development Institute researchers, who are working on research related to unwed moms. KWDI has just released two important research studies. One examines the attitudes to unwed moms ( the research study is available on their web site and on the KUMSN website as well). Not surprisingly the attitudes are complex. We were pleased there was support for social welfare for unwed moms, even if it isn't a top priority, and saddened by the continued prejudices. The other research study examines the effects of international adoption on unwed moms, examines the national statistics regarding unwed moms and finally looks at comparative welfare supports from several countries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the national statistics is how much unknown or simply unclear, given how Korean births are registered. We deeply appreciate the professionalism and depth of these research studies which KUMSN funded.

In the afternoon we returned to the Seoul Hanbumo Support Center to discuss the parent child center model and in particular the alternative education program. At the Addison Parent Child Center there is a Learning Together Program that serves around 40 single parents a year, mostly young single moms. Everyone in the program does the following:
works in the childcare rooms taking care of babies in conjunction with professional staff
takes parenting classes
is working on the next step in their education ( tutoring, finishing high school, getting special supports, starting college)
participates in counseling - individual and/or group
attends group meetings of all participants.

While the parents engage in the program, their children are taken care of in high quality, early childhood education programs. This allows the parents to concentrate on their other work. Through these activities all parents learn good parenting skills. They advance in their education, which might mean finishing high school, getting their GED certificate, starting high school, or making progress in basic literacy and mathematics skills. As they progress they also engage in vocational training and eventually can do an internship and get help with finding a job. They have opportunities to work on emotional issues. They develop strong group bonds and help each other get through the challenging times, celebrate together their success, birthdays and other happy moments. Most moms after a year or two in this program will have completed high school and found a job.

The presentation was useful to the Hanbumo Support Center as they will be opening an alternative education program in September of this year - just next month. They are already offering some educational programs for the children of single parents and are able to offer not only the new education program but counseling, arts and crafts, and various other activities. The Hanbumo Support Center hosts the developing self advocacy organization of unwed moms. We are impressed with their facilities, and with their good thinking and plans for the future. The center is newly opened and we look forward to returning next trip to see how it is flourishing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unwed moms and single moms

Today we took the very fast train from Seoul to Busan. There we had a great meeting with the Korean Hambumo Network regarding their work with "little moms" or unwed moms. In Korea, they make a distinction between single moms, who were married when they had children but are now single and unwed moms, who were not married when they had children. While there is significant discrimination against single moms it tends to be less then that directed toward unwed moms. In the late 1990s with the rapid increase in divorce, there was a corresponding rapid increase in single moms. Many of these women have worked hard to improve the government support for single parents, and are currently working to guarantee the right to health care, housing and vocational education for all single parents. This would clearly benefit unwed moms.

The Hambumo Network also has developed a training program to train volunteer counselors to work with unwed moms via an internet cafe, to teach about sex education and relationships and out of wedlock parenting, in high schools. They established an in internet community for unwed moms that currently has over 50 members. They are committed to continuing to both advocate for better government support and protection for all single parents, and to work specifically with unwed moms, to support them in the ways that they can.

The meeting was followed by another great workshop featuring Dr. Cheryl Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell gave several workshops when she was here with us last year. As one of the founders of the Addison Parent Child Center in Vermont, a former Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Human Services in Vermont, and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Vermont, Dr. Mitchell has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share about how comprehensive programs in the US support moms ( see earlier blogs about our study tour in Vermont). She can share knowledge about the kinds of programs needed, program design, funding sources, and a more general public policy analysis. The workshop was well received, with lots of questions being asked and a lively exchange.

At the end of a great day, we took the fast train home to Seoul.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Moms are organizing

Saturday we started the day viewing a film about sexual violence in S. Korea. It was a documentary full of the stories of women who had experienced sexual violence at different ages and stages of life, and in various degrees of severity. As seems to be true in so many parts of the world, women are often blamed, often blame themselves, and/or freeze and are unable to defend themselves in their terror. The women in this film, however, are all doing things that indicate they are not just victims but survivors, that they are able to thrive in their lives, stand strong with each other, and while certainly intensely affected, the sexual violence does not define them.

We were inspired to think that sometime soon, there will be documentaries like this about unwed moms. Moms will tell their stories, will show the country how strong they are, what good moms they are, how despite very difficult challenges, they are able to work for changes in the legal and social service systems to better their lives.

And then we went to a meeting of a group of women who are unwed moms who are just beginning to form their own organization. They are learning about what it means to have an organization and run it. They are learning about many aspects of the current situation for unwed moms in terms of government supports, educational opportunities, child care, employment, etc. In the long run, they plan to advocate for better conditions for themselves and their children, and all the women and children like them, who are discriminated against because they were not married when they had a child.

The meeting was full of energy, commitment, caring, intelligence and wisdom. The moms ranged from a woman who is 8 months pregnant to a mom of a nine year old. The meeting also included some single moms, experts, journalists and the mother of one of the moms. It was such a privilege to be included. We have no doubt that this groups will grow, and will be successful in working for their own needs, while supporting each other through difficulties.

The topic of the day was governmental income support and housing support they might be eligible for. It was clear very quickly that there are many rules and regulations that are confusing and maybe even contradictory. The officials who implement the programs have a wide range of discretion, so much depends on the attitude of the official in the local office where moms apply for benefits. As in the US, if you start to earn money, you can loose all your benefits, so it is hard to transition from government support to self support. We were surprised to hear that the income and assets of many relatives are taken in consideration, not just the unwed mom's parents, in making a determination. Even if the woman is not supported in any way by these relatives, she can be denied benefits because the government assumes these relatives could support her. It helped us understand one of the reasons why there is a gap between the government programs available and the actual experience of many unwed moms of being unable to qualify for them.

The housing supports available sounded equally confusing. There are several different kinds of support available. In order to qualify, you are rated not only on income and need, but also if you do volunteer work or other positive things in the community. Again, there seems to be a lot of room for the government official's own judgment of who is deserving of support.

The women shared information on how they had applied, what information was needed, when they had been able to receive support and when not. It was clearly a group committed to helping each other out.

Overall we thought the good news is that there are a number of important government income and housing programs available. The challenge is to make them accessible to moms who need them. Moms need to be free of the discrimination made possible by the high level of individual discretion available to officials, and to be able to qualify based on their own situations, not that of their families. So many unwed moms have difficult relationships with their families and may even be estranged. And the government will need to look at how to make the transition from receiving benefits to self support more gradual. Lastly it was clear that there is insufficient governmental funds to make these supports available to all who apply. AGain, the local officials seem to be the one to decide who gets the limited resources. If the Korean people decides to support these moms and their children, there will need to be an increase in allocations and clear directive to qualify moms with their children.

Another thing that struck us was the way women are let go from work or removed from school when their pregnancy is apparent. And that their personal registration document, which must be shown when applying for a job, includes their status as unwed moms. This level of legal discrimination is a huge obstacle for these women. It reminded us of how far we have come in the US in making this kind of discrimination against women illegal. While it undoubtedly continues, it has dramatically decreased, given the legal protections for women and their children in the US.

Listening to the moms, we have complete confidence that they themselves will be able to educate government officials and legislators on their needs, very soon. We left thinking that in just a couple of years, these powerful women will have changed their world for the better.

Friday, August 7, 2009

We are in Seoul now

What a busy month. A few weeks ago KUMSN hosted the study tour in the US. Now the US staff are here in Seoul. Amazing.

Today, August 7, 2009, we started the day with Dr. Cheryl Mitchell giving a lecture to elementary school teachers on teaching in multi cultural classrooms. Among many things, she shared the approach that can see multi cultural as not only including children who are literally different ethnicities, but also gender, income, abilities and disabilities, religion, etc. She challenged the teachers to think of ways that all children, and all parents of their students, can feel welcomed and validated in the classroom. She deftly wove in the implication that this includes the children of unwed moms, and the moms themselves.

The afternoon was spent at Doori House, a program of the Korean Salvation Army. Started in 1926 as a home for women, it became a program specifically for unwed moms in the 1990s. They provide housing, food, health care, vocational education, arts and crafts, music and art therapy, counseling and a wonderful, home like atmosphere that is very warm and welcoming. Truth in advertising..... they fed us delicious treats!

The program has seen a dramatic shift in just the last 4 years. In 2005 only 13% of the moms decided to raise their children, the rest opted to relinquish their babies for adoption. In 2008 53% of the moms chose to raise their children and they can tell that in 2009 that number will be even higher. This has huge implications for their program - women and their babies stay in the home longer and need different kinds of supports. In answer to this, they have opened a group home for moms and babies, where moms can stay for up to a year. They have a growing number of moms who have "graduated" from their program and are now part of an online community to stay in touch and support each other. THey see that they will need to expand their services to women living in the community.

There have been changes in the women they work with as well. The women today are older and have more education. Many of them were self supporting until they became visibly pregnant, when they then had trouble at work. While in earlier years many of the moms had babies "by mistake" because they missed the time when they could have had an abortion, many more women today are choosing to have and raise their children.

While the government supports some of the costs of the program, they must fundraise for the rest. They get support from the Community Chest of Korea, from the Salvation Army itself, and they get volunteers from various churches and companies. This program actively supports moms talking to people in the government to advocate for their own needs for improved government support. One of the critical needs we discussed was the need for more child care support, and for child care programs that run longer hours. Most working women need to have childcare after 6pm.

Overall it is a very impressive program and we were happy to be able to connect and look forward to staying in touch.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Study Tour finale

Days Four and Five

The last days were so busy, there was no time to write. On day four we had a final meeting with the Addison Parent Child Center and talked about the importance of working together, how to use creative tension amongst various programs to produce better work with and for moms, and encouragement to keep checking with the moms about what they want and their opinions on various issues.

Then we visited the Lund Family Center. This was a particularly interesting place to visit as it began as a home for unwed moms in the the late 1890s. For the 80 years or so of existence, the primary services they provided were a home for pregnant women who needed a safe and invisible place to stay and give birth to their babies, and then an adoption service to place almost all of those babies, in new families. With changes in abortion law, welfare programs and major cultural shifts, by the 1980s the center was making big changes. Today the center offers residential programs for pregnant and parenting young moms and their babies, child care, education, substance abuse, foster family training and support, adoption, nutrition and so much more. They have just completed a remodel of their building and it is not only very beautiful, but clearly able to provide appropriate space for the current program.

We were treated to talk with Governor Madeline Kunin, former Governor of Vermont and the first (and only so far) woman governor in Vermont. She stressed with us the need to support women in all walks of life, to find their voices and participate in the political life of the community. Whether this is running for office or attending city council meetings or writing for the paper, women’s views are essential in creating a world that works better for moms. She is such an inspiration. She stressed that the intersection of poverty and single parent families is a huge issue and must be addressed with social supports, education for the parents and children, health care, housing and counseling where needed. She also stressed the role of good sex education in the schools for prevention.

Then we were off to the University of Vermont to learn more about the impact of early childhood education on the lives of vulnerable young children. High quality, early education clearly prevents much human suffering and saves the government a great deal of money. We had a chance to talk about special education in the school and a number of other topics related to supporting children with challenges.

That evening we flew to NYC.

The fifth day of our tour included visiting the UN building and meeting with a member of the Korean mission to the UN. We shared with her work that is being done in Korea for unwed moms and some thoughts about what still needs to be done. We met with the National Center for Children in Poverty and learned a lot about their research and the materials they make available for groups that advocate for the needs of children. They work in close cooperation with state governments and advocates and others concerned about creating effective, timely and affordable programs that support the best development and healthy outcomes for children who grow up in poor families. The breadth of the issues they address include income support, health, education, mental health, juvenile justice, and family laws.

All in all this was a fantastic study tour. Much was learned. We are looking forward to being in Seoul soon, to carry on discussions began on this trip, to share with others some of our learning and to continue to support those working in Korea on behalf of unwed moms and the moms themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day Three of the Study Tour

Day Three

We started this morning again at the Addison Parent Child Center, answering a number of lingering questions. The staff at the Center have been extremely helpful, kind and so very knowledgeable. We learned more about how they nurture young moms toward independence, at the moms own pace. The definition they gave us of empowering moms is to provide the skills, support and knowledge so that moms have the resources to make choices for themselves and their children. They teach all sorts of skills, provide emotional, financial and practical support and information and education. Then the moms are in a much better place to make the decisions about what they do and how they do it. We have seen many examples of this in practice and found this a very useful definition.

Then we were off to the Washington County Parent Child Center. This center has a new, beautiful and highly functional child care center. And an older building that is mostly offices. Almost all of the work they do with families is out in the community, in moms’ homes, and various kinds of community centers. While their philosophy is similar to the Addison PC/C their implementation is quite different. It was good to see how programs can be constructed quite differently toward similar goals. We also learned about how they juggle many different funding streams and the related tension, in order to pay for their programs.

We then whisked off to the Vermont capital building in Montpelier to meet with people who had been advocating for children and families for many years. We learned how they had built a coalition and network of people from many different kinds of organizations, who have worked together over the years on shared agendas. They have learned how to tell compelling stories backed up with hard data and statistics. They can mobilize people who care and who are affected by issues, to bring to the legislature from many different districts. It is powerful when people from many different kinds of organizations and with many different concerns can speak together for a particular shared issue.

We also learned more about the parentage laws created in Vermont in the late 1980s. Until then, a parent who was never married had to file something called a bastardy action in order to get child support for and custody of their child. Now there are parentage laws that stipulate how judges review custody and set child support and other related issues. If a parent doesn’t pay the child support, there are ways the state can help collect it and can also impose penalties such as the loss of a drivers license. This has not only increased the financial support of children, but in many cases has increased fathers involvement with their children. We heard how this and other important advances such as the family court system, took a number of years to achieve. Like all big changes, it took the work of many people, from many different perspectives over about 8 years to accomplish.

We then were treated to a conversation with people from the Vermont Department of Children and Families. We came to understand that the people of Vermont truly believe that it is a societal obligation to help care for children, not just a private family concern. All of society benefits from healthy children and all pay for the problems of troubled youth and adults. We learned more about the many social supports that unwed moms might be eligible for, and how some of those systems work. Moms, depending on their income and other circumstances, might get a cash stipend – often called welfare; health insurance; support for child care if she is working or in school or job training; rental assistance so her rent is free or low cost; food stamps to help with food purchases; WIC (a federal program) that provides well children check ups, nutritional education and food, and other health related supports for mothers and very young children; help paying heating bills and the cost of a basic phone line; and possibly help with the cost of school, job training, and transportation. And there are possibly a few other benefits from other state departments. We heard how one of the weak links in this system is the availability of rental support. There are not enough apartments available and not enough subsidies, so that there is a real problem of homelessness for some families.

We ended the day with yet another lovely dinner, hosted by our friends looking out over Camels Hump Mountain, enjoying Korean food and home made pie. Such a hardship. Over great food we had some time to reflect on what we are learning and what it might mean for our Korean colleagues.

Day Two of the Study Tour

Day Two of the Study Tour
Today we spent the whole day at the Addison County Parent Child Center . We had a chance to experience the family atmosphere of the place, from breakfast through dinner, we were enfolded in the warmth and caring of staff and participants. It is clear that this becomes a family place, quite literally, for participants and also staff.

We met with moms and one dad, who shared their stories of how the PC/C helped them finish school, make good decisions in their lives, find housing, get job training, learn about parenting and even learn Taikwando. We talked with staff about how they work with moms to co create programs. We could hear, see and feel how the program works to support moms in addressing all the issues in their lives. We even noticed the condoms in a basket in the bathroom – making it easy to access birth control without even having to ask!

We were honored to have a panel of highly skilled journalists share their experiences with us and brainstorm together about how the story of unwed moms in Korea, might get told. We learned a lot from them.

And we ended the day with a celebratory dinner with many of the families involved in the center, and other friends and family. It was a typical family gathering – children running around, adults holding babies so moms could get a bite of dinner, everyone admiring everyone else’s child, sharing stories, feeling at home.

While a similar Korean program would of course have many differences, we all had visions of various aspects of this program we would like to see in Korea. And of course there are already programs such as Aeranwon’s “Me, You, Us” program and the the new Hambumo Centers run by the government, that have started to offer some of these programs and which could be expanded. So much to learn.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

KUMSN study tour in the US

July 20th, 2009

The Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network has sponsored a study tour to the US. It started today. We are spending the first four days in Vermont, visiting the original Parent Child Center in Vermont – the Addison Parent Child Center, and a number of related organizations and efforts in Middlebury. Then we will visit two other Centers, meet with legislators, staff of the Agency of Human Services and others concerned about the well being of unwed mothers and their children. Finally we will fly to New York City to visit several programs there.

We started today with a discussion of why businesses are supporting services to single moms ( in the US we don’t distinguish why a woman is a single mom). Businesses believe that their success depends on a healthy economy which depends on a healthy community, which means that all residents need to be well educated, healthy, able to participate. They see that to accomplish this all children need reasonably good childhoods and education. And thus addressing the needs of single moms is important so they can provide this for their children.

One interesting aspect of the discussion had to do with how businesses can support women in the work place. Clearly one of the huge needs of single moms is to have employment that is sensitive to their need to care for their children if they get sick, or have a special event at school, or the like. Some businesses have done a much better job than others responding to the needs of women in the workforce. As one of the discussants said, her employer recognizes women bring hard work and talent to their workplaces, and does what they can to encourage their employment. A critical aspect of this is the availability of affordable, high quality day care.

We visited the Mary Johnson Childcare Center in Middlebury. This center serves about equal numbers of low income children whose tuition is paid for by the state, and well to do families who pay private tuition. One of the first things you notice about the center is how beautiful and well maintained it is. The Center believes that beauty is part of what children need. They have a constantly evolving curriculum, created between teachers and children. They serve a number of children with special needs, including physical and emotional disabilities. It was moving to see how much effort they make to communicate with parents the activities and development of their children. This center was developed to continue providing stimulating and nurturing childcare to the children from the Addison Parent Child Center, but has grown to be much more. This kind of child care is truly educational, built on the increasing understanding of how children’s brains and emotional selves develop. It is important for very young children who are in childcare all day to have stimulation, loving care, physical exercise, lots of play and good nutrition, in a very safe environment.

We then went to our first meeting at the Addison Parent Child Center. The center began as a program to serve teen mothers, but has evolved to serve the needs of many different kinds of families. While many of the parents served are single moms, they also work with single fathers and married couples. And of course they work with the children as well. PC/C provides parenting support, childcare, education and job training. They help parents address the challenges in their lives whether it be finishing high school or getting higher education, job training, learning to be a better parent, emotional support through counseling, and more. All parents spend some time working in the childcare rooms to learn about the needs of young children and how to best support their growth.

Interestingly we started with a panel discussion about the role of men and fathers, touching on the huge impact including men in childrearing has. The PC/C has found that men actively engaged in their children’s lives, even if no longer involved with the mothers, are much less likely to father more children. They come to appreciate and understand what it really means to bring new life in to the work and parent the child. We also learned more about the child support system in Vermont, and how parents are expected to financially support their children. Finally we heard from a legislator why he supported the expansion of this kind of program. He told us that for every dollar spent on programs like the PC/C, approximately $7 can be saved in the costs of incarceration, special education, health care costs, etc. The Parent Child Centers provide many services in one place, which makes it very accessible for parents and much more likely that they will get many of their needs met.

Finally we met some researchers. We learned that about ½ of pregnancies in the US are unplanned and not wanted or at least not wanted at this time. This contributes to abortion but also to complications such as low birth weight and maternal and infant mortality. One link is that because about 40-50% of lower income women don’t have health insurance , it can take several months before they know they are pregnant, and then sign up for and receive federally funded health coverage for their pregnancy. By then they are often in their fourth or even fifth month of pregnancy and a number of health related issues might have needed to be addressed early. We heard about the need to have conversations with young women of childbearing age concerning their pregnancy plans. Every health related visit can include the question – are you planning to get pregnant, and if not, how are you preventing it? Every woman, every time is the slogan for this approach .

After a long day, we were hosted to dinner on a Vermont sheep farm, and were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Tomorrow, more on parent child centers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A look at the lives of unwed Korean mothers

I had the pleasure, with Kimberly Hee Stock, a Korean adoptee from Delaware (who was with us at the KWDI Forum in March), of presenting A Look Today At the Lives of Unwed Korean Mothers: Where We Are and Where We Need to Go, at the IKAA Conference in New York, on April 17. Kimberly and I spoke based on our respective experiences, and our talks complemented one another well—hers from the perspective of an adoptee, and mine from that of an adoptive parent.

Kimberly came to appreciate the moms’ situation when she sat across the table from an unwed pregnant woman, holding hands with her, and my appreciation came from visiting a group of unwed women who had already agreed to relinquish their children to adoption.

Our individual presentations were followed by a brief conversation between us, after which a video was shown of two Korean moms—one who relinquished her child, the other who is raising her child—whom Rick interviewed last year. Audience questions were thoughtful—and challenging. One questioner wondered if presenting these women as victims does them a disservice—the sad answer is that Korean society effectively forces them into the position of relinquishing their children, or bringing them up under very difficult circumstances.

We weren’t sure how the audience would respond—after all, the situation of unwed Korean mothers is not something that adoptees generally think about. Gratifyingly, the presentation, made to an audience of some 30 people, made up mostly of adoptees, was received well.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Trip Highlights from Dr. Cheryl Mitchell

Reflections on my visit to Korea.
Cheryl Mitchell

It was a most amazing experience to be invited to join Dr. Boas, Ellen Furnari, and the KUMSN staff for two weeks of visits and meetings in Seoul this spring. I was totally impressed by the diligence and thoughtfulness that so many people bring to helping improve the situation for unwed mothers and their children. It seemed as if everyone: practitioners, government officials, researchers, parents, women’s groups, the media, church members, and members of the community, wanted to make things better, and that everyone shared a vision of country in which all children were loved and cared for and all parents were respected.

There were so many things that seemed special and important to me that I can only list a few:

Meeting with mothers and hearing their life stories (whether they relinquished their babies or were raising them alone or with help) was clearly the high point. I was struck by how committed these young women were to helping develop a more supportive community, in ways that might not even benefit them directly. Their willingness to speak out publically struck me as both an act of courage and also an act of joy about the lives they hope will be possible for their children. And of course enjoying the delightful energy of the babies and toddlers was another high light. Being at Ae Ran Wan with the staff and parents made me feel as if I were back home at the Parent/Child Center in Vermont. The sense of love and possibility is so palpable.

It was also extremely impressive to me that the Governments (both National and Municipal) were taking such a thoughtful approach to crafting social policies that would really help young families. They were paying attention to child care, health care, continuing education for the mothers, relationships with the fathers and extended family, job opportunities, and ways to overcome the stigma. The level of research about these social policy issues seems very high and I was tremendously impressed by the researchers I met. Korea seems to value this research more that we sometimes do in the US and I applaud the great working relationships I saw between policy makers and academics.

Being on the panel for the KWDI Forum at the National Assembly was a truly thrilling opportunity for me. The chance to learn from other researchers, the thoughtful responses to my presentation, and the clear interest of government in this issue were all very heartening. I was so grateful to have had more time to get to know people in other settings, both formal and informal, and so grateful to Ms Kwon and Ms Shin who did such meticulous arranging and great translating. The chance to meet so many practitioners at the KUMSN training day was also a humbling and exciting experience. There is so much excellent work being done in Korea, and events such as this are just the beginning of people being learning from one another.

I was greatly impressed by the energy and effectiveness of the many groups and people we met with individually, from adoptees to labor to woman’s groups to private agencies. Korea is so fortunate to have this great convergence of energy, interest, knowledge and skill. It seemed as if dramatic social changes could well happen much more quickly here (as they did for technology or for growing the economy.) Walking into Nel Purin, for example, it was clear that Korea was taking a respectful and effective approach to helping prevent unintended pregnancy while other agencies were beginning to work just as effectively to help ensure that women who do get pregnant receive the support they need to effectively care for their babies.

I felt so grateful for the many opportunities to talk with the press, for how well prepared they were, and for the direct and important questions they asked. Since overcoming stigma does require a high level of public awareness, it was good to know that reporters were taking the time to really understand the situation.

There were a few things that surprised me. Prior to arriving, I had heard that the structures of a society very strongly influenced by Confucianism would be such that unwed mothers and their children could never be accepted. Yet many times I heard older men say “If it were my daughter in that situation, I would be understanding and helpful.” And many times I heard mothers who were raising their children say that their parents were now helping them. In the US, we frequently found that parents were very angry when they first learned their daughter was pregnant, and frequently would not allow her to live at home during her pregnancy, yet almost always, after the baby was born, the grand parent instinct seemed to kick in and there was usually a rapprochement. I also met unwed fathers in Korea who were concerned about their babies. So I think there is far more hope here of families supporting one another than I had expected to find.

It was also startling to learn that there is no required town and birth registry to serve as the basis for research about vital statistics. It made the good research even more impressive to me given the difficulty of obtaining information. The relative youth of the philanthropic sector was also a little surprising, but made up for in their openness to tackling challenging social issues.

It is obviously presumptuous to make any judgment based on such a short visit, yet I felt so confident that Korea will make major and significant advances in helping young families. I imagine that critical issues such as child care, education and job training for the parents, jobs paying living wages, and access to housing and health care, will be solved by Koreans faster and probably more elegantly and efficiently than we were able to do in the US.

In closing, it was an immense gift to be able to meet such wonderful and thoughtful people and to share a little bit in the amazing energy that seems to have gathered around young families with young children. I hope there will be further opportunities for us to learn from and with one another.

Trip Highlights from Hee Jong Kwon

We can sing a rainbow
Testimonial Dinner of Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network

Hee Jung Kwon (project coordinator)

There were two big events to celebrate; one is that KUMSN officially started in September 2008, and the other is a KWDI forum at National Assembly in March 4, 2009. I had to spend quite some time giving thoughts that how it should be celebrated well during the time Dr. Boas, Ms. Furnari and Dr. Mitchell were visiting Korea.
An idea that hit my mind was having a reception after the KWDI forum. But the next question was who should be invited. Originally I planned to invite KWDI researchers and government officials since the goals of KWDI research are closely related to designing new possible policies for unwed mothers and their children. However, it didn’t turn out well. I found government officials are in the position of being neutral so that they were willing to attend the forum but not the reception.
After tossing and turning, I realized that people who voiced and worked for the benefits and rights of unwed moms in 2008 should be invited. So I sent invitations to them and, thank God, all of them replied me that they were happily to attend.
On the day of reception, there were Dr. Kim Hey Young, Dr. Lee Mi Jeong, and other associate researchers from KWDI who have carried out wonderful research on unwed mothers and their children.

And there was Ms. Han, Sang Soon, director of AeRanWon, who has passionately provided all the possible services for unwed moms and recently opened a community base center for unwed mothers. Reverend Kim Do Hyun from KoRoot also voiced for the rights of unwed mothers and their children in the middle of adoption debating field. Ms. Cho Kyu Young, a member of Seoul Metropolitan Council, raised a sharp question to the Mayor of Seoul. It brought a positive result that the Seoul City Government was able to secure a budget for the welfare of unwed moms and their children.
In 2008, there was a forum about unwed youth moms. Two main figures to make it happen were also at the reception, Ms. Park Sung Hae, a director of Neul Purun Center of Seoul Metropolitan Government and Professor Kim, Eun Young, who was in charge of the research.

The presidents of HANBUMO Network and UN Future Forum, Ms. Kwon Kyung Ae and Ms. Park, Young Sook were also there to celebrate the night. HANBUMO network, which has worked hard for the rights of Korean single moms, started to train volunteer counselors for “little moms.” UN Future Forum has helped unwed moms by providing goods and shelters for unwed moms. And books of unwed moms’ stories and successful cases of foreign countries in supporting single unwed moms were published by UN Future forum. A writer, Kimberly Hee Stock who struggled for finding the ‘greater truth in my adoption’ though a book, Origami Crane, also attended and chatted with the other guests.

While the people at the reception were enjoying meals and talks, I received text messages from Ms. Yoo, Kyung Hee, a board member of Korea Womenlink. She sent several messages that she could be late but the last one was that she couldn’t make it since her lecture finished too late. Korea Womenlink also carried out wonderful research and hosted a symposium for non-wed mothers. They wanted to create new identity by creating a new term, “non-wed mom.” This emphasizes a woman’s own decision that she can have a baby without marriage.

Even though we missed one, there were people from academy, politics, social welfare, and NGOs from different sectors of society. We know society cannot change by efforts from only one side. In that means, we had all. Like a rainbow, the variety of color will make our society better and beautiful. Red and yellow are different. And green are purple are also different. But we know the differences can make a beautiful rainbow.

I am dreaming that the day comes soon when unwed moms color themselves to be a part of that rainbow. And the day we sing together….

A rainbow of Testimonial Dinner

Trip Highlings from Ellen Furnari

Ellen Furnari


In our recent trip to Seoul (Feb/March, 2009) we were able to meet with representatives from Korean Womenlink. This is an organization founded in 1987 that advocates for women’s rights in terms of labor, education, participation in public life such as running for public office, and for the acceptance of many kinds of family structures.

We have been working with the Hambumo network – a national organization of single moms, for two years now. So I was happily surprised to learn that this network grew, in large part, out of the work of Korean Womenlink. For a number of years they have had public education campaigns, advocated for better legislation and government policy and helped single moms come together to support themselves.

About two years ago, Korean Womnelink decided that there was a critical need to address the situation of unwed mothers. They recognized that while unwed moms share some of the same circumstances as single moms, they also face many different challenges. So they initiated research last year as a precursor to action. This is one of the many things, by the way, that really impresses us working in Korea. So often both government and NPO’s do research in to a situation or area of concern, before doing public education or advocacy or providing services. They are very thoughtful about understanding deeply before planning and acting. And the role of researchers and professors is very important in this regard.

This year was to be year two of their project. However, the funding from the government for this work had increasing requirements attached and they decided to decline the second year of funding. The funding was to begin a public education campaign about the situation and needs of unwed moms. I hope we can find a way to help them pursue this anyway.

It is so refreshing to talk with people who have on their own, before even meeting us or hearing of our work, recognized the needs of unwed moms and decided to do something about it. It was also just enjoyable to be in their offices. When we asked questions that the senior staff with whom we were meeting couldn’t answer, they would go out and talk with the younger women and come back with various opinions and answers. There was such a sense of mutuality and cooperation. I just really enjoyed our visit and hope to work with them in the future on our shared interests.

To share a bit more, here is how Korean Womenlink describe themselves in their material: (see link below for their website)

Korean Womenlink has 10 local branches and about thousand members who actively participate in building a just and egalitarian society.

A world without domestic violence and sexual violence.
A society with an open family culture that accepts various family forms.
A society where women's sexuality and self-determination is repected.
A society where women's labor rights and equal employment are protected.
An open media, a media for the public! Eco-feminism based on life and women's perspective.
Alternative life-style movement:
A Little, a Few and Slowly Co-operative community movement to monitor environmental and life-related issues.

Trip highlight from Yoonkyung Shin, Program Associate

Yoonkyung Shin
Program Associate

The director and consultants of Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network (hereafter KUMSN) visited Seoul from late February to early March. Dr. Richard Boas (founder/director), Ms. Ellen Furnari and Dr. Cheryl Mitchell had actively participated to several ground meetings and public forums that were focused addressing the issue of Korean unwed mothers and their children.

Feb 24, 2009 KUMSN had participated to an informal gathering at Ko-Root with four of adoptee organizations (Ko-Root, GOAL, ASK, and TRACK) that serve for the needs of returning Korean adoptee. There were also a birth father, who had been looking for his son so hard at that time, and Mr. Hwang Pilgyu, a Korean human rights lawyer. Rev. Kim Do Hyun, Ko-Root representative, prepared nice breakfast for all of us and people were able to freely discuss about the various, the most current issues which are related to Korean unwed mothers, adoptee and birth parents. Personally, it was an interesting meeting of all, because the fact that birthparents, adoptee, and adoptive father had been involved in learning and discussing about the issue which affect their lives and, as far as I learnt so far, it does not happen often. There are many people who neither realize the facts that the unwed mother issue is highly correlated to the issue of intercountry adoption nor validate the relationships that the birthparents, the adoptee, and the adoptive parent have. However, at the Ko-Root meeting, those three persons (that consist of ICA) and their supporters (staff of organization) gathered listening and learning to each other and wished the best for each other. I felt it was meaningful. ,

I would like to introduce more about the birth father who attended the gathering at Ko-Root and love to share his recent news in his family. Searching for their son was a difficult journey for him and his wife. About a year ago, they had already agreed on relinquishing their baby for domestic adoption and the baby had already been sent to Korean adoptive parents (by the way, back then she was his girlfriend but they legally married after she gave a birth). Soon the birthparents realized that the choice was not made in the best condition with appropriate counseling, wanted to take their baby back from the adoption agency but the request was rejected. They had attempted variety of means of searching for their son. They did news paper interviews, uneasy negotiations with adoption agency staff, and attend to a number of related events (attending Ko-Root breakfast meeting was the one of the chances that he could appeal to public asking help). Now their son is with the birthparents and we all were exited about the wonderful news.

Another, there is good news right after KUMSN trip ended. On March 8, a day before the World Women’s day, the popular news programs of Korea TV stations had dealt with the unwed mother issue on the prime time. It begun with Arirang TV News and the other was SBS 8 News. KUMSN had actually influenced on both TV interviews directly and indirectly; Dr. Boas and Dr. Cheryl Mitchell had interviewed with Arirang TV reporter at the Ae-Ran-Won’s new community center and at the KWDI public forum. A child-rearing mother and Dr. Lee Mi Jeong, a KWDI research fellow, had an interview with SBS TV team. During the news, they focused on the current change in Korean society; giving birth and raising children out of wedlock is no more needed to be in shady spot and ignored. There are more women who choose to keep their children and the public perception towards unwed mothers has been shifting slowly, accepting the current change. However, there is still lack of government support, and the issue of the social stigma is challenging for the unwed mothers. That news introduced the KWDI forum and its research outcome as well.

One might consider this as a fine sign for the unwed moms and their children; Korean unwed mother issue is getting more public attention in Korean society. I hope the issue would continue to be maintaining on the public agenda so it would lead Korea to find its own best solution. I hope Korea would become more mature society that is willing to give a “second chance” to those brave women who choose to raise their children by themselves. Thank you.

You could watch the Arirang TV News and SBS News segment (it is in Korean language) below:

A trip highlight from Dr. Boas

From Rick Boas:

What a delight it has been to know and work with Dr. Mitchell! She has vast knowledge, experience and expertise in planning, setting up and running parent/child centers in Vermont, also served for ten years as the state’s Deputy Secretary, Agency of Human Services. So it was significant that she could join us—as presenter, discussant, and advisor.

On February 26, Dr. Mitchell presented an all-day workshop, attended by 100 (including social workers, unwed moms, representatives of adoption agencies), Supporting Unwed Mothers and Their Children: Challenges, Strategies, and Benefits to Mother, Child and Community.KWDI

It was a great opportunity for the attendees to hear from someone who understands the situation of unwed mothers and their children, and has set up successful programs to serve them (a model now used in other states). The workshop provided a springboard for those in attendance to improve services for unwed moms and their children, in ways that will work in a Korean context.

On March 4, the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI) held its 52nd Women’s Policy Forum, Improving Attitudes Toward Unwed Mothers and Promoting Support,
at the National Assembly, sponsored by KUMSN. The room was full, approximately 20 legislators attended, and proceedings were broadcast live on TV. Moderated by Prof. Nam Soon Huh, Hallym University, presenters included Drs. Hyeyoung Kim and Mijeong Lee of KWDI, Prof.Yunkyu Ryu, Seoul Theological University, and
Dr. Mitchell. One of the discussants was Dr. Hyeseon Kim, Ministry of Health and Welfare, who is taking an increasing interest in the situation of unwed moms. I was very moved to know that the issue of unwed mothers and their children is gaining visibility, and is being taken more seriously.

In addition to seeing him at several meetings (including the Forum), it was a real pleasure to have dinner with Rev. Do Hyun Kim, director of KoRoot (which provides housing and assistance to returned adoptees). Rev. Kim, who is passionate, articulate, candid and unafraid, is one of the only men in Korea speaking strongly on behalf of unwed mothers and their children (and openly critical of adoption agency practices). He is a man of integrity, truly inspiring. He is a supporter, friend, and a real asset to the cause of the moms.

Sixth trip to Korea February/March 2009

From Richard S. Boas, MD, Founder and Director, Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network

Two and a half years ago, on my first trip to Korea, I was suddenly and deeply moved by the plight of unwed mothers there—especially that of my own daughter’s natural mother, years before. My response was to establish the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network. I am so gratified that, after a relatively short time, we are truly making progress toward improving the situation of these mothers and their children. There is a real commitment—from academia, policymakers, legislators, organizations directly serving the mothers, advocacy organizations—and the moms themselves, to providing a brighter future for these women and their children, so that they become equal, productive members of Korean society. What an opportunity for Korea to do well by them!

The sixth—and most recent—trip, in late February/early March, was particularly rewarding, as the unwed mom issue is gaining traction. We met with a lot of individuals, organizations, sponsored a workshop and a major forum, and held several interviews. What follows is a series of reflections by my staff, by Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, Research Professor, University of Vermont, who accompanied us, and by myself, about what we felt were the most significant parts of our wonderful trip.