Opening Adoption Records Allows Adoptees To Know Who They Are

This guest post is by Faith Getz Rousso, an adoptee and adoption attorney.

November. Adoption Awareness. This is the time each year where “we” hear/read/see adoption related podcasts, articles and news stories.

Those in the adoption-world live adoption each day, 365 days of each year.  Who are the “we”? We are adoptees, we are adoptive parents, and we are biological parents and adoption professionals.

I wear two hats. I was adopted at 17 months old. I am an adoptee. I am an attorney who practices adoption law. I am an adoption professional.

The topic of adoptee rights, whether adult adoptees should have the ability to request and obtain a certified copy of their original long form birth certificate (“OBC”) without restrictions is a hot topic.  It is one that has been in the news all month.

On November 14, 2019, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation allowing adoptees to receive a certified birth certificate at age 18. 

This bill ensures all adult New York adoptees have the same right to their identify as other non-adopted Americans. Governor Cuomo stated, “For too many years, adoptees have been wrongly denied access to this information and I am proud to sign this legislation into law and correct this inequity once and for all.”

One is born, and a birth record is created with the biological parent(s) names and dates of birth documented; then post- adoption a new document is created with the adoptee’s legal parent’s names and dates of birth. 

The amended birth certificate currently identifies the adopted legal parents as “mother” and “father”. There isn’t a distinction between “birth” parent and “legal” parent.

Moreover, some birth certificates even change the location of birth to coincide with the adoptive parent’s mailing address. Why one asks, would an adoptee be prevented from knowing their own truth?

As an adoptee, it is unconscionable that the birth certificate that I have in my hands states that I was born in Long Island, New York to my “adopted” mother and father when I was actually born in New York City to another woman with a different father. It makes no sense to me.

Prior to passing the bill to provided OBC to adult adoptees, NY along with all states had provisions that allow access to non-identifying information by an adoptive parent or adult adoptee upon request.

The non-identifying information may include date/place of birth, age of birth parents at time of the birth, general physical description (eye/hair color), race, ethnicity, religion, and education level of biological parents at the time of birth. 

Approximately 30 states have established some form of a mutual consent registry. (AZ, AR, DR,FL ,GA,HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, LA, ME, MD, MS, NV, NH, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WV).  The procedures for mutual consent vary greater from state to state. 

Some states have provisions that would permit adoptive parents to request the state adoption registry contact birth parents when additional health information is medically necessary. (AL, IL, Kansas, MD, MN, MI, WY). 

As to identifying information, access is not always restricted, and states have imposed limitations that vary from mandatory counseling about the implications of a search (AK, MI, SC, TX) to requiring consent from at least one birth parent and the adoptee over the age of 18 or 21.

Most states that require consents have registries that require the parties seeking the exchange of information to file affidavits consenting to the release of information.

However, eight states will release information fro the registry upon request unless the affected party has filed an affidavit requesting nondisclosure. (HI, MD, MI, MN, NE, OH, VT).  

As an adoption professional; I have always complied with the laws that have been in effect for 80+ years in New York, and file either a Report of Adoption or Notification of Adoption with the court along with the adoption petition, upon the placement of a child for adoption with my clients.

I advise adoptive parents that the original birth certificate will be sealed and the adoptee would only have access to it with as an adult if they petition the court and can show good cause (i.e. medical necessity, due to psychological issues or to prove native American Heritage).

I have been conflicted for years. It didn’t appear to be rational; especially as I watched neighboring states pass laws that opened up birth records. 

Why were adoption records sealed? The reasons that original birth certificates were sealed was to prevent the adoptive parents and biological parents from knowing each other and to assure that an out-of-wedlock child would not be stigmatized by being labeled as a bastard or illegitimate.

The purpose of sealing records was not to prevent adoptees from securing a right provided to the majority of Americans- to know their true identity.

Today, open adoptions are the norm. Most biological parents and adoptive parents have met prior to the birth, exchanged information, and maintain a relationship throughout the adoptee’s life.

Photos and updates are exchanged, siblings know each other, and medical background is available to both the adoptees and the biological families. 

In today’s society, there isn’t the same stigma of being illegitimate that existed years ago. The National Center for Health Statistics reported in 2015, 77.3% of non –immigrant black births were illegitimate, and 30% for whites. 

Why one may ask would anyone oppose a bill to give adoptee’s access to their OBC? One argument is to protect the biological parent’s identity; many people believe that the birth parents were promised that their identity would be protected when they placed the baby for adoption.

However, there is no evidence that the biological parents were promised or guaranteed that their identity would be protected. On the contrary, the majority of birth parents that have been polled said that the anonymity was forced on them and they were told never to speak about the adoption.

Opening adoption records gives adoptees the ability to know who they are, which is a basic civil and human right. To discriminate against adoptees is unjust. 

I am happy adoptees will be entitled their original birth certificate as of January 15, 2020; and that, as an adoption professional, I am not required to be part of the process to seal original birth certificates in adoption proceedings.

Faith Getz Rousso, Esq. is a private adoption attorney with a practice in Garden City, NY.  She is an adult adoptee and a mother of two boys with many years of family law experience. 

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