04 Jan Sending Love: Care Packages and Gifts
Note: This post is part of our full Korea Adoption: Guide to Seoul.
It is customary to give gifts to the important people in your adoption process, and for us, it was also a tangible way to show the family who loved our son for the first 27 months of his life just how grateful we were for them. They had clothed him (in nicer clothes than he has here, by the way), fed him, and bathed him, but they also spent hours and hours helping him learn to walk, kissed him and snuggled him, and loved him so well they were willing to show him our photo album and video every single day in order to prepare him to love us too.
AIAA (our placement agency in the United States) did not allow non-flat care packages for the child or any gifts for foster families to be sent during the process, which is different from many of the US agencies. The only thing we were allowed to send through AIAA was a photo book, USB, and a video of us, which we sent shortly after referral. We did end up sending a few care packages for Gideon with other families traveling to Korea (see below), but we were careful not to include gifts for foster family, as we were explicitly instructed not to. Some agencies believe that gift-giving throughout the adoption process could potentially be perceived as coercion, so to keep things completely above reproach, families are expressly forbidden to give gifts or monetary donations to foster families or the Korean agency until consent is signed by birth parents. Our agency was one of those, so we were happy to abide by their rules about foster family gifts. That said, because other agencies allowed families to send gifts to foster families throughout the process, and because we could not, we decided to give nice, relatively expensive gifts for foster family during our first visit.
Additionally, we brought a gift for our foster family’s biological son (who is our age), as well as small gifts for our two social workers throughout the process, one of which I’m convinced is the sole reason our son has a family. Some families also bring gifts for their agency driver, but we did not, as we were the only SWS family in Korea for our court date and took public taxis with our social worker when needed.
Our agency instructed us to bring any gifts during our first visit with Gideon, which we did. We also brought a photo album and framed photo of Gideon, his foster mom, Brian, and me to the custody transfer so that our foster mom didn’t have to leave empty-handed. Wrapped gifts cannot go through customs, so keep that in mind as you pack for your trip! We packed all of the gifts safely in our suitcase, and then we packed gift bags and tissue paper in the top, flat, zippered part of our suitcase to keep everything looking nice. We also packed gift tags – already translated into Korean – to label each gift when we arrived.
Translations for Gift Tags:
You can write brother (남자형제) or sister (여자형제). Or, for a more personal touch, you could also break brother and sister into these: Boy’s older brother (형), Girl’s older brother (오빠), Boy’s older sister (누나), Girl’s older sister (언니), or a younger sibling in either gender (동생).
A few notes about gift-giving in Korea: Historically, gifts were seldom opened in front of the giver, and, in following that tradition, our foster family did not open the gifts we brought until after we had left. That said, today opening (or not opening) gifts is a matter of personal preference, and it seems some foster families have grown accustomed to opening gifts in front of the adoptive families because of our own cultural expectation to do so. The foster family may ask what you prefer, and this also means foster family may open any gifts you bring during your visit. So if you, like us, hide a note with contact information in the gift bag, just know there is a chance your social worker could see it.
We left a four-page letter with our foster mother – already translated into Korean by our dear friend – and wrote our contact information at the bottom. We also wrote a short note saying we didn’t know the rules about direct contact, but we were open to contact when and if our foster family wanted it. Our social worker was aware (because foster mom told her) and didn’t mind, but this isn’t always the case. It’s important to be aware of your agency rules before leaving any sort of contact information, as some agencies do not allow foster families to have direct contact with the adoptive families, at least before a certain length of time has lapsed. Our social worker told us at custody we had to wait at least 5 months, and sure enough, our foster mama texted us via KakaoTalk almost 5 months to the day post-custody.
Of note, it is not customary to say “thank you” after receiving a gift, so don’t be surprised (or offended) if your foster family or social worker does not express gratitude for your gifts. It doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful; it’s just not customary to express it. And like with money, give or accept gifts with two hands, as it’s more respectful than exchanging with one hand.
Some families opt to give gifts to their little ones during the first or second visits. We brought toys to play with during our visits with Gideon (see our packing list HERE), but we did not leave specific gifts for him, as his foster family provided him with more toys and clothes than he could ever need!
As I mentioned, we were not allowed to send care packages through our US placement agency, save for a recordable photo book, a blank USB (for foster parents to include photos and videos of Gideon when we took custody), and a video of us. We sent the photo book, USB, and the video of us (burned to a DVD and included on a 2nd USB, just in case) pretty early in the process, and we are so, so glad we did, as foster mom said she showed us to Gideon every single day. And sure enough, he recognized us when we first met him in Korea!
That said, we were able to send a few more things with other families traveling to Korea for court or custody, and we were also able to return the favor for a few families that were waiting for their babies when we went to court! Because we sent our care packages with other families having to haul our stuff 6700 miles, we kept our care packages small. In fact, all of them (except the blanket we sent) fit in quart-size Ziplock bags!
In care package #1, we sent a plaid button-up shirt, a t-shirt, a VTech Smart Wheels firetruck, a photo of us, and a short card. In care package #2, we sent a stuffed dinosaur we had slept with (so it smelled like us) and the sweetest custom blanket with his Korean name on it, which we purchased from Etsy. And in his final care package, which arrived just before his second birthday, we included another plaid shirt, a sweater, a “2” birthday candle, and a birthday card.
Again, some families also include small gifts for the foster family with each care package. Just be sure to check with your agency before sending anything to your foster family. Also, it’s important to note that some families get every item they send to their child back at custody, and other times, the foster family keeps all of the toys and clothes for future foster children. You won’t know until custody, so it’s very important you don’t send heirlooms or anything irreplaceable, as there is no guarantee your child will come home with the items you send to them.
Other ideas for care packages we’ve seen are listed below!
Care Package Ideas
- Recordable book
- Recordable photo book with photos of the adoptive family
- Video of the adoptive family
- Soft photo book with photos of the adoptive family
- Hats, gloves, and scarves
- Snacks, like Gerber puffs, lollipops, or puree pouches
- Teething rings
- Small electronic toys
- Small stuffed animals
- Board books
- Toy cars, blocks, or balls
- Diaper cream
- Baby toothbrush
GIFTS FOR FOSTER FAMILY
We gave a few things specifically to foster mom, one thing to our foster dad, one thing to their biological son (who is our age), and then several items we labeled “family” for shared enjoyment. For foster mom, we purchased a Coach clutch, and then I also made a framed family cross-stitch based off a photo we received of foster mom, foster dad, and Gideon. At the time, we didn’t know Gideon had a foster sister, or we would have included her too! For foster dad, we purchased a Fossil watch, and for their son, we purchased a Fossil wallet. Then for their entire family, we included 2 Kentucky mugs, Starbucks Via (very expensive in Korea!), a Kentucky lapel pin, Kentucky magnet, Louisville stationary, and Ghirardelli chocolates.
Throughout all of our travels in Asia, we found the most-loved gifts were generally locally made, or at least locally themed, gifts. Our foster mother also really seemed to appreciate the handmade cross-stich I made for her, as it portrayed Gideon and their family together. If you need a good place to start, I would recommend checking Etsy, Cracker Barrel, and any stores selling local goods.
Because we gave all of our “big gifts” during our fist visit, we also brought a photo album and framed photo of Gideon, his foster mom, Brian, and me to the custody transfer so that our foster mom didn’t have to leave empty-handed. Other ideas include flowers (you can pick up a bouquet at a street vendor on the way to your agency), small handmade items, or a necklace.
Foster Family Gift Ideas
- Foster Mom: Clutch, purse, diaper bag, custom jewelry (i.e. a necklace with Korea + the new child’s home state), handmade décor…
- Foster Dad: Tie, wallet, watch
- Foster parents’ kids: Depending on the age, toys or items listed above
- Local sports team memorabilia
- Local candy
- Local honey
- Local alcohol (hit or miss, as it is here)
- Starbucks Via (or other instant coffee)
- Girl Scout cookies
- State-themed or US-themed mugs
GIFTS FOR AGENCY STAFF
We brought small gifts for our social workers in Korea. We gave our primary social worker throughout the process a “laugh” necklace and a small card, describing how thankful we were that she went above and beyond to advocate for our little boy, particularly after he was diagnosed with special needs. She consistently made him laugh in the videos she took of him, which is why we chose the necklace we did. We gave our social worker at time of first visit and court visit a “communal gift” of Girl Scout cookies and chocolate for the whole SWS office to share.
Some families also bring gifts for drivers, the agency-staffed doctor, and guest house staff. None of those applied to us, so we did not bring any agency gifts outside of our two social workers.
Some agencies will also request or accept donations of baby onesies, baby socks, and other basic baby items for the baby reception homes. Check with your agency before traveling to find out.
Agency Gift Ideas
- Local candy
- Girl Scout cookies
- Starbucks Via (or other instant coffee)