Free Adoption Records: Open the Secrets in New York part 2

New York's sealed adoption records

The history of sealed adoption records in the US and the current battle in New York’s legislation to free them open.

Sealed Adoption Records in New YorkThis piece I wrote specifically about New York and the adoption laws here. Since it is rather long, I broke it up for ease of reading. Please read Free Adoption Records: Open the Secrets in New York part 1 first and be sure to come back for part 3 and what you can do to help!

Adoption Has Opened, but the Laws for Adoption Records Have Not!

Though now the trend of many adoptions are “open”, sharing various information regarding identity, medical history, with shared pictures and letter, visits, and lifelong contact, there is still little hope for those who were born or gave birth during the times of the past. The face of adoption has changed with new advances in the nature of human responses, but the laws still remain the same, ignorant to new information and ways of thinking.

Opposing any signs of opening sealed records is the National Council for Adoption. This group is funded and complied from heads of agencies that have a vested interest in maintaining status quo. Despite its official sounding name, the NCFA is a lobby group and support for agencies and other adoption professionals, not individuals affected by adoption, and that is their directive. Opening records will lead to reunions. Reunions spread the truth about one’s relinquishment. Many agencies fear that the stories they told to the hopeful adoptive parents and passed on to the children, “the babies mother was just unable to care for babe so she thought it best to give the baby a better life“, can be questioned once the mothers are found and the lack of choice regarding the actual surrender of the child is brought into the light of day. What the moms remember as truth of their treatment greatly conflicts with the fairy tales that agencies have told. Possible reunions also question the agencies directive that “just love him or her as if they were your own”, when it is clear that many adoptees need what their adoptive parents do not possess, the origin of their beginnings.

The NCFA is joined by the Pro-life movement and together they attempt to connect the idea of open records to abortion. According to various propaganda, they help maintain the myth that if women were not protected by the confidentiality of adoption, then they will turn to abortion instead to keep their secrets of pregnancy. Fortunately, they cannot back any of these claims with facts. Alaska and Kansas, the two states who never closed their records, have always had a lower number of abortions performed per state when compared to the surrounding geographical areas. When sealed adoption records were opened in Alabama, the abortion rates actually began to decline in state. The industry of adoption itself saw a marked increase in available babies and women considering adoption when the induction of no shame and secrecy created open adoptions according to the a Wall Street Journal article. Many an agency had their supply of babies almost dry up before introducing various open situations to their programs and saw a huge influx of interest. The bottom line is that a woman is more apt to look into adoption for an unplanned pregnancy, rather than abort, if she believes she will have continued contact with her child.

Adoption records and Promises of Confidentiality

By far, though, the greatest resistance to any pending open records legislation, is the stigma that they still try to attach to the mothers who had relinquished. Laws that were created to provide for ease when harvesting her children and protect the new adoptive parents from her are suddenly getting redefined as there for her “protection”. The former deviant and immoral woman has become a productive member of “normal” society but with a tenuous hold on her place. She is thought to still be a scared impressionable young girl who has followed the orders of family and society and “never spoken about this again”. Hiding the secret of her shame, she has married, had other children and now managed to blend into daily life. Even our Albany politicians get very worried about what will happen to the mystical unknown “Birth” mother if her prodigal child dares to knock up her door and turn her carefully constructed world upside down.

With cries of “promised confidentially”, the opposition of open adoption records continue to ignore the facts and research. The great majority of relinquishing mothers were never promised privacy nor confidentiality and if they were, it was not something that they ever asked for nor wanted. Studies by Cornell University and the Child Welfare League state that 86 to 96% of mothers want to know their children. Often when an adult adopted person begins a quest, the real names of their parents of origins are found within the adoption paperwork held by the adoptive parents. If there were promises, many were broken long ago by the agencies and social workers who allowed the names to slip out. They had ,in actuality, not made promises to the mothers, but rather the implied promises were for the adoptive parents so they could be free from the meddlesome interventions of the unwilling and heartbroken mothers.

These promises, implied or otherwise, were also not possible to give! The OBC of an adopted child is sealed upon the finalization of the actual adoption, not the act of relinquishment. Often, as we have seen by the late ages that the ABC has been issued, the final adoption degree, and the sealing, does not happen until months, if not years after the relinquishment. Until then, the OBC is still a matter of public records! So imagine a woman who relinquishes whom might fear her secret being told. In truth, anyone could have made their way to public records to confirm that she had given birth out of wedlock anytime until her child was legally adopted months later. What’s more, if the child is never adopted, then the original birth certificate is never closed, but the mother has no say because she has already signed away her rights.

Who Wants NY’s Records to Stay Sealed?

For the real feelings of the exiled mothers all we have to do is look into history. New South Wales has had unsealed records for over 20 years. Like all the new legislation, including New York’s bill number 8410, they have built in confidentiality clauses, called consent vetoes and preferences. The concept is simple. When an adoptee asks for their records, the parents of birth are contacted before anything is released. At that point, the mother, and father if found, may choose to allow their names released on the OBC, choose what form of contact they prefer ( phone calls, letter, another intermediary to assist) or to remain in their privacy.

In this way the mother, since we worry most about her, is protected from the “horror” of having her long lost child appear on her doorstep. In NSW, during the first 10 year period less than 6% of the mothers of adoption loss used the veto option. After ten years they had to reapply, and the number that continued to warrant veto use was so small that it was less than 1%. Adoption recommendations for new NSW legislation calls for the dissolution of the veto as they just do not see a need for it at all.

The state of Oregon which televised it’s battled to open records including testimonials from a handful of “Jane Doe” mothers, released its five year statistics. In that time, 8,190 birth certificates were issued, only 503 birth parents filled out contact preference forms and only 83 chose “No contact” following the 1% rule. In New Hampshire, the last number reported for “no contact” was 11 out of the 701 OBC applications making the facts pretty universally clear. Exiled mothers do not fear their children and support being contacted. Despite it being technically illegal, many stopped being helpless young girls and figured out that they were never going to “get over it” and began to search themselves. Many others report that they do not care how they are contacted, as long as they are. The internet is filled with countless search and reunion registries, search “angels” who have sources for inside information, and the names and dates of millions, adoptees, exiled mothers, and adoptive parents trying to find their lost family members.

Adoption Records Registries

Currently the only supported recourse for searching in New York state is the Adoption Information registry under the Department of Health. The NY registry is like many of the Mutual Consent Voluntary Registries ( MCVRs) in various US states and the only means of reunion supported by the NCFA lobby group. The thought behind MCVRs is that if both parties are willing to have contact, and they both register, then a match is made. The problem is that the great majority, including NY state is grossly understaffed, under-funded and under-publicized. Passive reunion registries, where one just signs up and waits, have a success rate between 1.5 and 10%, some states can only report a handful of “found” registrars despite being in business for 15 years. A more active registry which assists in finding a family member brandishes an 80% find rate, but these are not state sanctioned nor funded. NY’s registry is also limited to those born and adopted in NY, so anyone born and adopted outside of the state is barred from the limited assistance and stuck in limbo. NY does allow biological siblings to register for an adoptee lost to the family and will pass on “non-identifying” information without consent.

“Non-identifying” information is basic information relating to nationality, parental age, birth details, that might have been available a the time of an adoptees birth. It is suppose to give the adoptee everything but the means of finding out the identity and making contact with the parents of origins. The problem with non identifying information is it is based often on the whim of the person and the availability of the records. While some later adoptees can find enough information to really get a good picture of who they are, some might even get enough to start a successful search, many only get a generic basis: “Caucasian mother, father had blue eyes, good health” which is hardly enough to answer many questions that plague adoptees through life, but that is all the state is willing to do right now.

Adoptees have shown that they want more than just generic genetics. They wonder where they get their traits and talents from. They long to look into a face that resembles their own, a condition of biological parenting called Genetic Mirroring. They want to know to the stories of their births, not just their pick-ups. They deserve to know the stories of their ancestry, how great grandfather was a moon shiner, or nutty Aunt Betty was a dancer in Paris. Adoption’s legacy of sealed records has permeated our society so much that the National Genealogical Council’s newsletter claims that in 4 generations about half of the countries true roots and genealogy will be bogus. Grafting branches of trees onto other trees might work for hybridization and agriculture, but makes a mockery or what we know as advanced science.

Probably the most profound and understandable reason for an adoptee to search out their origins is for the obtainment of their medical history. This does not just effect the immediate adoptee, but their children and their offspring. A great majority of adoptees will enter a search in order to find out what disease and health risks they truly have inherited. Being barred from searching for this truth is in direct conflict of the advisories made by the US General’s Family Health Initiative which cautions us to do this research for our own good. While the current NY passive registry will allow for the transfer of medical history, they will not find a person no matter how dire an emergency. Also to consider that the medical information known and left by a young woman whose parents still live will be much less than the medical information passed on by a more mature adult who now knows what she, her parents, and her siblings have suffered. With the technological advances in medical sciences and genetic links to many of the ailments that plague us, denying the true medical heritage is putting a large population at risk and denying them adequate and preventative health care, causing an increasing financial drain on our already rising healthcare costs.

In the case of a true medical emergency, an applicant can put forth to a judge to get the adoption records open for “good cause”. Unfortunately, even in matters of life and death, good cause applications are rarely granted, When applicants say they need medical history for their own health crisis, requests often are denied leaving those desperate to take matters into their own hands and conduct an illegal search. There is no reason for a government to cause further strife to a person seeking a basic fundamental right.

But there are those in Albany that worry about family members getting in touch with other family members. They think that doing that causes risks. Even though in New South Wales 20 year history of open records, there was only one documented incident of an adoptee not honoring the veto request, some of our legislators still think that adult adoptees cannot be trusted to take no as an answer. Even after talking to calm, intelligent members of our taxpaying society who happen to have lost their children to adoption, they still fear “what kind” of woman might be at the end of the search. And a small number still seem to get confused and wonder how “this searching stuff” will affect the “poor adoptive parents” who only wanted a baby, never mind that the babies are now thinking feeling tax payers themselves with rights and opinions.

Adoptees report that 96% felt that a reunion has not changed the relationship that they have with their adoptive families and that 2/3 or adoptees in reunions find it satisfactory and are “friends” with the natural parents of birth. In fact, open records is the one issue in adoption that all triad members seem to agree on.
Cornell University reports that the greater majority of adoptive parents support unsealing our records and the adoptees feel closer to their parents for their support. Even when a reunion does not go as planned and expectations are built more on fantasy, most adoptees will report that :knowing is better than unknowing” and most moms are happy just to know that the babies they born are still alive and prospering as hoped for.

Some of our legislators even have tried to introduce their own version of records bills that only make a mockery of the principles and cause further unnecessary discrimination. Senator Saland of Poughkeepsie is convince that the mothers of adopted children were promised anonymity and has introduced a laughable proactive bill, S7392 which allows for a child adopted after bill’s enactment be allowed to access identifying information. It will be the only upon the consent of the natural parent’s at the time of birth and can be revoked at any time. This information and consent shall be entered into the faulty NY registry. It has nothing to do with the discriminatory action of denying adult adoptees access to their birth certificates, but will allow it to continue. The adoptee no matter when they are born will still have a sealed OBC. What it might do is allow for an ease of searching in the future, but a great number of adoptions that are happening now will have little use for searching anyway as the parties involved are opting for open adoptions. As more opt for open situations, the sealed aspect of the OBC is often moot anyway.

Educated moms are requesting additional copies of the birth certificates before the adoptions are finalized and retaining copies of themselves, for the intended adoptive parents and for the child’s later use in life. Even with copies of the sealed certificate in hand, Saland’s bill will still make the government guilty in the bias of denying a basic human right and treat adoptee’s differently. It is also worthy to note that Senator Saland is an adoptive parent, so any law that helps allow only later adoptees to searching and finding their heritage will not disrupt his families existence, Though one does wonder what he might feel if, say, one of his children or grandchildren finds themselves in need of a bone marrow transplant or a new kidney.

There is hope for number 8410. It’s number has changed, but still it waits in Albany, for close to 15 years now. With mass support and many sponsors form both democrats and the republican sides, it still waits mostly from lack of attention and a dysfunctional legislative process. 8410 tends to go from committee to committee with no one calling for a vote! If it ever got voted on, this little bill might just do the trick.

Slipping under the radar of the NCFA, and with much needed support of The Catholic Archdiocese of Albany, New York might be able to avoid the dog and pony show that has confused the issues and made adoptees’ rights the causalities in other states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and poor New Jersey, (fighting for almost 30 years!) this past year. It is hoped that New York can join the ranks of Alaska, Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Delaware, Oregon, New Hampshire, Maine and now Illinois, be the 10th state in the union to recognize that adoptees have just as much right to their birth certificates as anyone else on the street even if not all the laws are as clean as they should be!

New York should be able to realize that adult adoptees can enter into relationships with anyone they choose even if that person happened to give birth to them.

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Come on back for Free Adoption Records: Open the Secrets in New York – part 3 and learn simple things that you can to do to help!
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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine, Adopt-a-tude.com, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

8 Comments on "Free Adoption Records: Open the Secrets in New York part 2"

  1. Great post, great work, thanks Faux…

  2. Anonymous | May 1, 2012 at 5:35 am |

    The New York Adoption Registry is useless for someone born in New York, but adopted elsewhere. I’m not even eligible for the reunion registry. It puts adoptees in the middle of a no-man’s land, and I think adds insult to injury.

    I was finally able to locate my mother’s family, and I have contact with them, but it involved jumping through hoops and hiring someone to search for them. So far, I haven’t been able to locate my birth father.

    I can attest to the fact that even medical emergencies are not grounds for unsealing the records. I requested that the records be unsealed about 8 years ago, when I was having severe health issues, and the Court refused. Then, they said I could hire someone to search for me, but that *I* could not have the information, nor could the searcher give me the information from the Court’s file. It was a compromise, but I think that it would have been better, quicker, and easier, had they opened the records. As is, it took me about seven years total to find my birth mother’s family, and during that time, I had no information, and had to fly blind – and make medical decisions without any knowledge of my family medical history.

    I am still angry as hell about the whole thing.

    Thank you, Claudia, for the post, and for speaking out for all of us.

  3. I’ll ask the same question again here (in the right spot I suppose lol). Are there any other states besides New York that are fighting for our rights? I realize that every little step helps us all but, I would love to fight with others adopted out of the state of Maryland.

  4. How do you find your birth parents?

  5. My dad was given up for adoption in 1925 passed away in 1964 I have been trying for years to open the seal in new york I was denied, I really want to sue new york state, i’am so angry,90 years later who would this hurt, no one is alive any longer. Don’t know what to do

  6. Michele Dunbar | November 2, 2015 at 6:40 pm |

    Looking for my so who was born January 1993 at Buffalo General Hospital to a couple in the buffalo ny area.

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