By PAMELA ROLANDE HASEGAWA
“A ‘win-win’ on adoption records” is a misnomer that misleads the public, legislators and, most profoundly, anyone who has ever relinquished a NJ-born child for adoption.
The authors are inexplicably rapt about the damage control they anticipate being needed if adopted persons or parents of adopted minors are allowed to receive a copy of the adopted individual’s birth certificate without going through a state-appointed intermediary. They are dismayed that these total strangers will have access to a government-issued document with the name not only of the adopted person, but of one, maybe both of the parents who gave life to a person who was relinquished and subsequently adopted. Shocking, indeed.
Since 1940, NJ law has required that when an adoption is finalized, the court records and original birth certificate should be sealed by the court of jurisdiction and the State Registrar. NJ law was either flagrantly violated or misinterpreted by both attorneys and agencies when, after finalization, they gave many adoptive parents a copy of the adoption decree containing the child’s birth name and that of the relinquishing parent.
Readers may wonder how the multitude of reunions publicized in print and broadcast media here and abroad since the 1970s could ever have happened if records are sealed from the get-go.
The fact is, they are not. Adoption happens in two parts. At least three days after a child is born in NJ, parent/s may relinquish the child for adoption. A standard relinquishment requires the birth parent to give up all parental rights and responsibilities (“for the term of the child’s minority” in the case of some Catholic Charities relinquishments), to agree never to try to locate or contact the child or his parents, and to waive the right to be notified upon the child’s adoption.
Finalization, Part Two of the adoption process, cannot happen for at least six months after placement with the prospective adoptive family, as the agency maintains custody and must monitor the family before the formal adoption occurs in a court of law. While adoption depends on relinquishment, relinquishment does not always lead to adoption. Some relinquished children are fostered and never adopted. Others are institutionalized because of illness or a disability. A few die. If an adoption is not finalized, the original birth certificate is never sealed, and thus is like any other person’s birth certificate – accessible by the one whose birth is documented thereon. The fact that at least one parent’s name is on the birth certificate is no good reason for making it inaccessible to the person who was born.
The institutions opposing the legalizing adopted persons’ access to their only true certificates of birth have worked together since 2004, when the NJ Senate passed the Adoptees’ Birthright Bill for the first time. In each successive session, the bill has passed the Senate. An earlier version passed the Assembly in January 1992 and December 1994, but was only released once from a Senate committee and did not reach the floor for a vote by the full body until 2004.
If not being able to obtain a copy of one’s birth certificate is considered a “plight” by opponents of access, it is easier to dismiss than considering it a breach of human and civil rights, which is how those of us who live – and work in – adoption view this circumstance where identity theft of the most egregious kind is perpetuated by the state.
“Privacy,” or the lack thereof, is the plight of relinquishing parents that has captured the imagination and compassion of the “strange bedfellows” opposing NJ’s proposed access legislation.
Let’s talk about Privacy in Adoption: Purpose, Protocols, Policy…or Pretext?
“Privacy,” the mantra of all the groups opposing adoptees’ right to their birth identity.
“The state of being kept secret,” says Encarta. A “secret” is “known by only a few people and intentionally withheld from general knowledge.”
Purpose. What was the purpose of the 1940 law sealing adoption records and birth certificates of the adopted? What kind of secrecy or privacy was the law aimed at?
1. To keep out of the hands of any person who would have no interest in the subject matter, the facts relating to adoption.
2. To assure people adopting children that a parent or the parents of the child adopted may not turn up at some future date to embarrass both them and the child and possibly even do harm. A parent may surrender a child in good faith and subsequently have a change of heart or mind and upon discovering the whereabouts of the child the problem may become an embarrassing one. Then too, there is always the danger of such information being used illegally.
3. To eliminate the possibility of persons using information relating to adoption illegally and for extortion purposes.
The 1953 revision of the adoption code said the purpose of the law was:
(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.
Protocol: The relinquishment document has been described above. A copy of this contract between agency, state and parent was rarely, if ever, given to the birth parent. The child, the one to be adopted, was the object of the contract and had no say in it.
Policy: Child Welfare League of America Standards of Excellence 2000 states, The interests of adopted adults in having information about their origins have come to be recognized as having critical psychological importance as well as importance in understanding their health and genetic status. Because such information is essential to adopted adults’ identity and health needs, the agency should promote policies that provide adopted adults with direct access to identifying information.
Pretext: a misleading or untrue reason given for doing something in an attempt for concealing the real reason.
Since birth parent “privacy” from her own child is the primary concern expressed by the opposing forces, but the reasons given for that being the cornerstone of adoption are upheld neither by documentation, evidence or experience, those of us who live – and work in – adoption have unanswered questions that need a thoughtful, honest response.
If adoption records, including original birth certificates, were sealed against, not for, relinquishing parents; if parents relinquished not only their child, but their right to be notified of their child’s future welfare, including whether or not the child was actually adopted; if not all relinquished children were subsequently adopted; if birth certificates were only sealed upon finalization; and if those birth certificates could be opened, for g
ood cause shown, by the court without birth parents’ permission, how can the argument that birth certificates were sealed to protect relinquishing parents from their own child possibly be upheld?
The emperor has no clothes! The Secret-Keeper Wannabes have not a leg to stand on in trying to persuade the public or lawmakers that relinquishing parents will be better served by a “Mother, may I?” law than one which acknowledges the full personhood of those severed from ties to their original families by adoption decrees that may give them the information about who they – and their parent/s – were at the time of their birth.
A “Mother, may I?” law is neither just nor fair to either adopted people or any of their parents. It infantilizes adoptees, insults those who parented them into maturity and immortalizes the fantasy that relinquishing mothers, more than any other women on earth, need a special protection to maintain their anonymity from their own children.
Is it not obvious what is wrong with this picture?
The author is a Member, NJ Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education Legislative Team