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Adoptees as parents: How Korean American adoptees talk about ethnicity, race, and adoption

Korean adoptee parenting study - JaeRan Kim

Each year University of Washington Tacoma invites faculty to present on their research and I was fortunate to be asked to participate in this year’s Lightening Talk. These are very short presentations (5 minutes!) with timed slides. It was challenging to condense a research study into 20 slides in five minutes, but here is a video of my presentation, highlighting the findings of our study on Korean adoptee parenting.

For more information about this study, please click here.

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An open letter to my students

Dear students,

The campaigns leading up to the elections last night were divisive and revealed some ugly truths about how some in our country view many of the very populations we, as social workers, are working so hard for. Regardless of your own personal political views about issues such as the role of government, taxes, and constitutional rights and privileges, we have to acknowledge that this election has shown us that despite the advances in civil rights, many in our country blame people of color, LGBTQ people, women, those with disabilities, and those who do not practice Christianity as “taking away” and disenfranchising White Americans, or for causing the challenges our country has faced over the past several years. Of course, not all who voted for the President-elect hold these views, but this election has shown us that far too many do. I know many of you, both white and from communities of color, are disheartened about this knowledge.

Some of you are feeling scared and frightened. Already we are hearing reports of children of color being told to “sit in the back of the bus” by their white peers and KKK marches and demonstrations meant to intimidate. I fear there will be more of this to come in the next months and perhaps even years. If you are feeling scared or intimidated and need to exercise self-care for yourself or your loved ones, I understand if you feel you cannot attend class this week.

However, I hope you do attend class if you can because as MSW students and social work professionals, you will feel the impact of this new president-elect and his office even more than the average citizen – you will feel it professionally as well as personally. This is a time when more than ever your commitment to advocating for social justice for your communities and clients is at the forefront. You will be practicing in an overall society that might push back on our profession’s core values and core ethics and attempt to make our work in our communities more difficult. Our profession was founded on the premise that it is our responsibility as citizens to advocate on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced. You will have clients who will express their fear and concerns about safety for themselves and their loved ones. What are you going to say to your clients? How do we go on to support them in this uncertain time? Let us use this time to support each other in how we move forward from here.

Despite the challenges we face in the upcoming future, remember that we are a community that values the dignity and worth of each person; we believe in the potential for personal and societal change; we have a core professional value for fighting for social justice. My office is always open for those who need a safe place. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work even harder to ensure a just society for all our citizens.

Dr. Kim

Article about race in Evangelical transracial adoptive families

Hi everyone, and happy holidays!

I just popped in to let you know that I was quoted in an article by Religious News Service about evangelical Christians adopting transracially and the work that needs to be done in terms of honest conversations in the church about race.

You can read it here: “How adoption has forced evangelicals to grapple with race relations” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

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Like many others, I do not celebrate Columbus Day. I am proud to live in a city that has also recognized the importance of honoring the indigenous peoples in the state through re-claiming this day. If you live in Minnesota, join the community celebration today!

For more about the celebration, click here and here (for their facebook page).

For an article about Minneapolis’ Indigenous Peoples Day click here.

 

Recommended readings to get that hamster wheel spinning

My lack of blogging has nothing to do with having little to write about, rather too much to write about! As an avid social media user, I find terrific, challenging, mind-blowing, thought-provoking articles written by people so much smarter than me every day, and if I had all the time in the world, after spending the time needed to thoroughly digest these words of wisdom, I would ideally be able to craft a reflective response. There is just so much great stuff out there that I am mulling over – everything I’m reading and making connections makes it difficult to even begin putting together my own thoughts on these coherently.

So instead, let me direct you to some things I’ve read that are occupying my thoughts lately.

You can probably see from these links that much of what I’m really thinking about lately has to do with race, privilege, and what allyship is really about.

To end, I’m linking a video that a friend showed me this morning highlighting all the ways one can think they are being an ally but really are not.

Taking care of yourself and each other

 Yesterday I attended a conference session titled “Facilitating Genuine Dialogue on Diversity While Instructors’ Own Marginalized Identities are Evoked” with Izumi Sakamoto (University of Toronto), Lorraine Gutierrez (University of Michigan) and Billie S. Allan (University of Toronto). I attended a panel by the same presenters a few years ago on “Decolonizing social work curriculum” (I can’t recall the exact title but it was something along these lines). These women are fantastic; Billie began by thanking the ancestors of the land that we were standing on for their gifts which immediately made me feel at home, and brought to mind my first nations colleagues and friends back home.

I attended this session based on the following description:

Although there is a plethora of literature on how to teach cultural competency to students, rarely covered is how instructors with multiple marginalized identities negotiate the classroom space and engage students in genuine dialogue on marginalization and privilege. Presenters will share their experiences in navigating through tension and vulnerabilities.

The shared experiences were, at times, overwhelming and painful and for the larger-than-expected audience for this session, often times quite emotional. I watched as several accomplished and tenured professors shed tears as they described very confrontational and emotionally violent actions that privileged white students had brought to their classrooms. It is experiences like this when I struggle with whether I want to, or have the energy to, continue to hold ground and/or push on within the institutional and social systems that oppress marginalized communities – and that includes schools of social work and social service agencies.

I am fortunate that I have some amazing women of color friends walking with me on our doctoral education journeys but I have to admit that I wish there were more of us in my field. I am concerned that there is a lot of talk about social justice and anti-oppression in social work but in the daily business of social work practice, education, and research there is a surprising silence about confronting the arc towards the status quo. I go to these conferences and have very different experiences that seem to be so dichotomous as to be splitting; on the one hand I can have amazing conversations with radical social workers who speak of decolonizing social work practice while only hours later I’m questioned about my race and ethnicity by a white social worker who thought it was her right to know where I was *really* from (and then proceeded to “guess” based on her ideas about my name).

A few weeks ago at the Adoption Initiative conference in New York, I had the luxury of spending several days with deeply thoughtful and intellectually and socially grounded professors, doctoral students, artists and practitioners with whom I could speak deeply and emotionally about the challenges of being in academia as someone who challenges the current operating paradigms. One of the themes that came up was how important it is to take care of ourselves so that we don’t burn out, self-destruct, or lose ourselves in this difficult work. One of my new friends suggested reading Sisters of the Yam by bell hooks. My copy arrived the day before I left for this conference and I had been sneaking in little moments to read over the past couple of days. So when the group presenter asked each of us to say something about how we move forward, I pulled out this book from my bag, and promised that I would finish reading Sisters of the Yam.

I mentioned on this blog the other day how privileged I am to be facing these choices; but attending this session also increased my sensitivity to the ways in which people of color or people from other marginalized communities make these choices with much greater stakes than those from more privileged backgrounds. This isn’t necessarily a matter of just making choices;  rather if people don’t stay and fight hard to claim a space in the academy (or in the profession) it becomes more difficult for those coming up after to see themselves, as well as perpetuates the hierarchies and gatekeeping that exist. One of the participants of this session I attended mentioned that she carries with her the spirit of her mother, grandmother, aunts and all the other women in her family who came before her who never had the opportunities because they were denied access.

I left this session with more questions than answers and more sadness than hope. And this thought: we already know we are strong and capable because we made it this far, even with the many obstacles in our way; the question is, are our institutions, professions and colleagues with privilege strong enough to change the status quo? Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong people to shoulder the burden of inclusivity and social change.

The racialized classroom

Yesterday I attended a round table at my university titled, “Teaching and Learning in the Racialized Classroom.” From the program’s description: the “engaging roundtable discussion seeks to provide students, teaching assistants, instructors and faculty with a candid discussion about the myriad ways in which race impacts the teaching and learning experience — especially in classes in which women are teaching about racialized identities, power, and communities.Questions up for discussion include: How are instructors’ and students’ bodies and identities being read? How do instructors and students respond to one another given this reading of identities? What are some multiple strategies of addressing identity in the classroom?”

I was interested in this discussion because it intersects with two aspects of my life right now. I’m currently teaching a course that could be called a “diversity” class for a local undergraduate social work program. This class is actually the second in a series, the first of which honestly was more in-depth and substantial than the diversity course I took in my Master’s program. I have taught the first course in the series twice, and was happy to be asked to teach the second course, which delves much further than just learning about different racial/ethnic populations to explore social work practice. So, as a woman of color teaching a class on issues of diversity for a professional program dominated by white practitioners, I was very interested in hearing what others had to say about the ways I, as a female teacher of color, read and are read by the students in my class.

In addition, over the past month, this topic has come up in a couple of conversations amongst a group of friends who regularly get together. However, we are not only discussing the educator of color in the classroom but including the reverse situation of white educators teaching in a diverse classroom of K-12 students. This group of friends includes several educators, three of whom are white women and three of whom are women of color (myself included). One of the things that happened was that comments made by the educators of color were viewed negatively by the white educators, the white educators attempted to “educate” the educators of color based on a White, liberal framework that did not account for the differences and nuances with teachers and students of color, and feelings were hurt on both sides.

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Article about racial identity in transracial adoption

Happy new years to everyone. It’s a good thing I didn’t “resolve” to blog more frequently as that would have been one resolution (like many others) that would have been broken right from the start!

To gently ease back into blogging, I’ll begin by sharing an article about transracial adoption and racial identity by journalist Hope Rurik, who interviewed me in December for this article, Research, experts say racial identity important after adoption.

JaeRan Kim, who was adopted from South Korea at age 3, said culture camps, cultural festivals and even restaurant outings all became popular after her generation of adoptees, which includes Trenka, had grown. She said giving children the tools they need to grow into an adult of color in the U.S. requires more than a restaurant visit.

She said the wide disconnect from language and culture often makes it more difficult for intercountry transracial adoptees to connect with ethnic communities in the U.S. than it is for American transracial adoptees.

“Anyone can go out and buy food or costumes from another country,” she said, “but it’s the feeling like you’re part of an ethnic community as a person of an ethnic background that you don’t necessarily get.”

Read the article in full here.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

I’ve often called research the equivalent of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and friends are quaking in their ruby slippers at the booming voice and larger than life head of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, only to find, thanks to Toto’s curtain-revealing revelation that the powerful Wizard is just an ordinary man.

Last week, a story was published in Psychology Today by Santoshi Kanazawa, faculty at the London School of Economics, that claimed there was objective evidence that African American women are less attractive than women of other racial and ethnic backgrounds (the original article was pulled, but you can find it here). The so-called evidence for this “finding” was, as it turns out, not objective at all. In fact, the author of the study, known for his provocative research and articles, used a data set in which the “data” about the attractiveness of African American women was based on researcher observations and ratings of the sample – in other words, it wasn’t the sample that was asked to measure attractiveness, it was the researchers who rated the sample themselves (in this case, participants in a longitudinal study that followed participants from adolescence to young adulthood).

The data Kanazawa used and obscurely referred to was taken from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health Study). The Add Health study does not survey how American adolescents define or measure attractiveness. Rather, Kanazawa used the data in which researchers themselves “objectively” measured the participant’s attractiveness.Continue Reading →

“Still not racist, I have a _____ friend”

Little did I know that Tea Party activist Marilyn Davenport stole the “I can’t be racist, I have a Black friend” line almost word*for*word. Congratulations, Ms. Davenport! Her actual words:

“Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people—mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”

Let’s see if everything on the “I can’t be racist” list can be checked off:

√  You don’t know me (so you don’t know if I’m really a racist or not)

√  You don’t get the joke (you must not have a sense of humor)

√  I have friends who are Black (sometimes stated as “my Black friends thought it was funny/didn’t think it was racist)

√  Oops, I only meant to send this to friends (who I think are racist like me)

What was the outcry about? This photo that was attached to her email. It was a supposed to be a birther’s “joke” about questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

“I can’t be racist, I have a ______ friend.”

Earlier this week Love Isn’t Enough featured a post titled, “It does still matter if you’re black (or white) by a blogger named Jennifer (the post was originally published at Mixed Race America.)

Jennifer writes,

“A friend recently told me that many white students will say that they have an African American friend but most African American college students don’t claim to have any white friends (or friends of any other racial group). The disparity, a researcher noted, was that the white college students were counting, as friends, black students who sat next to them in the classroom or who lived in the dorm–people they chatted with and were friendly with. But the African American students counted as friendly only people they had significant ties to–whom they socialized with outside of a classroom or dorm environment.”

I did a little research into this, and found a WSJ article by Jonathan Kaufman from 2008, that I think was the genesis for the quote above. In this article, Kaufman writes,

Following a recent discussion in one of his classes about the campaign, in which most students expressed support for Sen. Obama, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke sociologist, asked his white students how many had a black friend on campus. All the white students raised their hands.

He then asked the black students how many of them had a white friend on campus. None of them raised their hands.

The more he probed, Mr. Bonilla-Silva says, the more he realized that the definition of friendship was different. The white students considered a black a “friend” if they played basketball with him or shared a class. “It was more of an acquaintance,” recalls Mr. Bonilla-Silva.

Black students, by contrast, defined a friend as someone they would invite to their home for dinner. By that measure, none of the students had friends from the opposite race. Mr. Bonilla-Silva says when white college students were asked in series of 1998 surveys about the five people with whom they interacted most on a daily basis, about 68% said none of them were black. When asked if they had invited a black person to lunch or dinner recently, about 68% said “no.” He says his own research and more recent studies show similar results.”

When people say racist crap, like recently when my local radio station KDWB played a song stereotyping Hmong people (Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Hmong in the U.S.) to the tune of “Tears in Heaven,” their response, when we complained to the station, was that “some of our Hmong listeners thought it was funny.”

The same old tired regurgitated twist on “I can’t be racist, my _______ friend thought it was okay.”

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Re/view: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race

When you are part of a small and specific population, you tend to be hyper-aware of representations of “your group.” So when I heard about Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao’s book, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America, I immediately put out a query to my Korean American friends to see if anyone had heard of the authors or this book.

Since 2006, I have been keeping track of the “call for participants” for research on Korean adoptees that I’ve come across through different venues (most often list-serves and organization newsletters). Since I’ve started counting, there have been 23 calls specifically involving Korean adoptees and another five for transracial adoptees (ETA: that have put out widespread calls for participants- there have been several others I have been aware of that did not advertise or use the internet to find their sample).

Of those, 11 studies specifically involved looking at racial identity; 9 studies sought to understand the Korean adoptee “experience” and 4 were what I call “well-being” or “adjustment” studies. While I get that racial identity is a huge part of understanding the transracial/international/Korean-adoptee experience, I’m waiting for research that stops pathologizing us and am hopeful that more research like Eleana Kim’s work will come out that centers the adoptee as the agent of change and action, not merely a passive subject of study.

There are many aspects of the Korean adoptee experience that are not being studied or researched. I swing between feeling that “my community” is saturated with research while at the same time acknowledging that there is so much more to be learned and understood. Continue Reading →

The future of social work?

This past month I’ve had a few conversations with fellow social work graduate students of color. I have wanted to write an honest post for some time now about what it is like on a daily basis to be a social worker of color and navigating through this profession that professes to be about equality, empowerment and social justice but often continues to perpetuate oppression for any of us who are not White, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, middle-class, native-born, English-speaking, non-Christian and/or highly educated (and woe to any who claim more than one of these identities or statuses).

I wrote a lengthy post today, but ended up erasing it all. See, I realize that I might just come across as whiny. Inevitably, as I’ve had these conversations more often than I care to, I’ll just be called “angry” or “reverse racist,” that I only see the negative side of things and that I’m ignoring all the good that has been done in the name of social work and social workers. That I’m not recognizing that they just want to HELP PEOPLE.

In my experience,there are two kinds of social workers. Those who want to “help people” and those who want to “work for social justice.”

My fear is that this is actually the future of social work.

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Part 2 – Discriminating against parents of color in the child welfare system

This post was published on Harlow’s Monkey blog in April 2008.

ShatteredbondsIn trying to figure out how to begin this post on communities of color and child protection issues, I found it difficult to know where to begin and where to end. Trying to finger the exact places and times that the child welfare system discriminates
against communities of color is like trying to pick out which piece of hay in the haystack is to blame. The issues are so intertwined that it is impossible to sort through.

The discrimination occurs on micro, mezzo and macro levels; everything from the federal legislations that either purposely targeted communities of color or structurally supported hidden bias against these populations to the individual
social worker whose inexperience or bias resulted in discriminatory treatment. Most of the time, it’s a combination of many levels of discriminatory interventions by the child welfare system and society at large.

To begin, I feel it is important to clarify some definitions and themes that you will often see in discussions and research about communities of color and child welfare:

  • When we talk about research we need to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. One thing often miss-communicated in articles about child welfare is when a correlation becomes misrepresented as causation. For example, there is a correlation between being poor or in poverty and having
    child protection interventions. This does not mean that being poor or in poverty causes child protection interventions; it means that of those people involved in child protection there is a stronger likelihood of being poor or in poverty.
  • Over-representation refers to a group’s percentage or number is larger than other groups. An example of over representation would be the number of African American men in prison in the U.S. in 2003. Of the 1,316,415 men in prison that year, 586,300 were African American versus 454,300 white males. African American men are overrepresented.
  • Disproportionate refers to a higher percentage in a given circumstance than in the overall population. An example of disproportionate would be that African American children were 21.4% of the children in foster care for the state of Minnesota in 2003– despite the fact that African American children made up only 5% of the overall population.

There are two important books that are must-reads for anyone interested in examining the historical and current practices of child welfare discrimination towards the African American population. These are Dorothy Robert’s Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare and Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare by Andrew Billingsly and Jeanne M. Giovannoni. I believe every single social worker who works in the child welfare system should be required to read these books.

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A discussion about race and relationships

Tonight I’ll be a guest panelist speaking about the role of race in interpersonal relationships in a post-show dialogue for the play, Cowboy vs. Samurai, produced by Mu Performing Arts at the esteemed Guthrie Theater. I’m looking forward to this play and to the discussion afterward; not only am I interested in interracial and multiracial families from a research and academic perspective, but it affects me personally as well. Join the cast of Cowboy vs. Samauri, Professor Rich Lee from the University of Minnesota and myself for the discussion. If you miss tonight’s performance and post-show discussion, there will be another post-show dialogue on November 24th with author David Mura and Asian American scholar SooJin Pate.

Information on the show (you can click here for more info)
The Guthrie Theater presents a Mu Performing Arts production of Cowboy Versus Samurai
by Michael Golamco
directed by Randy Reyes

The lives of the only two Asian Americans in the tiny town of Breakneck, Wyoming, are turned upside down when the beautiful Veronica Lee, a Korean American teacher from New York City, moves to town. Cowboy Versus Samurai is a romantic comedy that re-imagines the Cyrano de Bergerac story in which the “nose” is race. This production features actors John Catron, Sun Mee Chomet (Macbeth), Kurt Kwan (Mu’s production of Yellow Face) and Sherwin Resurreccion (M. Butterfly).

Thinking about privilege

I have a pink copy of this t-shirt that I wear regularly. As you can imagine when I wear it at school, I get smiles and comments such as, “I should get one of those!” When I wear it out in the community, I don’t get such unabashed love but neither do I get the kinds of reactions others have received. Then again, that’s largely because my community is not homogeneous (I’m avoiding the “D” word, as I explain later). I often find that people are resistant to talking about privilege, especially those who have it and don’t like feeling guilty at real or imagined finger-pointing by those of us who talk a lot about privilege.

My son attends a charter school and I am on their “diversity” committee. I put “diversity” in quotes because I find the term so over-used and loaded in meaning. Despite how I feel about the terminology, though, I am passionate about helping the school become a compassionate and inclusive school for everyone, students and staff – and not just referring to the typical markers of race, ethnicity and gender but the many ways that we “other” others because “they” are different from “us.”

During our last meeting, I was given a copy of this list of privileges that many of us have. I’m a big fan of Peggy Macintosh and her well-known Knapsack of Privilege, but in many ways I like this one even better. This list created by author John Scalzi really highlights how many privileges we have – even those of us who are not white, male, or middle class. I’m a Korean American woman, and I have many of the privileges so eloquently stated in Scalzi’s blog post. I encourage you to read it for yourself.

I’m excited that the white privilege conference is going to be in my home town this year.

Rage against the machine*

* with apologies to the band (I was college undergrad when the band was popular)

I thought I’d cross-post some of the blog posts I wrote on my other blog about child welfare. My other blog is focused heavily on adoption, so I wrote several posts to help articulate some of the broader contexts that influence and impact what happens specifically regarding the adoption process in the United States. This post from March 2007 in particular reflects my experience working for a large public county child protection/child welfare program.

Titanic_2

It’s a precarious position for anyone who tries to be an agent of change within any institution. It can be difficult to balance the needs between individual people and systems that were created to help and instead have become so bureaucratic that it is a wonder anyone is helped at all.

When I was in graduate school for social work, we were often told that social reform and social justice were as important to the profession as the ability to empathize and help. Truthfully, however, the field of social work is quite polarized.

I would say the majority of the people in the field (and most of them are women) came into the program because they wanted to "help people"  (I could go into a whole separate post about how women are valued in our society and why that created an over-representation of women in the "helping professions" because that deserves an investigation as well. But I’ll leave that for another day).

Many of my colleagues spoke passionately about how their personal spiritual beliefs "called them" to the field.Well, I have no argument with that because in a way I also feel "called" to my work, though not by a sense of spiritual duty. My "calling" if you can call it that, was based on many goals;  first, I did not want to participate in a profession that was based on the production, marketing or selling of consumable goods. Secondly, I wanted to try to be an agent of change within the field and represent as a voice not included in the existing framework (as both a person of color and as an adoptee). Third, I strongly felt I could contribute to critiquing and challenging the current paradigms of practice and research.

I think "helping people" is a nice goal too. And I believe that it is very important. But in my view, having only a tight focus on "helping people" is limiting. We can "empower" people to change their lives on a singlular basis and I believe that is all well and good. But without looking at the rest of what is happening in the forest, we might be encouraging people to try and work within an overall system that is set up to fail them and send ’em right back to your doorstep.

We give a lot of lip service to the abstractions of  "social reform," "social justice," and "empowerment." But it would be more accurate to say that a great deal of social work involves social control more than our obligation to empower the people we serve. And, in fact, I have difficulty with the concept of "empowerment" because as one of my insightful fellow grad students once stated,"empowerment is a gift we bestow on our [clients]." We’re speaking about privilege here, because as social workers we have the power and control (backed up by our government and agencies) to make people do certain things in order to receive services. Right, we don’t just believe in the welfare state – people need to prove or earn their way to services.

What we are really about is telling people how to fix their lives the way we think it should be fixed, as arbiters of whatever framework of morality we believe.

The result is a push-pull between "worker" and "client" (on a tangent, let me just say that I really despise the way social work has chosen to appropriate business/market economy language – as if the people who use services are free to choose among a buffet of options).

The push-pull in adoption services is balancing the needs of prospective adoptive parents and the children who become adopted. I’m not selling goods, but I’m definitely selling ideologies. In order to make prospective families and children in foster care appealing to each other’s social workers, we use marketing strategies. Wednesday’s Child or Thursday’s Child as many "markets" call them are features of foster care children in newspapers. Just like the puppies and kitties they feature for adoption on other days. We use brochures and flyers and videos of the kids to show prospective adoptive parents. And prospective adoptive parents are asked to make brochures and flyers about themselves so the children’s social workers can determine if they look like "a good match." Many adoption agencies have web sites where prospective parents can look at featured children and read a little blurb about the child. If that doesn’t seem eerily like shopping on the internet, then you are not being honest with yourself.

It’s one part marketing and one part matching services like an on-line dating service would provide. Which begs the question: who is the real "customer" in this transaction? The prospective parent, or the child?

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