|Robert Lahm and the adoption files in his basement|
"All kids who are adopted want to know their background and parents," Robert Lahm told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "But no officials want to take them, and the people associated with the agency don't want to take them."
Anyone who adopted children through New Life adoption agency and wants their file can call Lahm's office at 315-472-3434, make an appointment to present proof of identity, and take their files, he said. New Life's former attorney says he can't do what he is planning to do--release the information including the names of the birth parents--but Lahm says the "law" won't stop him. The attorney, Golda Zimmerman, initially cited a section of the state public health law--but that section refers to anyone disclosing HIV-related information. It makes no mention of adoption files or information.
"Then they'll have to charge me with a crime," he said. "I will do this to protect these kids and the birth and adoptive parents' information. I don't want these files to end up in a landfill."
NO ONE WANTS THE ADOPTION FILES
An attorney who handled the dissolution of New Life has been trying for two years to get someone to take the files--they take up a space 50 yards long and six feet wide--and has contacted more than 90 state and local agencies hoping for someone to take responsibility for them. So far, no takers. Gladys Carrion, the commissioner of the state Office of Children and Family Services, has not responded; Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for Children and Family Services, said her agency isn't authorized to take the records, though it has tried to find someone who would. Catholic Charities in Rochester said they were considering taking them, but haven't yet. So there they sit, and for the time being and available to the party to whom they most concern, the adopted. It is not clear from the story whether he would make them available to returning birth mothers, but I'd say, give it a shot--what do you have to lose?
|Lorraine and daughter, Jane, reunited, 1982|
This story follows one we wrote about some months ago, when we reported in 2012 that one of the largest agencies in Texas, Adoption Services Associates (ASA), shut down, after handling some estimated 5,000 adoptions, leaving both prospective adoptive parents, and the birth families who had already placed their children through ASA, in the lurch. Many of the first mothers had entered into "open adoption" agreements. Fortunately, another Texas agency, Abrazo Adoption Associates, stepped in to help the birth mothers and a few birth fathers who were duped into "semi-open" adoptions at ASA, and were promised regular updates and photographs through the agency until the child was five, as well as the possibility of a reunion at age 18. Just last week I got an email from someone who has access to a huge pile of files from a sympathetic adoption social worker in Washington, DC, who left them to be dispersed after she died! And considering that the other day one of the most respected agencies in New York, Spence-Chapin went out of the domestic infant adoption business--and that's what it is, a business--we can expect more agencies to shut up shop and more files will be looking for a new home. Some undoubtedly will end up in land fills.
You can read the full story below but here I want to talk about how the human understanding--that people want to know their heritage, the true parentage and ancestry--screw it, who their mothers and fathers are, the ones who came before adoption--is not lost on the man on the street, in this case, an attorney named Robert Lahm. I love this guy!
WHAT THE MAN ON THE STREET UNDERSTANDS...
Yet the trouble we have getting bills passed that allow the adopted to find out what Lahm instinctively understands is crucial: one's true identity. Soon Unsealed Initiative in New York will be lobbying once again for unsealing original birth certificates to the people to whom that record should belong by fiat, and once again, it is hard to believe that we will actually make it past the goal line. (So when did I start using sports metaphors?) We probably have more than enough votes to get our damn bill passed in the New York Assembly, and I'm proud to say that my own assemblyman, Fred Thiele, has been a staunch supporter of our bill year after year.
But our opposition is influential and obstinate, like pit bulls at a fight. (Here I go again, what is happening to me?) One of them is Helene Weinstein, an otherwise liberal Democrat in a heavily Democrat area, but she is adamant, to the point you feel she is "protecting" someone--a first mother she knows, or herself. A protest is planned outside her Brooklyn office on Sunday, the 29th.* We were able to get the bill away from a committee she heads, but then just like Whack-a-Mole, she pops up in other committee that reviewed bills before they went to the floor of the house last year. And we didn't get our a vote on the floor. Arrgh....
Oh, this adoption business is so damn personal. For years we had opposition from an adoptive father, who appears to have changed his mind, but then...there's still Helene.
IS LOST ON THE LAWMAKERS...
And the other day I learned that the bill to unseal original birth certificates in Michigan is all but dead for now as the head of the committee where the bill would surely have to pass is from the district where Bethany Christian Services, as I recall, originated, Grand Rapids. Now Bethany--four locations in Michigan alone--is in over 30 states with more than 70 locations and in 13 countries. That's a lot of adoptions. Let me go out here on a limb and suggest that Bethany took some of its fee money and gave a generous donation to the state senators and assemblymen in the Grand Rapids districts in return for making the adoption process easier--as the Michigan legislature did this year. Or maybe, the committee head where adoption bills go in Michigan just happens to be one of those adoptive fathers (and I believe he is) whose children have never mentioned they'd like to know who they were before being adopted. That's exactly what we had in New York with the previous head of the Senate, Joe Bruno, who was eventually indicted on several felonies (unrelated to adoption). Look, I don't mean to be harsh here, and I know speaking up about this is incredibly difficult, but if more adoptees could tell their parents they want to know their true heritage, and how they came to be, and who their other parents are, well, that would help crumble the opposition--and some of those parents would turn into our allies, rather than just sit on the sidelines.
Anyway, yes I'm rambling but I am just so thrilled with the news about the guy with the files in his basement. Years ago I wrote a novel (unpublished) where exactly this kind of thing happens. Now it is coming true--so if you know anyone who might have been adopted in the last 20 years through New Life in Syracuse and they want to find out about their Old (ORIGINAL) Life, please let them know about this amazing turn of events. And please have them let us know how it goes!--lorraine
* Anyone interested who can attend and meet up with other New York agitators for change in sealed records please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adoptees have homes; their files can't find one
When an agency promises 'semi-open' adoption, look elsewhere
See Claud's blog about the Michigan Mess
A Backwards Stinking Mess with New Michigan Adoption Legislation
Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self
This groundbreaking book uses the poignant, powerful voices of adoptees and adoptive parents to explore the experience of adoption and its lifelong effects. A major work, filled with astute analysis and moving truths. This is brief, to the point, and the best book I have ever read to help me understand my daughter and other adoptees. It is the work of an adoptive father, a man married to an adoptee, and a very good writer. This would be an excellent book on adoption issues for teenagers, and parents of teenagers.--lorraine
Order by clicking on title or book jacket above. Thanks.