How to do birthfamily search

Update: The Special Adoption Law came into force on August 5, 2012. KCARE was changed into KAS. Their web site is: (and if you type in the old website address, it is automatically redirected to the new site).

Look here for their announcement on how to do birthfamily search under the new law:

Petition for Adoption Information Disclosure

Original post:

Hi, this is Jane Jeong Trenka. I do not usually post personal things on this blog, but I put this on Facebook yesterday and it seems to have struck a chord.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of my Korean mom’s death. When your birthmother dies, it means losing someone you didn’t even know that you could lose, because you never had her in the first place. If you felt like you were at zero with the relationship, you find that you can get to -100 in the space of a sentence written by your Korean sister: “Today mama died.” You can find more nothingness than you knew existed. I have this recurrent dream about falling down an elevator shaft and not being able to see the bottom. It was like that.

I hope that adoptees will take a chance and search even if they are unsure if it’s the right time, because once the chance to know your mom is gone, it’s just gone. Death doesn’t wait for you to make well thought out decisions. All the stories your siblings can tell you a decade later don’t make up for holding your mom’s warm hand as you fall asleep together on the floor. I had so little time with my mom, but her little hand is often the last thing I think about, still, when I go to bed at night. I am so blessed because even though I struggled to accept my mother’s love, a stranger’s love — I knew her just long enough to know that she always, always loved me, and in her heart, I never stopped being her daughter.

Mom, I miss you.

After I posted that, I saw that some KADs were wondering how to do birthfamily search, so here is an explanation.

First of all, know your rights! Information is power.  

You do not need to go to your agency either in Korea or your home country. You may go directly to KCARE and request services. They act as a mediator between the Korean agency and you. They have been performing services already for quite some time, and the law that TRACK helped to draft and pass in June 2011 gives them the legal basis to search for your family. The law officially goes into effect in Aug. 5, 2012. Read and memorize your rights:

Chapter 5 Disclosure of Information Concerning Adopted Children

Article 36 (Disclosure of Adoption-related Information)

① According to this law, the adoptee can request adoption information regarding themselves that is possessed by the Central Adoption Authority (CAA) and adoption agencies. If the adoptee is under 18 years old, they need consent from their adoptive parents.

② Upon receiving the above request as of Article 1, the CAA or the adoption agencies shall disclose such information after they get consent from the biological parents of the adoptee. If the biological parents disagree regarding the disclosure of such information, the agency still shall release the information, apart from the personal details of the biological parents.

③ Despite the above Article 2, if the biological parents are deceased or cannot give consent due to inevitable situations, or if the information is needed for a medical purpose or for a special reason, the adoptees still can get the personal details of the biological parents.

(Click for TRACK’s full, unofficial translation of the Special Adoption Law revision. The Ministry of Health and Welfare is supposed to do the official translation, and guess what, it’s half a year after the law passed and it’s still not out.)

KCARE has been designated as the CAA. I don’t think that their web site is very helpful. What you need to know is this:

You may download the KCARE_Application for Post-adoption Services, fill it out and send it to for **FREE** birthfamily search. Don’t let your home country adoption agency take money from you for this. It is FREE. FREE FREE FREE. They ask a lot of stuff on that form, not all of which is necessary, imo. (Such as marital status. Is that really necessary to do search? Come. On.) To be honest, they *don’t even need to know what your adoption agency was.* Their database is able to look you up with your ADOPTIVE FATHER’S FULL NAME at the time of your adoption. Write down his WHOLE name including any middle names. They don’t actually need your adoptive mother’s name. If you were adopted without an agency, such as one of those adoptions where a military personnel more or less just went and took a baby straight from a hospital or orphanage, your chances of being in the KCARE system are not so good.

If you would like someone you know and trust, such as your spouse, to be your representative for the search through KCARE, you can use this Power of Attorney form and send that to them too. If you are feeling like you don’t have the emotional energy to keep up frequent correspondence, I think it’s a good idea to let your loved one do it for you.

You should be in contact with them OFTEN to keep them moving along and accountable. Koreans do not think it is rude to contact often. That is the ONLY way you will get it done. This is your RIGHT as stated in the Korean LAW. We passed this law so that your birthfamily search would no longer be dependent on the good or bad mood of whomever you encountered at the agency that day. Birthfamily search is YOUR RIGHT, not a privilege for those who give donations or those with the right connections.

It is possible that there is NOTHING in your file, and in that case, mass media is the option that most adoptees turn to. Contrary to popular adoptee belief, the reunion shows are not about exploiting adoptees specifically. They mostly feature all kinds of Korean-Koreans who have been separated for a myriad of reasons. Please contact GOAL for the FREE media hook-up. Most adoptees I have talked to experience these programs as stressful and humiliating, but it is one option that you have, and there are not many options.

TRACK is monitoring KCARE from inside Korea and as inside the system as it has been possible for adoptees to reach so far, writing reports in the Korean news about them when necessary, as well as reporting on them to international bodies in order to keep accountable to adoptees. So if you have any feedback about their service, please let us know. You may send email to

I would say that the things that people do to search are these, more or less in this order: file review and request for services; police search if there is information; going with volunteers from Korean organizations to orphanage, police station where reported, hospital, or city hall; going to old neighborhood and asking elderly people, phone calling; TV and newspaper; private detective.

As an organization, TRACK does not provide birthfamily search services (although our members sometimes help on an individual basis.) Our philosophy was that we wanted to change the whole system (e.g., the law) instead of struggling case-by-case, because we had already seen how erratic that process could be. We of course see the extreme value in organizations that do provide birthfamily search services, but we are just not doing that because we are working with the law and policy as opposed to direct services.

Good luck!


About jjtrenka
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