Fulbright Forum – September 26, 2014

Hollee McGinnis

Strengthening Adolescents’ Lives (삶): Mental Health and School Achievement among Youth in Child Welfare Facilities and Adoptive Families

Little scholarship has focused on the nearly 2 million Korean children cared for in orphanages, presently referred to as child welfare facilities, and over 85,000 children adopted domestically since the Korean War. The fact is the majority of children in need of substitute care have been tended to domestically. Currently, approximately 17,000 children (birth to 19) reside in 238 child welfare facilities, of whom 42% are between the ages of 12 and 19; additionally, non-relatives adopt approximately 1,300 children domestically each year.

Research on Korean children raised in facilities have found them to be at higher risk for behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and aggressive behaviors; emotional problems such as anxiety and depression; and social problems including greater loneliness, lower social competence and school attainment than children reared in families. Research on domestic adoption in Korea has been limited by the practice of “closed” adoption, whereby the child’s adoption is kept secret. Over the past 15 years, however, there has been a growing movement of “open” adoptive families who have told their children about their adoption. Research on adoption has generally supported the finding that children raised in adoptive families have better emotional and behavioral adjustment than children who grow up in orphanages, foster care, or abusive biological families. However, as a group studies of adoptees in the US have found they have more mental health and academic problems than non-adopted peers.


Hollee McGinnis, MSSW, is currently a doctoral candidate in social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis. She was formerly the policy director at the Donaldson Adoption Institute where she led a national study on adoptive and racial identity. Her research interests include globalization of child welfare and policy, substitute care for children, family permanency, racial/ethnic identity development, transnational and transracial families, and child and adolescent mental health. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, obtained her masters from Columbia University School of Social Work, and received post-masters’ clinical social work fellowship training at the Yale University Child Study Center. In 1996, she founded Also-Known-As, Inc., a non-profit adult intercountry adoptee organization in New York City.