Purpose of Adoption Records
By law, people are authorized by the states
to collect and store pertinent data on adopted children’s lives, such as vital
medical information of theirs and their birth parents, as well as possible
reasons they were given up by their birth parents (unless they were made
orphans by the death of their parents).
Why more often than not these records are
closed to parties involved in the adoption, though, may be less apparent,
especially to those concerned organizations whose raison d’être is
removing seals on genuine birth certificates and non-identifying information. While to some extent, widespread secrecy in adoption
reflects a general sense of paranoia about what opening records
may result in.
Open Adoption Records
Those protesting the restrictive nature of today’s adoption record laws often
use the supposed long-standing tradition of closed adoption records in the
United States as ammunition for attracting supporters. In terms relative to all
of American history, however, movements toward secrecy have only really held
influence for less than a century, manifesting themselves in the post-World War
II era. At their most inclusive, open adoption record policies deal with
allowing access to old and new birth certificates and other identifying
information about the other party in the adoption. Moreover, they permit
adoptees to see these things, which many states even today will not grant
despite these children no longer being minors.
In fact, less than a fifth of states will
allow unrestricted access to adoptees’ birth records when they become of age
(usually 18 or 21). In many jurisdictions, a request to be given an adoptee’s
birth certificate is dependent on the submitting biological parent’s written
consent to let their children and eventual caretakers see it, or the absence of
a non-disclosure stipulation. However, not all
birth parents hide behind the most basic limitations of the law. Through mutual
consent registries (to which a slim majority of states has agreed), birth
parents and adoptive parents may agree to share identifying information.
Closed Adoption Records
The debate over whether or not adoption records should remain closed is hotly
contested in the United States even today. As far most states are concerned,
access to original birth certificates may continue to be restricted along the
lines of the legacy of 1940s-era campaigns of child welfare organizations.
Depending on the jurisdiction, though, interested adoptees may be afforded full
rights to review their true birth records, or at least their rights may fall
somewhere in between open and closed.
Generally, access is easier to secure for
information that cannot lead to a positive identification of birth parents,
such as the circumstances of the child’s birth and the biological parents’
ages, races, religions, levels of education, and their reason for pursuing adoption. Adoptees will
usually have to wait until they reach a certain age to formally request copies
of their original documentation.
Identifying information, meanwhile, is less
likely to be freely handed out by State courts and adoption agencies.
Where to Acquire and General Process
Though one’s enthusiasm for finding their
adoption records may make them ready to jump at the chance to confront an
authority about their purpose, at the same time a concerned individual should
take the acquisition process one step at a time. First of all, though it
probably goes without saying, it is helpful to know where to begin a search.
Chances are the adoption will be conducted through a private adoption agency or
State social services, so any and all
facilitators and social workers tasked with completion may need to be
contacted. This is especially so
in cases of interstate adoptions,
where multiple agencies may be involved.
Of course, to legally finalize a transfer of
parental rights, an adoption must go through a court with the power to preside
over one’s claim. For that matter, a court order may be mandated in those
jurisdictions that do not automatically grant adoptees rights to their birth
certificates. Usually, what jurists define as a “good cause” for
accessing this information is required.
Though this ambiguity implies states might be
more lenient with their policies on adoption records, on the contrary, courts
tend to deny more petitions than they accept, barring serious medical
emergencies. Additionally, if a disclosure veto was signed by a child’s birth
parents, this refusal may be more or less ironclad.
Though simply finding birth/adoption records
presents its own difficulties, new ones exist even when it comes time to try to
break the seal on those records. For one, in the absence of comprehensive
legislation on adoption records, laws differ from State to State. Some
State courts are particularly rigid in this
regard, clearly mirroring over sixty years’ worth of conservative policies as
far as adoption goes.
Additionally, not only do guidelines on adoption records differ from State to State, but
they can sometimes differ with respect to time. A handful of states have
granted full access of adoption records for adoptees past a certain point,
failing to apply their amendments retroactively. Resistance to releasing the contents of birth records
also stems from worries over what birth parents and adoptees might try to do if
armed with certain information.
Opening Closed Records
Reforms of American adoption policies of the
1940s championed by the Child Welfare League of America brought a greater sense
of anonymity to adoption proceedings, which, to a large and somewhat surprising
extent, have persisted to this day. As much as there is resistance to changes
to the status quo, though, there is an equally if not more vocal contingent of
counter-resistance to open adoption records. Noting the high incidence of State policies refusing even adult adoptees what some
would see as an inalienable right to the true details of their
birth, the efforts of pro-open records are far from unnecessary, at least as
far as they and similarly-minded people go.
the revolution of sorts that has argued for more transparency in the arena of
adoption records began with the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) in 1971.
ALMA, imaginably, had other points to its agenda, namely promoting open
adoption and reunification.