The Right and The Fight For Open Records For Adoptees

Michele FriedAdoption STAR Founder & CEO Michele Fried, advocates for open adoption records. She examines the current laws in New York, Ohio and Florida and then, shares a letter she wrote in support of this issue.

In September 2000, I wrote letters in support of Open Records throughout New York State. Thirteen years later, we still wait. At the bottom of this article, you will find a copy of the letter I wrote. If you wish to join the advocacy efforts for Open Records, visit New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s UNSEALED INITIATIVE.

Just this week an article appeared about open records in Illinois. The article states that Illinois is one of 11 states to have open birth certificates and one of nine to have unsealed them since 1999, according to the American Adoption Congress. And because of its size, the Prairie State has seen more adoptees get those papers than most. Still, the 8,800 is only 2.5 percent of the 350,000 Illinois adoptees’ records that were sealed beginning in 1946. In Oregon, which opened its records in 2000, 11,500, or nearly 11 percent of the 108,000 records sealed after 1957, have been requested. Alabama didn’t seal 300,000 records until 1991, reopened them just nine years later, and 5,800 adoptees have requested them. Rhode Island reopened 24,000 records in 2012 after 68 years, and 759 people have laid claim to their birth certificates.

Below is a brief synopsis of the current status of Open Records in New York State, Florida and Ohio as reported on the American Adoption Congress website.

NEW YORK ~ For current advocacy activities in New York visit: http://www.unsealedinitiative.org/. CURRENT LAW: Passive registry. Adult adoptees (18) and birth parents can register with the Adoption Information Registry to receive identifying information.  When a match is confirmed, registry will notify the parties and the court where the adoption occurred to request each registrant’s “final consent” to the release of information. Upon receipt of the final consent, information is released. The original birth certificate is available only upon order of the court.

FLORIDA
 ~ The Department of Children & Families shall maintain a passive registry with the last known names and addresses of an adoptee (18), the birth parents, and the adoptive parents and any other identifying information that the parties wish to include in the registry. Identifying information about a birth parent, an adoptive parent, or an adoptee may not be disclosed unless the respective party has authorized in writing the release of such information. If the adoptee is younger than age 18, written consent must be obtained from an adoptive parent. The original birth certificate is available only upon order of the court.

OHIO ~ PARTIAL ACCESS STATE
 – Ohio advocates are preparing for their next access to records bill. Currently adoptees born and adopted in Ohio prior to 1964 may have access to their original birth certificate and court file upon request through Vital Statistics. Adoptees adopted after September 18, 1996 may have access to these same documents when they turn 21 (and their adoptive parents can when the adoptee is 18-20 years old). In adoptions after September 18, 1996 a birth parent’s identity maybe withheld on these documents if the birthparent has denied release. Records are sealed in adoptions between 1964 and 1996. Anyone with an Ohio connection who wants to help lobby for passage (either a current OH resident, or a member of the adoption constellation who relinquished, or was born or adopted as a child in Ohio) is encouraged to contact  Betsie Norris.

The I Wrote in Support Open Records in New York State

I am writing to you to address the issue of open adoption records within the State of New York. I understand that you met with Maria Terhune on July 11th to discuss this very matter.

It is important to note that “open records” is the unconditional access by adult adoptees to their government/state held birth records. These records include a copy of the original birth certificate and possibly the adoption decree and court docket. These records do not include home studies, social workers’ personal reports, agency records, attorneys’ records or any other records that may come under an agency’s purview; “open records” is not about search and contact.
As you may already know Tennessee and Oregon have passed measures supporting open records for adult adoptees. But what you may not know is that for the past 25 years, the State of Kansas has practiced an open records policy. Kansas allows adult adoptees to receive copies of their original birth certificates on request, and offers search and reunion intermediary services to those who wish to use them. In 25 years, the state:

  • Has not had any reported problems,
  • Has seen no increase in abortions, and
  • Has seen no decrease in the number of adoptions.
  • Today, the Child Welfare League of America supports open adoption and open records. It is necessary that New York State join the effort to support open records.

    What is frustrating is that open records are so often confused with search and reunion efforts. They are two distinct areas. Open records merely allow an adult individual to identify what is rightly his. His identity. This includes his birth name and information surrounding his birth. Simply by obtaining a photocopy of a birth certificate will not mean that a birth parent is easily found or searched for at all. What the media is unfortunately focusing on is search and reunion stories and not focusing on the real issue.

    It may surprise you to find out that I am not an adoptee. I am also not a birth parent. I am a proud mother – an adoptive mother. As an adoptive parent of five children, and as an adoption professional in the community, I am completely supportive of open records. My children should have the right to obtain their original birth certificate and information surrounding their birth, just as I have the right to find out the same information about myself. How does it feel to grow up with an amended birth certificate? How does it feel to be told you cannot obtain your original birth certificate?

    In 1987, when my husband and I decided to adopt, we chose to participate in a new idea then known as “open adoption.” Within open adoption, we would be agreeing to meet the birth family of the child we were able to adopt, develop a relationship with them, share photos, letters, telephone calls and arrange visits with them. In short, we would become extended relatives. We would not be co-parenting. We would be the child’s forever parents, but our son would benefit from many individuals who would love him and offer him many opportunities. We would offer him security, stability, love, and a future. His birth family would offer him his biological culture and identity, genetic and health information and traits, and of course, love.

    We chose open adoption for all of our adoptions not as a means to adopt babies, but rather as a promise to our children that they will always know their birth families and who they are and where they came from. We never wanted our children to feel the sense of loss commonly expressed by adoptees, nor did we ever want them to feel they needed to search for their birth families. So open records will not affect my children as we have secured a relationship with their birth families – but for the countless adoptees that have not been able to have what my children have, I appeal to you to support opening records for adult adoptees in the State of New York.

    As an adoptive parent, I can tell you that I love my children more than life itself and I claim them everyday in my heart and in my mind as my very own. While adoption is a different way of forming a family it is by no means a lesser measure of what a family is. However, it is different. And the word different should be embraced rather than feared. This difference must be taken into account and be treated with respect. Adults must be treated with respect whether they joined a family by birth or by adoption. Adopted adults must have the ability to do what non-adopted adults take for granted.

    Are there issues to deal with when New York is considering the open records issue? Of course. I am not discounting the very real issue of privacy that adoption provided to many birth families. But if we remove the myth that open records is just about search and reunion then I believe we can all work together to prepare a model in New York State that will be successful.

    Sincerely yours,
    Michele Fried
    Chair, Board of Directors
    Adoption S.T.A.R., Inc. (https://adoptionstar.com/)

    Read More about Adoptees: What to Expect as a Birth parent, Adoptive Parent or Adoptee, A Poem Written By an Adoptee, New York State: Adoptees’ Equal Rights Bill, Getting Help with Your Older Adopted Child, Steve Harris on Looking in the Mirror, Christians Story: An Airman’s Experience with Transracial Adoption

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