How can I help change the law?
Laws can be changed in the Legislature. Citizens have a voice in the Legislature through their representatives. As a constituent, your voice is important to your representative. (Often they say they do not get much feedback from constituents!) Contact them by phone, email, mail or in person. Let them know what you want them to support. To find who represents you, go to: http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/
While Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform seeks to enable the RELEASE OF THE ORIGINAL BIRTH CERTIFICATE (OBC), we frequently get questions about search and reunion. A good resource is the American Adoption Congress.
Do all adoptees want to search or have relationships with their birth family?
No. Many just want their original birth certificate, just like all non-adopted people have. Some want only information about their history, but do not want to engage in a personal relationship. Some are not interested at the present time, but want the ability to find out at a later date. Some want the information so that their children, or grandchildren or (spouses, spouses of children/grandchildren) can know what is in their shared ancestry.
Do more men or women search?
More women search than men (source).
Will access to original birth information erode the relationship of an adopted person with their adoptive parents?
A law that gives adults access to their original birth records changes nothing while the adoptee is a child under the care of adoptive parents. Birth information and contact with birth family does not replace one’s relationship to adoptive parents but rather leads to a more cohesive identity for the adoptee. Many therapists believe the process of finding the past is so helpful to the adoptee that it strengthens their relationships with their adoptive family members.
Does access to original birth information violate the privacy of birth parents?
Neither the constitution nor statutes define privacy as a right of a parent to remain unknown to their offspring. Under this statute, the birth certificate will be available only to the adoptee, giving the adoptee the same access to original birth information that non-adopted persons have.
In countries and states where records have been opened, a majority of birth parents welcomed reunion. In Rhode Island, the latest US state to pass an access to original birth certificate law (July 2012) 699 OBC’s were released to RI Born Adult Adoptees in the first four months, and only 10 No Contact Forms were collected (March 2011 – November 2012). In Oregon, one of the first states to restore adoptee rights to OBC’s as well as in all others, there have been no reports of “problems” of any kind.
Oregon District Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court, Tennessee District Court, Court of Appeals, have ruled that a birthparent’s right to privacy does not supersede the rights of adopted adults to access their own private information, and that adoptee access to birth records does not violate birth parents’ rights to privacy.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute research “For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees” by Madelyn Freundlich (2007) found “As states have amended their laws to provide adult adopted persons with access to their birth and/or adoption information, there has been no evidence of the sorts of negative consequences predicted by opponents of changing these laws, including intrusive behavior such as stalking by adopted persons who receive their personal information. Similarly, there has been no evidence that the lives of birthmothers have been damaged as a result of the release of information to the children (now adults) whom they relinquished for adoption. In debates leading to these legal changes, opponents had uniformly stated that birthmothers object to the release of birth information and to being contacted by their children. In the states that have amended their laws, however, few birthmothers have expressed the desire to keep records sealed or the wish not to be contacted; indeed, in the vast majority of cases, the converse appears to be true.”
Why were birth certificates and adoption records sealed?
The practice of making adoption records confidential began in the late 19th century to provide protection to the parties involved. It was originally an effort to protect the adoptee from the stigma of illegitimate birth, the birthparent from the stigma of conceiving a child outside of marriage and the adoptive parents from unnecessary intrusion and curiosity.
During the first half of the 20th century, most states enacted laws that mandated that adoption records be sealed by court order at the time of finalization. This means that the information contained in those files, such as birth names, medical background, place of birth, time of birth, religious affiliation, and other such facts that most people take for granted is inaccessible to triad members.
As of 2012, the States of Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee allow adult adopted persons access to their original birth certificate.
Colorado, Ohio have partial access for adopted adults to obtain their original birth certificates. Adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents in most states are denied information that can be critical to their mental and physical well-being because of this outdated practice.
Why would someone want to know information about their family of origin? Couldn’t it be harmful, detrimental or confusing to know?
Triad members are asking for the same information that is available and taken for granted by those whose lives have not been affected by adoption. To know one’s medical history, religious background, ethnicity and physical resemblance is a fundamental ability that all non-triad members possess.
Imagine not knowing that you inherited the crook in your nose from Uncle Fred or that breast cancer runs in your family. Imagine not knowing if your baby boy who was placed for adoption 20 years ago was alive, well and happy. Imagine not being able to help your teen with adolescent difficulties because information about the birthparents is denied you as an adoptive parent.
Knowledge of all the information there is to know about oneself is not harmful or detrimental. It’s an essential part of being a whole, complete person with a past, present and future.
If the efforts to locate and contact are made sensitively and discreetly, it is very possible to keep the relationship limited strictly between the two parties, without opening the topic to the discussion of other family members or the public. Each adoptee and birthparent deserves acknowledgement and information from their biological relatives. In cases where the adoptee or the birthparent is not interested in establishing a relationship, his/her wishes should be respected after basic information is exchanged.
How big is the demand for access to information?
Adoption has touched one of every eight Americans. Currently there are an estimated 6 million adoptees, 12 million birthparents and 12 million adoptive parents, about 12.5 percent of the US population. As the “baby boom” generation ages, there are more adult adoptees and birthparents than ever before, and more are interested in information about and contact with their biological family members.
A nationwide survey conducted in 1984 estimated 500,000 adopt adoptees were currently seeking their birth families or had been successful in locating them. A Harvard University study recently estimated that 96 percent of all birthmothers contemplate a search, and more than 60 percent actually undertake a search. Clearly, the need for changing the laws, policies and attitudes that mandate sealed records is widespread.
If records are opened and information is revealed, what about birthparents who do not wish to be identified or contacted?
There will be a few adoptees and birthparents who do not want contact with their biological relatives. The statistics on searching indicate that these are fewer than 20 percent of the cases. Some birthparents may have wanted to put the painful relinquishment experience behind them and may never have told their spouses. Some adoptees may never have been told of their adoptions. There is no way to predict someone’s reaction until he/she is contacted; these are risks faced by every searching person.
Confidentiality was an absolute in adoptive placements of the past; it was not an option that could be selected. Many birthparents say today that if they had been able to choose, they would not have wanted the arrangements to be secretive and confidential. Since 1980, Michigan has asked birthparents to choose whether identifying information about themselves remains confidential when the adoptee reaches age 18. More than 98 percent of those placing children for adoption have stipulated that identifying information about the birthparents be made available to the adoptee when he/she is an adult; fewer than 2 percent have asked for confidentiality.
In the states where adoption reform has occurred, very few birthparents have indicated their preference of no contact. Since Rhode Island’s release July 2012, less than 2% of birthparents indicated no con In Oregon, perhaps the longest records since restoring OBC’s to adoptees, (May 2000), 10,112 adoptees requested their original birth certificates with 85 wishing no contact – less than 1% in the first 10 years. Rhode Island, the newest State to reform has released 699 certificates since July 2012 and only 10 birth parents have asked for “no contact” (March 2011 – November 2012) or 1.4%.
Will access to original birth information encourage or lead to a rise in abortion among women who have unplanned pregnancies?
Statistics show that access to original birth information does not cause higher abortion rates, nor does it lower adoption rates. The states with access to open records, Alaska and Kansas, have lower abortion rates (14.6/1000; 18.9/1000 respectively for women age 15-44) compared to the national rate of 22.9 (source: Alan Guttmacher Institute). Furthermore, Oregon’s Right To Life chose not to oppose adoption reform in that state because they were satisfied that the abortion rate would not rise with the passage of the measure.
This myth has been perpetuated by groups who oppose opening records and who are out of touch with current adoption practices and the most recent research on adoption. There is research to indicate that given the choice of either closed adoption or abortion, more women choose abortion.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute research “For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees” by Madelyn Freundlich (2007) reports that “Another assertion by critics of changing these laws – that abortion rates rise as a result of such access – is not supported by the experiences of states that have re-opened records (or have never closed them); in fact, the data indicate that reopening records may reduce abortion rates and may increase adoption rates.”
Isn’t access to original birth information a modern experiment?
No. Known identities in adoption date back to antiquity, so secrecy has been the failed experiment. The intent of closing records to the public was to keep adoptive families and birthparents from public scrutiny in an era when being an unwed mother, an infertile couple, or an illegitimate child was not acceptable to society. The practice of sealing birth records is now widely recognized to be outdated and does not reflect The Information Age nor best practices in adoption. Adopted persons have come of age, joined by adoptive parents and birthparents alike who are vehemently protesting a social experiment which was unsuccessful and serves to promote secrecy and shame.
Will access to information and records decrease adoption rates?
No. According to the 2000 Census, Alaska – a state that has full access to open records – has the highest rate per capita of adopted children under 18 representing 3.9 of the population. Data gathered by The National Center for Court Statistics shows that the rate of adoptions per thousand live births are higher in states such as Alaska and Kansas that do not have sealed records laws.
Today, access to information rather than secrecy influences birthmothers and birthfathers to choose adoption. According to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, adoptions that permit information sharing have risen from 36 percent in 1987 to 80 percent today. Research conducted by Henney McRoy, Ayers-Lopez and Grotevant in a longitudinal adoption project between the University of Minnesota and University of Texas could find no adoption agencies doing confidential adoptions among the agencies they researched. This shift in practice has occurred primarily because of birthparent demand for some degree of openness that ranges from mediated open to fully disclosed. The two Minnesota agencies that lead the state in the number of infant adoption placements only do fully disclosed adoptions in their infant programs while other Minnesota agencies are moving towards more disclosure.
Studies indicate that the rate of adoption is not adversely affected when original birth records are available to adults. In Great Britain, Kansas, Alaska, and New Zealand, more adoptions took place after records were opened than did before.
How will the availability of inter-country records benefit adopted adults who were internationally adopted?
Internationally adopted persons typically have little to no information about their origins and depending on their country, may have no hope for reunion. Inter-country records that were given to adoptive parents at the time of an adoption are subject to translation and censorship.
The quality and quantity of the information contained depends on national and cultural beliefs about privacy. Even so, by giving the adult adoptee access to adoption paperwork that may not have followed them into adulthood, the adoptee is put on equal footing with non-adopted persons who know their origins.
What is the importance of siblings being connected who have been separated by adoption or foster care?
Twenty-year research by Stephen P. Banks and Michael Kahn links sibling bonds to the creation of healthy individual identities. “Do I have siblings?” is a common question asked by adopted persons who according to many research studies develop stronger and longer relationships with birth siblings than with reunited birth parents. (Sachdev, 1992; Humphrey, Humphrey, 1989; Geddiman, Brown, 1989; Waner, 1988; Verrier, 1993). While states are vested with the responsibility of placing siblings together in adoptions and in foster care, the reality is that many separated brothers and sisters will never learn of each other or find one another on their own.
Is wanting original birth information pathological?
Ever since Alex Haley wrote Roots, genealogy has captured the fancy of the American culture. The desire to know the facts of one’s history is an attempt to understand the age-old questions: Who am I? Why am I?
Medical information, often missing in adoption, can be a life-threatening omission. Older adopted persons are particularly vulnerable since over 3000 known genetically inherited diseases exist, many that emerge with the onset of age.
Renowned adoption researcher and author, David Brodzinsky, characterizes the interest in one’s origins as “a healthy extension of the universal search for self that we all engage in… adoptees and non-adoptees alike…The need to know about these individuals, and perhaps meet them, is not only normal, but for many adoptees essential for their emotional well-being.”
Mental health providers confirm the importance of accurate and truthful biological/genetic information in order for adopted persons to form healthy attachments and a strong sense of self identity which is key to emotional maturity.
What if the adoption records contain disturbing and negative news? What if the adoptee or birthparent meets rejection at the end of his/her search?
Some adoptions were arranged because of negative conditions at the time of the adoptee’s birth. Rape, incest, child abuse or neglect are difficult topics for anyone to deal with, but that are facts in many lives. Some placements had negative or fatal effects on the adoptee placed in unsuitable homes, and the birthparent never knew of the child’s welfare or fate. An adoption does not change those facts but hides them unfairly from all triad members.
While unsavory details of one’s past are not pleasant to cope with, they still are a part of one’s life. Any denying to anyone’s personal information about himself/herself is robbing that person of his/her heritage. The contents of the information is not as important as the fact that information can be available, and questions are able to be answered.
In a minority of cases, an adoptee or birthparent is rejected when contact is made. While this end to a search is far less than hoped for, it still provides some resolution to the adoptee or birthparent who has sought contact with biological relatives. The searching party still gains the knowledge of the other’s identity, location and well-being, even if a continuing relationship is not possible. Rejection is disappointing and frustrating, but it can be handled with understanding and support from others.
How do adoption agencies and institutions feel about open records?
• Many mental health professionals, social workers and medical personnel involved in adoption-related work are convinced that all triad members will benefit from sharing greater amounts of information. Like any institution, agencies are slow to change their attitudes and practices to reflect what their personnel believe would best serve triad members. A task force of the Child Welfare League of America in 1987 advocated open records as one way to remedy the difficulties cause by sealed records. The legislatures of most states have yet to address this issue by changing their laws to reflect the needs and desires to those affected by sealed records.
Why wouldn’t a reunion registry achieve the same goal as opening birth records without infringing on anyone else’s rights?
Reunion registries, such as International Soundex Reunion Registry in Carson City, Nevada, have had a small measure of success in reuniting those separated by adoption. However, the structure of a registry contains an inherent flaw that makes such vehicles unworkable for many. Both parties must register in order to be connected, and the chances of that happening are very small. Those who are deceased or otherwise incapacitated are unable to take this active step of enrolling, and their condition blocks the other party from obtaining crucial information about himself/herself. Opponents of access to birth information for adoptees know that registries rarely work.
Registries established and administered by state governments and agencies often have additional conditions which triad members must meet in order to enroll. These often include required counseling, consent of the adoptive parents, payment of a registration fee. Such conditions are unfair to and discriminatory against those who are seeking information about their biological past. Those whose lives are not affected by adoption do not have to comply with similar requirements and conditions to obtain information about themselves.
Is social media affecting the way/speed of searching?
Yes. Adoptees and birth family members are using social media to find and connect using social media, and at younger ages.