On Adoption:  The Unnecessary Barriers to Search & Reunion

I grew up knowing I was adopted. I grew up knowing that when I turned 18 I could search for my birth parents. What I didn’t know, is that adoption laws and agency practice in my state would leave me feeling like a second class citizen. Living in the dark, I literally thought I would call the agency that handled my adoption and they would turn over information that rightly belonged to me; especially since the agency had documented that both of my parents said that they would like contact from me when I reached adulthood.   I was completely wrong.

  1. Seeking out information can be Intimidating

Before I turned 18, I always talked about searching as soon as I could. By the time I was 20, I finally mustered up enough courage to call the adoption agency and get my information. They made the mistake of putting me on hold and I quickly hung up; it would be another 12 years before I called them again. When I did, I had someone coaching me on what questions to ask. I had to have deliberate questions because they were not just giving out the information they knew I was looking for. They immediately asked me if I was an adoptee, birth parent, or adopted parent: I wondered if this changed the way they interacted with me.  There were forms to fill out, and fees to be collected. I never even knew that I could’ve had my name on file all these years so that if my mother tried to search for me they could give her my contact info. No one told me anything.  

Now adoption is mostly open, but for children in closed adoptions, I believe when the child turns 18 they should receive a packet in the mail with their non-identifying information and steps explaining the search process. This is precisely what the UK does and I think the country is still standing. They should also offer suggestions for material to prepare for reunion and counseling if desired, but not required like some states. The adopted person could then choose to search or not, but at least it’s in their hands, literally!

  1. Search is costly with no guarantee

Not only is the act of searching intimidating, it is costly. I get that people need to be paid for their work, but I never chose this for myself. Put a search fee in the initial adoption expenses; what’s an extra $400 in the scheme of $30,000 (hey they might even make more money from people who choose to never search). I seriously cannot come to terms with the fact that I have to pay for information about myself. With the internet there is no way I should be charged for someone else to search. I have Google too. (Really, Just give me a name). With help from my search angel, we found my mother in probably 10 hours of searching the internet without a name. With a name it would have taken less than 1. That’s $400/hr. Maybe I should switch careers.

SEARCH FEES

Catholic Charities 

Identifying Information – $400.00

Non-identifying Information – $75.00

 

Christian Family Life Services

Identifying Information – $400.00

Non-identifying Information – $75.00

 

Lutheran Social Services

Identifying Information – $460.00

Non-identifying Information – $110.00

 

The Village Family Service Center

Identifying Information – $460.00

Non-identifying Information – $110.00

 

And here is the real kicker: This stranger can open my file, read the names of my parents, contact them somehow;  Oh, but since paternity wasn’t legally determined they can’t even contact my father-even though he was involved in the adoption-even though he said yes he would like to be contacted.  They now must get my mother’s permission to release her information.  If she says no, I’m done. The end. Sorry you are out $400 AND your birth family, your questions, your missing piece. This is not acceptable. I can’t accept it.  I won’t accept it. Which brings me to the next point.

*some states don’t even have the option of forking out money to the agency who holds their file. They instead have to enter their information into a state mutual registry (which may cost and require counseling). I’m not sure how often people actually find each other through these registries; one misinformation (which happens often in adoption paperwork) can send you down the wrong path and I’m guessing could cause people to miss each other, forever. You can also hire a private investigator, can you see the continual trend: adoptees continually forced to spend money on a choice that was made for them. Totally unfair.

Original Birth Certificate

Original Birth Certificate

  1. Access to original birth certificate by court order only

I could take it to court, but add another $1,000 to pay my lawyer and good luck finding a judge who will say yes to obtaining  my original birth certificate: the legal piece of paper documenting my birth. I have no access to it. My birth mother has no access to it nor was she allowed to keep a copy (good thing since she gave them the information and might do what with it???). My adopted parents have no access to it. Instead, my birth certificate was changed to say that my adopted parents gave birth to me, and my original has been sealed for all time.

I love my adopted parents, but they don’t belong on my birth certificate. They raised me, but they did not conceive, carry or give birth to me. They were not at the hospital. They did not even know I was born until days later. This practice began in the 1930s when being born out of wedlock labeled you illegitimate. They actually stamped it on your birth certificate.  In the 1950’s, birth certificates were available to be seen by anyone.  To avoid stigma, and to keep birth parents away, the states started to seal birth certificates; even keeping them from the adopted persons themselves. These days of stigma and shame are long gone, yet Adult Adoptees still are not given access to their very own information.

When persons seek to change these archaic laws, suddenly the big concern is the privacy of the birth parents. While there may be a few out there who wish to remain a secret, it is quite laughable to me.  Being found can be hard for many, but in states where birth certificate access has been granted to adult adoptees and states have made provision for birth parents to redact their information or ask for no contact only about 1% have done so. We are protecting the 1% while 100% of adoptees (I realize not all adoptees are interested, but there is potential at some point in their life they would)  and 99% of birth parents are searching for answers. If you go online you will find hundreds of websites and registries with families trying to find each other. Some for 30 years, some ready to give up. It’s a true shame.

Many adoptees struggle with identity and value- they do not know their beginning; have never caught glimpse of a face that looks like them;  and often wonder if they were ever loved by their birth mother.  Even if a mother(father) does not want to be found, you cannot convince me the mother’s privacy is more important than the needs of that child she made a choice for. In her new book “Worthy to Be Found” Deanna Shrodes says, “I believe every human being has a right to look into the eyes of the two people they originate from, at least once…..I believe that if you birth a child, it’s the humane thing, the kind thing-yes, the right thing”  even just once.

Beyond that adoption has a ripple effect. It made an impact on the rest of the birth parents’ family: grandparents lost grandchildren, aunts and uncles lost nieces and nephews, cousins lost cousins, siblings lost to each other. Even if a birth mother doesn’t want contact, someone else in her family might.  It will also have an impact on the generations to come from that adopted child. They will never have their true genealogy. It could affect their health and their children’s health. Adopted persons should have access to the identifying information of their birth parents. Then like grown-ups they can navigate contact or relationship or lack thereof.  At the very least they deserve a chance without anyone in the middle.

When my mother was in her 30’s she chose to be adopted by her step-father, and do you know what happened? The state issued a NEW birth certificate and sealed away her original. DID I MENTION SHE WAS IN HER 30’s?!?!?   There is no reason for this! Adoption should not change the information on a birth certificate. Either lines need to be added to include adoption, or adoption certificates need to be issued that have just as much legal value as a birth certificate. This only makes common sense and I can’t figure out why we aren’t doing this already!!!!! Birth certificates are available to people as they study ancestry and genealogy. Amended birth certificates created through adoption have NO indication that this child was adopted and will forever twist the true genealogy of our nation.

When adopted persons turn 18, they should be able to request their original birth certificate just like any other citizen. It really comes down to civil rights. We are being treated differently than the rest of America’s citizens. Slowly, state by state, laws are changing, and the world isn’t ending. Even without changed laws people are reuniting every day thanks to the internet, search angels  and DNA. Reunion is beautiful. Reunion is challenging. It brings up a lot of buried memories and emotions; but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. It doesn’t mean that the government or adoption agencies get to be the middle man. Let adults be adults.

So many times reunion is denied because a stranger is standing in the middle. And all the stranger can say is I’m sorry, it’s the end.

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3 comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. We deserve undisputed access to our OBC’s just like non-adopted people, and yes, we are being treated like second class citizens. I received my OBC and all medical files (including social workers notes) years ago with the help of an *angel* from ALMA. She literally dictated over the phone step by step instructions. It took 7 months to receive my files. I cherish these files. I was told that I was lucky to have been born in Los Angeles County, because many counties are more difficult to deal with. Nonetheless, I (or any adoptee) shouldn’t have to write a letter to a judge and jump through hoops just to obtain what is our birthright.

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  2. I find the whole adoption system and denial of adoptee rights in the US so backwards and deeply disturbing. I work in adoption in the UK (virtually 0% relinquishment, 99% abuse neglect here, but I also deal with case work in regard to historical adoptions which were probably 99% relinquishment). My partner is also adopted via relinquishment so i have both a professional and personal interest. I think we still have a way to go in terms of improvement, but just to clarify where England stands:

    -Upon adoption, adoptees are given an ‘adoption certificate’ (acts the same as a birth certificate). Their birth certificate remains public, it simply gets the word adopted placed at the bottom. It can be accessed by anyone at any time.

    -Adopted people have had the right to request their birth certificate and access to their adoption records since 1975- this comes at no cost- it is simply a statutory duty (I was reading on one blog that 1975 is when access was stopped in some parts of the US. The irony). 99.9% of requests are granted (only 1 or 2 cases i’ve ever heard about where identifying information is not released- but information from the file that is not identifying would be. This is usually where the adoptee is convicted of murder or paedophilia, thus protection of others does have to take precedence).The UK’s approach was pioneered by a man called John Triseliotis, a real pioneer for adoptee rights. He was a great man who continued advocating for the rights of adoptees for almost 50 years, through to his death a few years ago.

    -In England, the release of information from the adoption file on birth family/background is generally 99% unconditional. The only things they might not share is if the mother had a venereal disease of if she had had any terminations previously- basically anything deemed extremely personal. Otherwise you get everything- addresses, dates of birth, verbatim, letters etc. There was an issue a few years ago where a local council in London was deemed to be too highly restrictive of the information they were sharing and they were castigated at court for this.

    -Birth family- birth mums, dads, siblings, aunts etc, have had the ability to request an intermediary to help them approach an adoptee for contact for some time, with regulations around it starting in 2001 (it was allowed before then, this just helped to put all local authorities on an even keel). Alike the US, this does tend to come at a cost, and there are few registered intermediaries, meaning there isn’t much choice, but at least a choice is there.

    -The government also holds a centrally held adoption register- you are legally meant to mention this to anyone who accesses their birth certificate and/or adoption files. This costs £15 for an adoptee to register or £30 for a birth relative (think this equates to about $23 and $45 respectively).

    -At the agency i work for, we allow birth relatives and adoptees to leave letters/current addresses on file should the adoptee or birth mother ever come looking. Again, this is free of charge- often what people do given the hiked up price for intermediary (something i take real issue with…)

    -Rights of descendants of adoptees- e.g. children, grandchildren, spouses etc, came through last year, meaning they can now a) request an intermediary to put them in contact with birth relatives, b) ask for health information from the adoption file to be disclosed. They can request access to the adoption file, although this still appears discretionary- i think recent case law will make this more possible, however.

    -There is an adoption service through the NHS that allows medical information to be shared confidentially between doctors should there be a genetic condition/disease known of (i think this could be improved- especially as most things like cancer, aneurysms etc often don’t come till later in life, so it’s unlikely to be noted on the adoption file).

    Really hoping adoptees in the US get a breakthrough soon. It beggars belief that you are not already there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow looks like we have a long way to go!!! I hope to see it in my lifetime at least. In just the past few years states have finally started opening access to original birth certificates but it’s a slow state by state process. Most people aren’t even aware of the barriers we face and too many think the secrets are still necessary. Thanks for sharing! We can learn a lot from the UK

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