Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why so many Adoption Records are Closed

Some insightful and engaged readers of my last post have posed questions about why so many adoption records have been closed in the first place. When did it begin?

Actually, U.S. adoptions were open until second half of the nineteenth century, when in the 40s and 50s states started closing records. It’s said that birth mothers were promised confidentiality and anonymity, but as they come forward with their stories they say what they wanted was privacy from the public stigma of being a young unwed mother—not from their child. You talk to most birth mothers and they say they were promised no such thing but instead it was twisted into a threat that they’d better not go trying to contact their child. By 1990 all states but 3 (South Dakota, Alaska, and Kanses) closed all records. There are plenty of statistics that say mothers want just as much for their children to find them one day, and that the secrets have done more health and psychological damage to adoptees than good.

The issue has since become something buttressed by groups supported by adoptive parents, mostly based on fears that a birth mother will come back to haunt them. These are likely the same parents who would discourage their children from searching for their birth family later in life. They might feel threatened that their child is trying to replace them (when really their child will probably be closer to them if they allow them this.) These parents probably were not given support from agencies in order to be informed of the full scope of the issues.

Let us give them other perspectives. Let us give them our stories.

I'm always so happy to hear about the many adoptive parents who fight for their child's right to records and who support their child's search for roots.

But it’s not just those in the triad who are against open access to birth certificates. There are many powerful groups that strongly oppose it. In Ohio (side note: I'm baffled by Andrea's comment on the last post that her friend's adoptive child's birth certificate was destroyed!), Ohio Right to Life has been a major opponent because they believe if information is shared openly, mothers will opt for abortion instead of adoption. This is not true, and there is evidence to prove as such. Take a look at Kansas, which has always had open records. The abortion rates in that state have either stayed the same or gone down in recent decades. There is no evidence, statistical or otherwise, that proves more women choose abortion because they do not want the possibility of their baby coming to find them later.

Planned Parenthood bats for the other team too. They get more funding for abortions, apparently, so they’re not about to be okay with supporting healthier adoptions.

One of the biggest opponents in many states countrywide is the Catholic Church. One woman at an adoption conference I attended in April said she’d been fighting the Catholic Church in New Jersey for 29 years now--documentation in hand to dispel every myth--and had made little progress. I’d like to ask the Catholic Diocese to check out the Old Testament, the pages and pages of tribe recordings and lists of names. It is important where one comes from. It is simply not fair to withhold vital information from someone about themselves in order for some people to save face. It places value on one person's rights over another's, which ironically is one of the big arguments that pro-life advocates use.

Some people have theories that there are a lot of powerful people who are secret birth parents (politicians, priests), and so they have a strong vested interest in keeping birth certificates sealed (or destroyed!) Obviously it's difficult to research something like this, so I can't say whether it's true, but it does make one wonder...

Luckily there are a few states that have opened birth certificate access recently. I believe Oregon did so in 2000, so any child born and adopted in or after 2000 will have access. Here's a video showing a recent victory in Maine.


Jessenia said...

this was a VERY informative posting, thanks! i never knew the history to closed adoption or even knew that it has been that way for such a long period of time. i believe that it is true that many parents that have given up the son or daughter dreams of the day they will come back to find them, but how can we when we cant even obtain our records that rightfully belong to us! we should be thankful for they organizations that support our cause and NOT support any funding that supports what we dont believe in. keep fighting for what belongs to us, it is our life, our right, OUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE! give us back what belongs to us!

Peppermint Patty said...

Thank you Liberty! This particular sentence is one that pulled it all together for me...

"It’s said that birth mothers were promised confidentiality and anonymity, but as they come forward with their stories they say what they wanted was privacy from the public stigma of being a young unwed mother—not from their child."

Anonymous said...

My son and I have reunited. Together with a lot of others, we have managed to get the records opened retro-actively in Ontario, Canada.

I was never promised confidentiality from anyone.

In fact, I was promised the opposite - that my son would be able to find me. Many mothers were promised that in Ontario.

My son has also reunited with his father and all of his siblings.
My son's father never wanted to be hidden from our son. We kept in touch just so our son would not have to do 2 searches to find us.

Since the opening of Ontario's records, we are finding out that social workers whited-out the father's information on the birth certificate - we believe this was done to deny the father his rights.

Liberty said...

Wow, that's great you were able to get records opened retroactively! How did you do it? Did you have to appeal in court?

I don't know too much about the laws in Canada, though some Canadian social workers came to a conference I attended in April and said that in many provinces/territories they allow open records now. I know a 30-something adoptee from Nova Scotia who has no way to find out any information about her father. I wonder if his named was also whited out on her birth certificate. How unfair.

I'm not surprised that you were misinformed by social workers. It's been the same here. A social worker just recently confessed to my parents that historically social workers were, and I quote, "trained to lie." The focus was to place the child, at any cost. Luckily things are taking a turn for the better, at least it seems that way.

Thanks for your story and your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Liberty.

One of the most effective ways to get the records opened was to launch some lawsuits. That certainly worked in Ontario.

One adoptee successfully sued the Ontario government for with-holding her own medical information from her. She almost died because of this. The government had to pay out a huge amount of compensation (a court injunction forbids the publication of this amount). Other adoptees were waiting in the wings to do the same.

There was also the "dead baby" scam where social workers were paying doctors to tell parents that their baby had died at birth - and then the social worker would put the "dead" baby up for adoption without the parents knowledge (never mind consent). DNA helped to prove these cases - something that these social workers did not count on decades ago.

The amount of compensation is said to be large but once again there is a court injunction about the details of the case.

There were so many of these kinds of lawsuits that the Ontario government was being bankrupted.

The Ontario government could not afford any more lawsuits and agreed that the only way out for them was to open the records and give responsibility to individuals to pass on information without government interference.

This is also the reason why the Ontario government allows the parents identifying information on the adoptee as well as the adoptee having identifying info on the parents (provided a disclosure veto is not filed - something the Ontario government was forced to do by a judge). Future adoptions are not allowed disclosure vetoes, so this practise will eventually die out.

The good news is that less than 0.1 percent of eligible people have filed disclosure vetoes.