In September 2000, I wrote letters in support of Open Records throughout New York State. Fourteen years later we still wait. However, there is recent news in various states that are showing us that we may see some changes on the horizon. Connecticut’s recent move to open birth records may actually be the push that some other states need. At the bottom of this article you will find a copy of the letter I wrote fourteen years ago. If you wish to join the advocacy efforts for Open Records, visit New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s UNSEALED INITIATIVE
The American Adoption Congress has updated information regarding every state’s stance on the topic of birth certificate access for individuals who have been adopted.
I am writing to you to address the issue of open adoption records within the State of New York.
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.
Adoption S.T.A.R., Inc.