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>Where Are All the Exposed Adopted Korean Kids?

April 4, 2011

>This is the last planned post in the series surveying the English language research literature on women’s alcohol use in Korea. (Although I plan to update the research periodically.) I think it important that adoptive parents understand as much as they can about this issue since the majority of our recently adopted Korean kids were prenatally exposed to alcohol and someday they will have questions.

The last article on my desk, “Women’s Alcohol Use and Alcoholism in Korea,” by WookSoo Kim and SungJae Kim, was published in 2008 the journal Substance Use and Abuse Vol. 43 No.8-9 p. 1078-1087. Unfortunately I could not find the text outside of subscription databases on the Internet. But I had no problem getting a paper copy via InterLibrary Loan.

It may be especially worth acquiring if your birth mother is euphemistically reported as working as a cook or waitress or in a bar. While I won’t excerpt it here, this article goes into some detail about that form of employment, which is somewhat different in Korea than in the U.S.

In their Introduction, the authors summarize, “This study presents a brief description of the meaning of drinking for South Korean women, provides a discussion on the increasing use of alcohol among women, particularly in comparison to use among men, and reviews the current status of knowledge on women’s drinking.” (Kim and Kim, 1078)

The common thread  in the research I have surveyed is how normative social drinking has become among women in Korea. Kim and Kim put it into historical perspective. As recently as 1993 (this generation of Korean adoptees is now about age 18), the overall rate of alcohol consumption by women in Korea was only 33%. In 2001 (these kids are now around age 10) the figure was 59.5%. (Both stats. from Ministry of Health and Welfare reports). In 2009 it was 77% (cited here). In some segments of the population, recent figures are even higher, like in  office workers 86% and in college students 96%.

This is an astonishingly fast demographic shift. In 1993, when my husband and I first discussed adopting from Korea, only one-third of Korean women had consumed alcohol in the past year. This means that for many of us, the cultural ground has shifted beneath our feet since the time we first began  investigating Korean adoption, indeed during the period we have been adopting Korean children. That is significant because parents, once committed to a country program, often continue to adopt from that same country. Yet the fact-finding and investigating phase for most of us happened in the year or two before the first adoption.

It is also significant because it helps explain why we have not heard many (any?) stories from families who adopted before us reporting significant struggles with their prenatally exposed adopted Korean children. The percentage of exposed children in that generation of adoptees is significantly smaller that those of who have adopted more recently.

So we are not crazy when we look around us and notice a conspicuous absence of adopted Korean children in the U.S. reported to have FASD. Children are often not diagnosed until elementary age and the leading edge of the statistical balloon of the at-risk population is currently approaching that age.

The smaller percentage of families of older exposed Korean adopted kids, if those kids were effected –not all are –may also be too busy struggling with the behavioral and educational fallout (which may be even worse if it has gone undiagnosed) to reach out to those of us adopting and parenting the next generation.

My daughter Hope is also in the first generation of kids whose adoptive parents have been connected via the Internet since the referral stage of our adoptions. We’ve watched each others’ kids grow up and have developed a significant rapport that allows us to be honest about our struggles. It seems natural that a new day of understanding FASD is dawning among Korean adoptive families in the U.S. Not only is the prevalence of exposure much higher in our adoptive peer group, we’re also the first cohort of parents who are closely enough connected to pay collective attention to how our children are growing up.

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