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."
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
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).