What are Adoption Records

What are Adoption Records

What are Adoption Records

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. 

Much of 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




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