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Adoption scrutiny: Let's protect parents from their sons and daughters?

baby040110_optBY PAM HASEGAWA
COMMENTARY

In a guest op-ed published in the Star-Ledger on March 22, the NJ Coalition to Defend Privacy in Adoption (NJCDPA) stated, "Birth parents who place children for adoption should have the right to keep their identities private, both prospectively and retroactively."

If this is true, why did many adoptive parents receive adoption decrees containing their child's birth name and often the name of the surrendering parent at the finalization in court?

All but one of the members of the NJCDPA are based in New Jersey. The National Council for Adoption, is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association of adoption agencies that incorporated in 1980 to fight access legislation in states such as New Jersey, where the Records section of the Model State Adoption Act was first introduced. NCFA does not place children for adoption but receives a fee from agency members every time a placement is made by the agency.

The authors describe groups like NJCARE (NJ Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education) as "trying to eliminate privacy for birth mothers," claiming we misrepresent the intent of the laws which sealed adoption-related information here. Those laws were passed in 1938 to prevent public access to private information, and then in 1940 from persons involved in adoption, including the adoptee.

There is something wrong with this picture. What is so strange about people wanting to know who they were when they were born and who their parents were. What is more "private" than one's own identity at birth?

The defenders of privacy in adoption claim birth mothers' privacy has been protected for decades. Never mind the fragility of the concept of a "mother's privacy from her own child." Have the authors ever tried having an uninterrupted bio-break when their three-year-old child had a question?

Birth mothers' privacy has emphatically not been protected for decades.

What we call "adoption" is a two-tiered process. Relinquishment comes first - the mother surrenders the child to the custody of an agency or an intermediary. The child is usually, but not always, placed in a home. The adoption is not finalized until at least six months following the placement of a child in the home of prospective adopters.

The "contract" with relinquishing mothers is called a "surrender" or "relinquishment." (When I was adopted in 1942 in New York City, it was called an "indenture.")

The relinquishment used by Associated Catholic Charities in New Jersey in 1963 states:

"I do hereby give, grant, surrender and delegate to it (Associated Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson) authority, custody and control over said child for the full term of his/her minority.

"I do further voluntarily surrender said child...and I do hereby consent to such adoption, without notice to me.

"I agree that I will not seek to discover the home of said child, attempt to remove him/her there from, nor in any way molest or interfere with the family in which he/she may be placed.

"In addition, I give (this agency) ...full power and authority to give its written consent to the adoption...and change of name...without notice to me."

If

1. a child was given into the care of an agency for the full term of his/her minority,

2. consent was given without notice to the surrendering parent, and

3. the parent agreed to not seek to discover the home of (etc). the child and

4. the surrendering parent agreed to all this without further notice to her

and

1. none of the records, including the original birth certificate, was sealed until finalization of the adoption

2. the receiving agency could pass the child along to the State Board of Child Welfare, give permission for the child's medical treatment, and,

3. if adoption did not take place, could place the child in foster care or an institution, or,

4. if the child died before finalization of the adoption,

it stands to reason that a surrendering parent could not possibly have been legitimately assured that her "privacy" from her child could be guaranteed.

Defenders of privacy wrote, "Although the best interest of the child is paramount, New Jersey's adoption law protects all of the parties involved in an adoption: the child, the birth parents and the adopting parents."

Note the statement preceding the 1953 revision of the N.J. Adoption Code:

9:3-17 Public Policy

This act shall be administered so as to give effect to the public policy of the State to provide for the welfare of the children requiring placement for adoption and so as to promote policies ... which are socially necessary and desirable for the protection of such children, their natural parents and their adopting parents. To that end, it is necessary and desirable

(a) to protect the child from unnecessary separation from his natural parents, from adoption by persons unfit for such responsibility, and from interference by his natural parents after he has been established in an adoptive home;

(b) to protect the natural parents from hurried or abrupt decisions to give up the child: and

(c) to protect the adopting parents from assuming responsibility for a child without sufficient knowledge of the child's heredity and capacity for physical and mental development, and, having accepted a child for adoption, from later disturbance of their relationships to the child by the natural parents.

Defenders said, "The law as it now exists assures birth parents that the intensely private and emotional decision to place their child for adoption will not become public knowledge. The adopting parents, too, are granted confidentiality by the law because they take into their home the child of others to raise - and love - as their own. Judge Gruccio's words reflect the intent and interest of the law in "protecting and nurturing the...family relationship it has statutorily created."

The pending legislation maintains the policy of sealing adoption-related records from public inspection.

Defenders wrote, "We must remember that thousands of birth mothers placed their children for adoption through the New Jersey courts in reliance on statutory assurance of privacy. Those women should not now have their privacy stripped away..."

Birth mothers did not place their children for adoption through the courts; the agencies to which they relinquished their children placed those children through the courts. Or found foster homes for them. Or placed them in institutions if their disabilities precluded their being adopted. Or perhaps arranged for their burials if they died without a foster or adoptive family.

The Defenders say that the only compassionate and sensitive way to allow adopted persons to know who they were at birth is for the State to establish a mutual consent voluntary registry where people may be connected only if both sign up through a state-run registry.

It is neither sensible nor compassionate to strip a human being of his or her identity at the time of birth for any reason, let alone to "protect" a parent who, in 94 percent of cases handled by the DYFS Adoption Registrars since 1992, didn't want or request "protection" from her own child.

Defenders wrote, "The mutual consent voluntary registry system would use qualified individuals and agencies to function as intermediaries to locate and verify the identity of adopted persons and birth parents.

The "mutual consent voluntary registry" (MCVR) system was the idea of the Jean Paton, the first adoptee to speak out against sealed records. It has been used by the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association, the International Soundex Reunion Registry, and by numerous online registries existing today. The concept was co-opted in 1980 by the National Committee for Adoption (now the National Council for Adoption) which was founded to cripple the Model State Adoption Act proposed by an HEW panel of experts.

The MCVR system depends entirely on accuracy of the place and date of birth. In New Jersey, judges have been able to change the place of birth on adopted persons' amended birth certificates to match that of the town of residence of the adopting parents. If a mother relinquished a child born in Camden and her son, whose amended certificate says he was born in Morristown, both registered, would they be a match, even if the date of birth was correct? No.

The Defenders "urge, instead, sensible legislation that takes into account the interests of all parties - adoptees, birth parents, and adopting parents, and which maintains the privacy to which birth parents were statutorily assured."

Then why have representatives of two of the institutions which have signed the guest op-ed testified before legislative committees (in 2005 and 2006) that they cannot identify the statutory provision to which this opinion piece refers?

Hello. The emperor has no clothes. Adopted persons are the only humans in the United States in the 20th or 21st centuries over whom a contract may be signed in which they will never have a voice. The New Jersey Legislature has debated this subject for 30 years and the media has covered it extensively. Birth mothers who have relocated have had plenty of time to hear from friends or family that the law which made their child's birth certificate State property might be changed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Circuit) rejected a request to nullify a 1994 TN statute allowing adopted persons access to their records saying, "A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event--the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth."

What a concept!

Pam Hasegawa a spokeperson for the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE).

 
Comments (15)
15 Thursday, 23 June 2011 10:07
gert mcqueen
I am a birth mother, a foster mother and an adoptive mother!

I signed 3 documents, one to relinquish my birth child, one to became foster mother and one to become the adoptive mother. He was 16 and never left my presence, gave his own permission to be adopted, which in NYS anyone over 14 must give own permission. My daughter, 15, chose no adoption, she wanted to keep her own name.

My family had interference in this process by a meddling 'angry militant adoptee' (her own description of herself) who happened to be my reunioned adopted birth sister. When told to butt out of our business she placed a child abuse report against me because we were causing harm to my son by taking away his original birth certificate, he was too old for adoption and other things she didn't like about my parental activities. This report was dismissed, by authorities, but she didn't stop.

She poisoned my daughter against me and when I moved my family out of Buffalo for economic and quality of life improvements, my daughter ran away. Her issues were my business no one else's but this reunited adopted sister determine that now my daughter was a victim of sexual abuse! What ended up being a 2 years ordeal, with me placing my child in a PINS in a foster home for her safety and to keep her away from the meddling adoptee and a court hearing wherein we were proven fit parents, the charges were false and the record was expunged. But the damage was done to my family, this happened in 1980/83.

In 2009 she rewrote history and facts, about my life, the family I was born into and the family that I gave birth to, exploiting us all into what she 'views' us to be. So tell me again.. that I don't know Joan Wheeler's character or about adoption!

To see full story to which I posted the above go to:
http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/from-our-readers/my-view/article450236.ece
14 Wednesday, 08 June 2011 13:01
gert mcqueen
It needs to be pointed out that the book Forbidden Family, written by Joan Wheeler, published by Trafford Publications has been pulled. The book is unavailable and no further copies of it in it's present form will be printed. The book was pulled by the publisher after several months of investigating the documented proof sent to them by the birth family. This pulling of the book proves that what the birth sisters have been saying, that the book is full of lies and hate, is correct. For further details see: ruthsippelpace.wordpress.com/
13 Tuesday, 03 May 2011 18:16
Tony Bunn
I am so tired of writing my feelings on this matter. As a 61 year old biracial adoptee I still don't know what I am. Not that I care anymore for myself but I care deeply about what I may have passed on to my children and grandchildren. It is such a shame that people who have access to their original birth certificates would like to have continuing control and power over those of us who don't. They should walk in our shoes......even if just for a little while. And imagine being "us" for awhile.
12 Sunday, 11 April 2010 22:40
A. Perry
My adopted son is desperatrly searching for his birth mother and I am supporting him. All adoptees have a basic human right to know who they are, thus gigiving them acess to their closed sealed birth records, This is so wrong to deny them this fundamental constitutional god given right.

I pray that my son's birth mother is looking for him too. He was born 8/1981.
He blames me for this but all I ever did was love and take care of him.
I also have an adopted daughter born 12/1976. I pray her birth mother is searching too.
11 Saturday, 10 April 2010 22:06
Sally Brown
In 1950 I relinquished my son to adoption in N.J. In 1981, after mailing inquiries to numerous possible "sources" I received an anonymous note containing his adopted name! A N.J. phone book produced a number. I asked the male who responded to take down my name & number in case we got disconnected & proceeded to name the date & place of the son I had known for only ten days. He replied, "That was me!" His original birth certificate had been in the possession of his parents from the time he entered their home. (Along with the medical records from the agency.) So, please don't accept the argument that the state of N.J. has a sacred obligation mandating that the original certificate of birth cannot be provided to adults adopted in that state.
10 Friday, 09 April 2010 14:16
Gerald R Gioglio
"Coalition to Defend Privacy in Adoption?" Anybody but me concerned about the bizarre coalition that's joined forces here to keep adoption in the dark ages and deny adoptees basic civil rights? Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Here's the deal. I was the DYFS Adoption Registry Coordinator for 6 years. I can count on one hand the number of birth mothers who did not want contact with the children they placed for adoption. And hello, lots of birth fathers and siblings are out aching for reunions....guess what they'd tell you about secrecy in adoption--I handled a lot of angry and emotional phone calls--they were right to be mad--as were their adopted family members.

Surprise, not everybody that's placed a child for adoption was or is middle or even working class. Lot's of poor people, folks who had a tough time in their youths and got themselves straightened out, our challenged brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities and mental health problems also had to, or due to the circumstances of there cases, were forced to place. But, no matter who these birth family members are, they have one thing in common--virtually all hunger for that day when the person they placed makes contact. I've seen it, I've made it happen and I know that the fight for one's original birth certificate is not only good and just, it's a basic civil right…and dare I suggest, God's work.
9 Friday, 09 April 2010 11:41
Mary L. Mild
It amazes me the NJ-ACLU has chosen on the one hand to champion Open Public Records, and on the other hand to oppose the right of Adult Adoptees to have access to their original birth records.

If 95% of birth mothers wanted confidentiality, I might understand this logic. However, DYFS has shown when they do searches that 95% of birth mothers are open to sharing their name and other information, including having contact, with the child they placed for adoption.

Most persons who are parents would understand the desire to know what happened to the child that was placed for adoption. The pain of separation is not just for the adoptee, but also for the birth parent. Most birth parents find it difficult to get on with their life (as they were led to believe they could) without knowing what happened to their child.

Today, adoption agencies can rarely convince a birth parent to place a child for adoption, unless they give the birth parents assurance that their will be some kind of openness in the adoption process.

Birth parents were never promised confidentiality from the child they placed for adoption. Most birth parents were teenagers, and were forced to place the child against their will by their parents, by their church, or by the larger social norms.

If NJ-ACLU did their job, as they should, they would know that they are on the wrong side of this issue. S799, the bill recently passed in the NJ Senate, and now waiting for a hearing in the Assembly, gives the minority of birth parents who placed a child for adoption, and who want confidentiality the right to have their personal information removed from the original birth certificate. That would seem to provide the protection that the NJ-ACLU deems necessary.

At the least the NJ-ACLU should remain neutral. But if they really wanted to advocate for the vast majority of birth parents who placed children for adoption, they would strongly support the Adoption Birthright bill that is now before the Assembly.


Mary L Mild
8 Thursday, 08 April 2010 20:46
Carolyn Johnson
Today I got a call from my 43 year old daughter in Florida. Her 41 year old brother is visiting her and ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure. My daughter said it was so frustrating to not be able to give the doctors the relevant family history and just had to say, "He's adopted!" My daughter is also adopted, but had a reunion with her birth mother a few years ago and now has someone to talk with about any health issues.

This secrecy in adoption is so outdated...for all parties. When will it end?
7 Wednesday, 07 April 2010 23:45
Susan Stevenson
Most girls who relinquish their babies are too young to know how this choice will affect them all their lives. You may adopt, but you can not give them a past. Children have a right to know who gave birth to them and they deserve to know the medical issues throughout their lives that the original parent could give them As an adoptive parent you can not give them health records. They have a right to also know their siblings for medical reasons. Too many chances exist for them to meet and date or marry. If we make it a civil right like we do other special interest then maybe someone will open these records.
6 Wednesday, 07 April 2010 14:22
Gaye Tannenbaum
As Adam Pertman (Executive Director, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute) so eloquently testified, state legislature no longer have to speculate what might or might not happen should adoptees' access to their own birth records be restored. There are six states with UNRESTRICTED access and several more with various levels of access dependent upon date of birth and other criteria. State legislatures considering restoring adoptees' birth record access in their states only have to look at the experiences of states that have already done so.

Kansas and Alaska have never restricted adoptees' access. Oregon has a ten year history of restored access. In Oregon, when compared to birth record requests from adoptees, less than 1% of birthparents had filed a "no contact" preference. As noted in this commentary, 94% of birthparents in adoption cases handled by DYFS did not want "protection" from their children.

Do the Defenders believe it is right to deny 100% of adoptees the right to access in order to protect the 6% (or less) of birthparents who desire no contact?

Do the Defenders believe it is right to charge adoptees a search fee (usually hundreds of dollars) to do what volunteer search angels do for no cost? Is it right to charge the non-adopted $25 for a birth certificate, but make the adopted pay hundreds of dollars for a CHANCE to receive the same piece of paper?

Do the Defenders believe it is right to expect a deceased birthparent to register? The Defenders' warning that "some birthparents might not know the law has changed" cuts both ways. How do you expect a birthparent to know that they can register after signing a promise NOT to search?

Do the Defenders believe it is right to seal the original birth records of ALL adoptees, even in open adoptions and step-parent adoptions?

The Defenders represent the Adoption Industry and the Adoption Industry runs on money made from adoptions. It is in THEIR best interests to keep the status quo.
5 Wednesday, 07 April 2010 13:48
Joan M Wheeler, born as Doris M Sippel, Buffalo, New York
Who is there to protect my mother’s right to be named on my birth certificate? She gave birth and then she died. NYS has no business in stripping my mother of her dignity and civil right to be named on a certificate of birth for her 5th child. Her 3 older adult daughters and 1 son have rights to their birth certificates with their legally married parents’ names, including their dead mother’s name --- but I am forbidden access to my true birth certificate because I was relinquished out and adopted.

If a father relinquishes his child to adoption after the death of the child’s mother, that child’s birth certificate ought to remain intact and a certificate of adoption issued instead of a new, falsified birth certificate for that adoptee.

When people begin to examine adoption for the totality of the atrocities against the adopted person and the natural parents, then people will see that preventing the truth from being released is a crime against an innocent adopted person, as well as discrimination against natural parents. There is no crime in being adopted; being treated like a criminal is discrimination.
4 Wednesday, 07 April 2010 13:46
Joan M Wheeler, born as Doris M Sippel, Buffalo, New York
“Privacy for birthmothers” does not apply in all adoptions. Millions of half and full orphans (domestic and foreign-born) are adopted. There are children who are adopted by their stepmother or stepfather, or other children of married parents are adopted and are not illegitimate.

None of the above requires a frightened birthmother who needs so-called protection due to illegitimacy. Instead, these cases are swept into the privacy dust bin. The very concept of illegitimacy is a man-made concept, so very artificial. This is not a reason to discriminate against, neither is half or full orphanhood. Yet, all adoptees and our natural parents are mis-labelled.

I resent being prevented from obtaining a certified copy of my birth certificate as I am a half orphan and not illegitimate.

By implication, does this “protection” provide security for natural fathers who relinquish their children to adoption after the death of the mother? Public discussion always focuses on birth MOTHER privacy. My father did not sign a confidentiality contract, nor was he verbally promised confidentiality.
3 Tuesday, 06 April 2010 21:07
Nicole Burton
As a British adopted person who received her original birth certificate when the UK opened up its adoption records 33 years ago, I consider America to be a barbaric, backward country in the way it treats its adopted citizens.

Nothing less than full human rights are at stake, and I expect to see the end of adoption as we know it in my lifetime, just as I have witnessed the end of the Soviet Union, South African aparteid, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

May it be done.
2 Tuesday, 06 April 2010 19:23
Ann Wilmer
The case for adult adoptees to enjoy the same rights as other citizens is so clearly laid out here that one wonders how anyone could possibly misconstrue the facts to support their cause celeb of birth mother privacy. And yet they do. Or at least that is the red herring argument they use.

When you look closely, support for sealed records comes from and is financed by the adoption industry who apparently fears honesty and accountability in adoption will hurt profits.

There are a few who think a pregnant woman's has a choice is limited to adoption, abortion or a shotgun wedding. They must be blind or they have never visited a social services office and seen the number of single mother who are not only rearing their children but getting taxpayer support to do so.

Being unmarried is not the issue. Being ready to parent, is. The sad fact is that women who are unprepared to parent are highly likely choose abortion over a sealed adoption that means they will never know what becomes of their child. If adoption profiteers did not have skeletons in their closet they would embrace adoptee rights because it would probably increase their baby supply.
1 Saturday, 03 April 2010 15:31
Jo Anne Swanson
Here's one organization that "got it":

(Excerpt from document)

“Numerous states have laws or procedures which impede the ability of adopted adults, their birthparents and other relatives to ascertain each others’ identities. The ACLU believes that so long as state and/or local governments choose to maintain birth records, such records must be maintained and accessible without discrimination by virtue of adopted or non-adopted status.

"Toward this end, the ACLU believes that laws suppressing information about adoptees and/or their birthparents, and laws allowing access to such information only upon consent or registration, or laws allowing access to such information only upon court order, deny adopted persons, their birthparents, and their relatives equal protection of the laws and constitutes unwarranted interference by the government with the right of people to choose whether to associate.”

"The political debate on the adoption issue has tended to be framed in terms of psychological issues; emotional issues; medical issues and sociological issues. The above policy confines itself to a civil liberties analysis."

Respectfully submitted,

Nancy Stone Farley
Chapter Chair SW Florida, ACLU

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