We think not. We are not talking about the original birth certificate with the names of the original biological parents--which ought to be given to all adopted people, no questions asked--we are talking about ancillary information collected by the social worker at the time. We are talking about the files of the birth mothers, with data and information and commentary collected by social workers around the time of relinquishment.
Last week the New Jersey Senate voted out of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee a bill (S799/S1399) that would give adopted people and certain others access to the adoptees original birth certificate and "other related information." The vote was eight for; one against, and one did not vote. The bill overall is designed to give adopted people their original birth certificates' birth/first mothers have a year in which to file a veto.
I heard much of the testimony on line and it was riveting. The husband of one woman who is very angry she was contacted by her daughter made rambling plea for the records to remain sealed, railed against the state for releasing the name, as did the attorney for another birth mother, this one anonymous. We are always going to run into women I call the "crazies" in the birth mother community, women who refuse to acknowledge their children, and for them I am sorry for and at the same time angry with them. Your flesh-and-blood deserve to know who they are! And at the very least one face to face meeting!
Our longtime sisters in reform, including Judy Foster and Pam Hasagawa made statements, but it was Adam Pertman, adoptive father and head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, who was especially eloquent. Adam made an impassioned plea noting that it was time to see beyond simply thinking adopted people only want or need their medical histories, adding that having their original birth certificate and the names of their biological parents represented a much deeper need and should be their right, not only for their psychological health and sense of well-being, but also making them equal to the rest of us who always had this information. Because he is an adoptive dad, his words have a great impact.
While we are hugely in favor of the bill, S799, there is one troubling section that is bothersome, and that is this:
(New section) a. An adopted person 18 years of age or older, a direct descendant 18 years of age or older of the adopted person if the adopted person is deceased, or the adoptive parent or guardian of a minor adopted person may obtain from an approved agency or the attorney who facilitated the adoption any family history information concerning the adopted person that is contained in that person's adoption file, upon submission of a written, notarized request to the agency or attorney.The problem as we see it is that this gives someone else a file containing possibly all kinds of erroneous information about the biological parents. Say someone has an affair with a married man (who has three children) and falls in love with him and gets pregnant. And it being 1966, she does not get an abortion--she waits too long, she doesn't think she is pregnant--but surrenders the child. Well, give that information to a very religious family, and who is the birth mother? A slut. And that, my friends, is my own story, all explained in detail in my memoir, Birthmark. It is one thing for me to tell this to my daughter, as I did, but another for this information--just the facts, ma'am--to be passed across the desk by a social worker to say, my daughter's adoptive parents.
...."family history information" includes medical, cultural and social history information provided by the adopted person's birth parent and maintained by an approved agency or attorney who facilitated an adoption.
We also have heard of cases where the social workers misinterpreted the facts--someone's brother who smoked marijuana becomes someone with a mental problem; alcoholism in the family is disguised to make the child more attractive to the prospective adoptive family; a casual admission that one was in therapy could be seen as "serious psychological problems." And since the information is collected in a subjective manner by a social worker who has her own biases and predilections, anything said could be noted and written down through her filter. Mother did not cry a lot? She's cold and unfeeling. Mother cried too much? Psychological problems. Mother says she does not get along with her mother? Family history of disjunction. We have heard from some women who have seen their files; some are short and to the point; others are lengthy and full of material that sounds like gossip. You see the problem with releasing this information?
Jane, for instance, decided she would act as unemotional as possible because she did not want the social worker to think that she might search. She had it in her head that they would send her daughter far away if the social worker thought that. As for myself, I wept buckets and was surprised! Amazed! when I was informed that I could not get her information--her new name and whereabouts--myself when she was eighteen. Yeah, I was naive. Yeah, I thought the law had to be humane.
We do not want to put up a huge barrier to this bill, because it is so vitally important to open records, to give adopted people their original birth certificates, but we are not in favor of having our files, written by a social worker we may have hated, simply released to our children. And we can't look at those files to update them, or correct them, or remove extraneous and false information before they are given out. The files, remember, have information not only about first mothers, but also other family members, and whatever a birth mother may have told the social worker about the father.
In fellow blogger Jane's case, her file was redacted by a social worker 20 years later when it was given to her daughter. So it was not just what was taken down at the time, but what someone thought should be released many years later.
We have worked with Pam Hasagawa for decades, have written numerous letters in support to NJ legislators, but we hope that she and the others who have worked so hard to open records will take our concerns into consideration and consider changing the bill to unequivocally give adopted people their original birth certificates, just as non-adopted people can obtain, but to exclude giving out files--our files--with information about the birth/first/biological mothers without their consent and right of first approval.
For a previous post that touches on these same issues, and the problems that releasing such information may cause, see Jane's blog: A Right To Human Identity Doesn't Go Far Enough. Our thanks to Mirah Riben for bringing this section of the bill to our attention.