When adoption first came about it was thought that cutting ties with an adoptee’s birth parents was in everyone’s best interest. Doing so allowed the birth parents to move on with their lives with no worry of intrusion from the child that was placed. It also gave the new parent-child relationship an opportunity to grow without any distractions. Many adoptive parents of the time chose not to even tell their adopted children that they were not theirs biologically.
Times are different now. We know better. Children thrive best when they are allowed to know their background. That’s the reason there are so many open adoptions today. If, as a society, we are willing to admit that we were wrong about that, then why not take it a step further? There are generations of adults who are being denied access to their birth certificates. The adoption laws that seal such documents were made over 60 years ago. Let’s visit how they came about.
In 1917, Minnesota was the first state to mandate confidential records in adoption. They also required certification for anyone processing an adoption. Investigations of the child, birth parents, and adoptive parents became necessary, as well as supervision after the adoption. Although the records were confidential to the public, they were still available to “parties of interest.” By the 1950s, nearly all states had followed in their footsteps.
Due to the number of black market baby sales, the Child Welfare League of America decided it was the state’s responsibility to protect children from baby farmers. In 1938, the CWLA and the U.S. Children’s Bureau created “minimum standards” for the adoption industry to follow. The standards required birth parents to be beyond rehabilitation and children to be “normal.” Adoptive families were to be “industrious and thrifty,” of the same religion, and have a reasonable age gap with the child.
In 1958, the CWLA developed a far more ambitious set of standards for the adoption industry to follow. The Standards for Adoption Service was conceived as a guide for social work and legal procedures on areas from the matching of families to confidentiality and the sealing of records. The introduction of those standards was really the beginning of across-the-board anonymity without any identifying contact between birth parents and adoptive ones.
Under the guise of protection, the adoption industry made the necessary changes. Most of the country still operates under these standards. Agency records, adoption records, court documents, and original birth certificates were all mandated to be sealed. All Americans should have access to their birth certificate, right?
When a child is adopted, his or her birth certificate is sealed by the court and a new one is issued in its place. The new birth certificate replaces the names of the birth parents with the adoptive ones, so it looks like the child belongs to them biologically. Many adoptive parents never revealed the truth to their children which led to much trauma when the truth came to light after adulthood.
As the children of those adoptions grew up without knowing their heritage and background, they started objecting to the adoption practices. Florence Fisher spent 20 years looking for her birth family. During that time she ran across many other adoptees suffering the same plight. In 1971, Fisher started advocating for open adoption and founded the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association, also known as the ALMA Society.
Fisher found her birth parents as an adult. Her father had been searching for her for years with very little information to go on. Her mother was taken aback at first, but she eventually came around. Fisher learned that her birth mother had been pregnant when she got married. Her family threatened to send her away if she didn’t place the child for adoption.
Since the AMLA Society, there have been many other advocacy groups fighting for adoptee rights. The Adoptee Rights Coalition, Adoptee Rights Campaign, American Adoption Congress, and others are fighting to have our voices heard. Former National Legislative Chair for the American Adoption Congress Erica Bobino said, “There’s absolutely no reason why an adult cannot make a decision about their own lives and to be able to have their original birth certificate just like every other American.”
Gregory Luce, lawyer and founder of the Adoptee Rights Law Center said, “No promise of anonymity could legally have been made because there was never a guarantee the child would actually be adopted.”
Author and speaker DaShanne Stokes said, “It’s illegal to deny people their records due to race or gender. Adoptees deserve the same rights and protections.”
I get it. I really do. Lawmakers are concerned that all the birth parents are going to come after them with pitchforks and torches if they release their sealed files. They are afraid that the abortion numbers in their states will skyrocket if there is no identity protection for birth parents. Adoptive parents are worried they’ll lose their adult children to the birth parents. Birth parents (some of them) are terrified that relinquished children will pop up out of nowhere and ruin what lives they have built for themselves.
Those are all scary situations that are not without merit. However, adoptees are not monsters. We are not trying to ruin or control. We simply want the information about ourselves and our past that we were denied at birth. We didn’t ask for any of this, but now it is ours to carry. In 2019, only nine states have completely open records for adoptees. I haven’t seen any violence or disdain directed to officials in those states. There’s no reason to assume the rest of the system would implode if the other states followed.
Let’s be practical for a minute about where society is going. Over 26 million DNA tests have been submitted to various testing companies. You can’t un-ring that bell. There is nowhere for anyone to hide anymore. You can use your cousin’s cousin to find some obscure relative. Science and technology are only getting better, more accurate.
By holding our records sealed in an office somewhere, you are giving us no other choice. I can’t look in my file and find the information I need. I must contact my birth family to ask for it. As a result, adoptees who never wanted a reunion are being forced to go that route because they couldn’t get info about themselves. Far more families are being disrupted this way than if you gave us the chance to have the documents we deserve as human beings.
Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry. If you need some help with your adoption search then the Adoption Detectives may be able to help! Learn more.