' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A Conversation about Open Records for Adopted People

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Conversation about Open Records for Adopted People

Why has it been so damn difficult to give adopted people their original birth certificates? To do away with the noxious sealed-record laws and give adopted people the same rights as the rest of us, that is, to know whom they were at birth? You'd think we were asking for the gold of Fort Knox to spend on Manolos. A licensed private investigator, Dennis McCarthy of Auburn, New York , has some ideas and we've been having a lively dialogue.

Dennis: First, not all of the 1.5 million children put up for adoption during the Adoption Holocaust (1945-1973) were the result of a couple of teenagers getting themselves into a situation society wouldn't let them get out of. No, some of those children were the result of powerful "important" men who either betrayed their marriage vows, or were intimate with the "wrong kind" of woman, or who raped a female relative. Men who wield social power don't want their wrongdoing revealed, and I guarantee you, the names of many such men are right there in the adoption files along with the teenagers' names. Whatever power they held 30 or more years ago has likely only increased; if they're dead, they doubtless have left behind powerful families who will only perpetuate the secret. Thus, the records will remain closed on that account.

Lorraine: Yep, we know that a lot of men don't want their unacknowledged children to come out of the woodwork. We also are quite certain that the staunch opposition we run into in some instances from the Catholic church--such as in New Jersey--is at least partly the result of priests who fathered children. But in Albany, the bishop has come out in favor of giving adopted people their original birth certificates. But I'd like to know what it is with the American Civil Liberties Union, which generally is hell-bent on preserving the anonymity of birth mothers. I got into a public argument on a radio show once with the ACLU director in Miami, and he was surprised to hear the other side of the story. I'm not sure I turned him completely around, but he was expressing doubt about the ACLU's position by the time we finished talking.

Yet the ACLU in general, and at the national level, has certainly not been on the side of adopted people, which makes me nuts. Adopted people are the ones whose cause the ACLU ought to be supporting--instead of opposing them. Somehow I feel that the ACLU's support of sealed records--sealed from the people they concern the most--is simply corrupt. Like, maybe they have been co-opted by some of those big-shots you mention. Somehow the ACLU is largely convinced that birth/first mothers do not want the records opened, when the opposite is true. But their position is, We gotta protect those first/birth mothers in hiding.

Now, let's talk about the infamous "Searcher," whom I paid $1,200 in 1981 to locate my daughter. Those of us who knew of him feel that he must have been someone in a position to look at records at will and have contacts in all 50 states, as nothing seemed to deter him from a successful search. Later, I found out that he figured out who my daughter was by reading my memoir, Birthmark (her particulars were purposely included), and tracking her down, but he did not pass on the information until I forked over $1,200. In later years, his fee went up. I don't know when he stopped operating.

I have to say I would have paid more, and did not mind at all that I might have been breaking a law to locate my daughter. I have often felt that blood on the steps of Albany and other state capitals--or a publicized break-in similar to Watergate--is the only way we are going to convince some legislators that keeping the records sealed is as criminal and as wrong as slavery. As for first mothers being given the information about who got their children, forget about it. That was part of the proposed Model Adoption Act that made it to Washington in 1980--much to our amazement--but now it's such a hot potato no one will even consider it.

Dennis: Second, there is the likelihood that if The Searcher and "God" and others like him got caught, and their crimes were revealed, the scope of what they did was so enormous that the State would hush it up and simply fire them rather than doing the right thing and prosecute them, instead of risking a public scandal involving government criminality. No state wants a black eye like that, and if the records are unsealed, the crimes of people like The Searcher might come to light. Thus, the records will remain closed on that account, too.

Lorraine: I don't know if I agree the sins of The Searcher are important today. When you lobby in Albany, as I have, what you hear like a mantra is: The Privacy of the Birth Mother. Hosanna....they must be protected. Protected from whom, I'd like to know. That is all BS, but I'm repeating myself. I think most of the people I've met in Albany do not even know the Searcher operated. Behind enemy lines, as far as I'm concerned. This is war.

Dennis: Third, there is too much free-floating, unrequited anger among searching parents and adoptees whose posts I've read on the Internet. There is far too much public venting. It isn't that venting is wrong; indeed, venting is necessary. But when you memorialize your venting online, it will remain there for the world to see until the end of time, and when a political showdown happens between parents/adoptees and the politicians who control our lives, the politicians are simply not going to listen to people whose distinguishing characteristic appears to be anger. And on that account, the records will remain closed as well.

Anger has only one use, as a stepping stone to positive action. However, I see too many people who have decided to embrace their anger and never let it go. These are people who truly have been victimized, but they've made the useless decision to remain victims, and in so doing, they're robbing themselves of the opportunity to be listened to and to make something happen. Embracing victimhood gives one a sense of entitlement; victimhood makes people sit and wait for society to magically pay them back, to set everything right. And those are the people who will spend the rest of their lives in the hole society dug for them.

But this is what society wants and expects of its victims – society wants its victims to stay in the hole, to stay there and sit and wait for someone or something else to pull them out. It's a war of attrition in which no one accepts responsibility for anything. It's a war of attrition which society always wins, has always won, and will always win.

Lorraine: Wow. That's a very bleak way of looking at the situation. I agree that there is a lot of anger--I have some myself--because I felt when I surrendered my daughter I had no choice. I argued with my social worker over the sealed-in-perpetuity of the sealed records for I had been going along on the assumption that when she turned 18 or 21, both of us would be given the other's identity. That seemed like the natural thing, the moral way, the right way. I was shocked when I found out that was not the case. Finally, the social worker--Mrs. Helen Mura--said that if I would not agree to a closed-forever-adoption, the agency--Northaven Terrace in Rochester, New York--could not help me with the adoption. Incidentally, the agency no longer exists.

So as for "breaking a law" and paying some clerk or official who could make a phone call--he did his work before the Internet, remember--and get the information I would have walked over hot coals for, I did not give a damn. I was participating in a social revolution, and I'd do it again. Wait--I still am participating in a social revolution. Eventually, we will win. Even the Prince of Darkness, the late Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption, the scourge of open records, said that we would win one day, that open records were the wave of the future. He told that to Florence Fisher, one of the real pioneers of this movement, and the founder ALMA, an early organization that did much to move adoption reform forward, and is still around today. I'm going with that. That open records will be a reality in my lifetime.


Dennis McCarthy is a private detective bonded and licensed by the State of New York. "For 34 years, I have been an investigator/detective of one kind or another, but since 1983 I've worked as private detective and/or lawyer's investigator."


  1. I never thought about powerful people preventing open records until Lorraine shared Dennis's comment with me. So one of the reasons we're not opening records is because it would cause public embarrassment to high profile families and their dynasties would tumble? Highly unlikely. Or maybe I'm just naive.

    I was really interested in Dennis's perception about adoption agner. My initial reaction was squeaky wheels get greased, but then I wondered how much truth there was to his comment. We've discussed that topic here, directly and indirectly, and it's generated some very spirited discussion. My response to Lorraine was, "You've been fighting the fight lo these many decades...do you think politicians aren't supporting open records because they're being confronted by an angry mob? I don't."

    When I would attend adoption support group meetings one of the adoptive mothers once commented I sounded angry. I responded that I wasn't angry, just very, very frustrated. But hell, yeah, adoption makes me angry. In the early days of my reunion I befriended a birthmother who posted a review of a book on barnes&noble.com and we corresponded for about two years. I once told her if my anger had a way of manifesting into cancer, I'd surely be dead because I was blind with rage over so many things.

    Bottom line: that was then, this is now, and we all know closed adoptions are not healthy for adopted children and their families of origin. So what's the big friggin' deal? Perhaps it's easy for me to say because I've never been in the closet, but come on, we've elected our first African-American president--in our lifetime--so let's continue to change the tide. The sky won't fall, the earth won't quake...but hundreds of thousands of people will finally know what they need to know, what they're entitled to know.

  2. Anger is part of every social movement. No surprises there. I thought he was off-base on that one. He is right about the Internet memorializing anger and hatred. There are some whack jobs out there who take up an amazing amount of bandwidth venting and spewing. But these people are tortured souls who wouldn't have a voice in another era. Even their adoption pain speaks to something.

    The flip side is that every movement must include people who articulate injustice by capturing the imagination. I don't think you have any shortage of people there.

    I did find his comments on the "powerful men" scenario interesting. That seems a more likely cause inaction.

  3. All very strange! Kernels of perception among a lot of conspiracy theory and wrong assumptions. I do believe adoption records will be open eventually, since open adoption is now so common and the fear factor is slowly dying out. I think it will go like gay marriage, state by state until it looks stupid not to have open records for adoptees. as Linda said, it is no big deal any more for most people.

    There may be something to the "men in high places" not wanting to be outed as birthfathers and opposing open records, but as the years pass, that gets weaker and weaker and less relevant. The old fellows this mattered to are dying off. Sex scandals of all sorts are a dime a dozen any more, and do not have the impact on political careers they once did. If anything, adoptive parents in high places are a much more signifigant deterrent to open records legislation than a few scared doddering old birthfathers.

    Ditto for the clergy, yes, there are some "Father fathers" but I see the opposition to open records by the Church in some places more in tune with their general sick, secretive attitude about all things sexual, and their obsessive need for obedience and control than a fear that some priests will be outed. It happens anyhow, life goes on. And it is fairly minor given the other cruelties and corrupt practices of some religious agencies. That is what they are really hiding.

    The old Searcher guy? Hardly relevant at all, and I don't think he was ever caught. If he was, we would have heard of it. There were several high-profile cases of other more local searchers who were caught in the 80s and that was all over the media, plus they were prosecuted.

    Nor was The Searcher as omnipotent as some thought. There were cases he could not solve. Although he was pre-internet and before home computers were common, he was not before many records and things were computerized, and hackers got into them. I suspect that may have been part of his skill, as well as being a consummate bullshitter over the phone, knowing who to say he was to get information. Widespread availability of internet searches is what I think put him out of business, with a nice retirement fund, no doubt. No big state cover-up or Men in Black spiriting him off in their helicopters! Perhaps Dennis the Detective is a mite jealous of how well the mysterious one made out?

    Anger on the internet? Yes, I think the rantings of some extreme anti-adoption people impede our cause a little bit, they certainly don't help, but over all their effect is minor when it comes to legislation. How many legislators does anyone think peruse adoption blogs ?

    Being trapped in anger for decades hurts the people who are in that pit, and those they drag in with them, but I do not think it a real factor in why we do not have open records yet. Also, some people have real reason to be very angry, there are real injustices, even if some exaggerate or cannot get past personal victimhood. Some of that may be smoke, but there really is fire back there.

    Finally, I have no respect for someone who would use the phrase "Adoption Holocaust" and I would really like to see that removed. Never thought I'd be asking to see "baby scoop era", but at least that does not insult victims of genocide. Dennis the Detective seems a very suspect character to me.

  4. Re: Linda's comment – I didn't say that dynasties would tumble. Dynasties have survived public embarrassment before, and they will again, but public embarrassment is something they would rather not endure.

    My guess is that only a handful of adoptees during 1945-1973 were the children of powerful men who wanted to avoid embarrassment and who didn't support their kids the way they ought to. But just a handful of power might still be enough to exert pressure in the right places to keep the records sealed.

    Ask yourself this: have you ever met a searching birthmother who had a child by an "important" man and who is now fighting this fight alongside you? If you have, I'd like to know who she is.

    In a situation where a birthmother was forced to surrender her child, and the father was someone "important," the birthmother likely demanded some quid pro quo from the father. The quid pro quo could have been money, or a job, or some other benefit, in return for her silence. Whatever it was, it worked. Those mothers have remained silent. If I'm wrong, please tell me.

    As for the squeaky wheel getting the grease, this is how it works: politics, like all of society, is male-dominated. When you see the low level of respect and attention paid to a middle-aged woman in this country, you realize that middle-aged women might as well be invisible. And an angry middle-aged woman? Forget it. Her anger gives license to most male politicians to turn a deaf ear to her. It isn't right, or just, but it is the way things work.

    I once said to Lorraine that the squeaky wheel gets the grease as long as it's a squeaky wheel on a Lexus and not a Buick. With the exception of pregnancies that were the result of sexual assault by a stranger, almost every searching birthmother knows who the father is. Are there any birthmothers of wealth and power who are fighting this fight? An average teenage girl in the 1960s who became pregnant by an average teenage boy and was subsequently forced to surrender her child may well have grown up to be a woman of great wealth and power, and maybe she wanted to find her child. If she did, how did she go about it? Did she fight alongside you, or did she find another, more private, alternative?

    My point is that money and social status, on the part of both birth parents, play a bigger role in this than one might imagine.

    Re: osolomama's comment – Yes, anger is part of many social movements, but anger is only the ignition. If anger becomes the theme of a movement, then that movement is likely defeated before it starts, but it all depends on the movement. Some movements have required violence to achieve their goals, and violence is an excrescence of anger. I remember well the riots of the 1960s that helped transform our country. But the movement to unseal the records isn't the same; it doesn't require violence and it doesn't need anger.

    Remember too that most men are terrified of an angry woman and will do anything to avoid being a target of her anger. Terrify the politicians who keep the records sealed and they will simply slam the door on you.

    Re: Mairaine's comment – A holocaust is defined as a great or total destruction; that's why I use that term. No insult to genocide victims is implied or intended.

    I have no jealousy about The Searcher. I'm never jealous of criminals. If you think he was never caught simply because you never heard about him being caught, then you either don't understand how corruption sometimes works, or you know who he is. The Searcher is very relevant. He victimized women who had already been victimized once. Passage of time doesn't diminish his crimes.

    Please read my comments carefully. I'm not talking about conspiracy theories or men in black, and I find your comment that I'm a "suspect character" insulting, but I understand that that's your anger talking.

    And yes, people have good reasons to be angry. No one has a good reason to stay angry.

  5. Um, my suggestion would be back to the drawing board with most of it. Oversimplified, fantastical and wrong-headed but whatev.

    Dennis, "No one has the right to stay angry"

    a bit trite don't you think?

    I do

  6. but P.S.

    I must say I do like the idea of a network of Illumanti-esque powerful relinquishing fathers.

    Sounds like the Art Bell version of sealed records

  7. Dennis, I don't disagree with you. I just said anger is the raison d'etre for all social movements. To lobby effectively, one needs to have moved beyond that without losing sight of the injustice.

  8. I think I am with Joy on this one."Oversimplified, fantastic and wrong-headed." Yup.

    I'm not really sure what your agenda is, Dennis, but you seem to be constructing a fantasy about the paid off mistresses of the rich and powerful vs. poor angry middle aged birthmother ladies. That does not ring true.

    I've met searching birthmothers from all social classes, including some with lots of money, and some where the birthfather's family had lots of money and were politically connected. As far as paying to search, the rich did it, the middle class did, and the poor often scraped together the money to do it. Finding one's own child is quite separate from fighting for open records. Most of us found our own kids years ago, though whatever means were available. Guess that makes us criminals, eh?

    I did not pay the searcher, only because someone got my information for free before he was around, through a route that later closed. But I would have gladly paid, like Lorraine, if that was how I needed to do it. Many mothers did it, and were not ripped off. If the searcher could not find the person there was no charge, and while some cases he solved very quick, others he worked on for years. He was no saint, yes he did it as a job, but don't people pay you for your detective work too?

    No, I never knew who or where the searcher was, but I did refer people to him through a network of a lot of other mothers doing the same thing, to help each other find our kids.

    If you know who the searcher was and know he was caught, do tell! We are in the dark about that. But there were many searchers over the country, many connections, probably still are in some places for hard cases. I don't get your problem with that.

    Are you an adoptee? A birthfather? What is your interest in this subject that you should lecture us on anger, criminals, etc?

    You say,"A holocaust is defined as a great or total destruction; that's why I use that term. No insult to genocide victims is implied or intended."

    Gee, my understanding of the term "Holocaust" which comes from the Biblical Hebrew "burnt offering" is that it involves mass killing. That would be what happened to the Armenians in 1918 at the hands of the Turks, what happened recently in Darfur, Africa where 400,000 were murdered, what happened to the Jews in WWII in the death camps where 6 million died, and some say what happened to the Irish in the Great Famine of 1847 because of the British treatment of the Irish at that time. Death. Massive unjustified murder with the intent of wiping out a whole population. That is what a Holocaust is.

    Adoption in many ways sucks. It has hurt lots of us, adoptees and first parents. There is much corruption and heartbreak in adoption. It is bad enough, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination "a holocaust." To say it is renders the real term banal and diminished, like saying "the Holocaust of divorce" or "the Holocaust of unemployment." Things can be bad, but unless mass murder is involved, not a Holocaust.

    Your comment about "your anger talking" is condescending and patronizing. I have not "stayed angry" at my parents, my boyfriend, even the agency, and I try not to be too angry at myself. However, right now, what I am angry at is you and your presumptions about me and other mothers.

  9. Joy said "I do like the idea of a network of Illumanti-esque powerful relinquishing fathers. "

    I am soooo there, Joy.
    The Illuminati Relinquishing Daddies.
    I really think Dan Brown is the person for this. Sex, power, religion, money, {{{fear}}} - the whole damn caboodle.

    Dan's the man.

  10. Let's not forget the Albino Monk and Opus Dei! Or maybe he was really The Searcher? After all, we never saw the guy, coudda been! Yes, this is truly Dan Brown material.

    Marley says she is descended from the Knights Templar, I'm sure that could be worked into it as well:-)

    My son's Daddy was Hungarian and spoke like Count Dracula, and now he has a Prestigious Position!Even played the gypsy violin; maybe he could be part of the story too.

    The fictional possibilities are endless!

  11. Uhhmm,

    Once again, I feel left out. I'm going to repeat this loud and clear from here till our birth certificates are unsealed, and, until the practice of falsifying birth certificates at the finalization of adoption is stopped:

    Not all adoptees are from unmarried sex. I am a half orphan. My parents were married 10 years when I was born. My mother died three months later from cancer. My father kept the four older children but was talked into relinquishing me to a childless couple.

    Under the reasons why birth certificates were sealed, and why false birth certificates were created, I do not fit the stereotyped parent-mold, nor do I fit in the illegitimate mold.

    There are no hiding natural mother and father for me. Mom is dead. Dad was told he could find me when I turned 18. We've been reunited for 35 years.

    Not one legislator in all these years has come up with a good reason why my records are still sealed. There isn't one, except to say that "It's always done this way."

    So, I'm the victim of a bad law that was made to target a certain group. I am not in that group. Give me my birth certificate!

    In no way do I wish to hurt natural parents and their daughters and sons who were lost to adoption. I mention this distinction because it is an important one.

  12. You are absolutely correct to make your point forcibly, Joan.
    You get us back on track.

    It's not just a matter of needing to know.
    It's a matter of equal rights, which should be self-evident. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
    Have these people not read the Declaration of Independence?
    Or don't they care?

  13. Why hasn't the ACLU come along farther on opening records? This is a basic human right.

  14. I don't rightly know, but I think they and others are quite deliberately choosing to confuse anonymity with privacy, just to mess with Joe Public's mind.
    In the same was as does our own lovely Information and Privacy Commissioner :-(

  15. Just a guess on ACLU, and some NOW chapters that also oppose open records, but I think part of the problem is that the Left has confused our issue with reproductive rights and abortion, just as the Religious Right has done from the other side.

    The Right fears open records will cause abortions, the Left fears it will restrict them. Neither is true, but those fears have gotten out there and have given us some strange and opposing foes.

    Our opponents on the Left see adoptee rights and mother's rights as opposed,and adversarial, as if the adoptee were a fetus forever. Somewhere in their twisted little minds they see giving adoptees rights as somehow endangering women's abortion rights.

    Never mind that most mothers do not oppose adoptee rights and were never promised anything. If just one mother wants to hide from her kid forever, that is her Reproductive Right and they stand by it, just as they stand by her right to abortion.

    Adoption and open records really have nothing to do with reproductive rights, but it is very hard to convince those on either side who have come to believe that they do of that fact.

    That's my theory on it, anyhow.

  16. Agreed about the ACLU, Mairiane, and that drives me crazy. Reproductive rights do not mean that you get to deny your offspring an identity that is her or his birth right.

  17. Actually, Mairaine and Lorraine, it's so interesting you should say that because when I went to this site this morning:


    . . .and read the ACLU Lawyers Network responses to a proposal to open records, some of them smacked of this--so-called privacy rights of birthmothers reading as reproductive rights/confidentiality-of- information rights (conveniently ignoring this is someone else's information). This comment by one ACLU person caught my attention in particular:

    "The national advocates for this type of legislation are people who have gone through this process and have been told that the birth mother does not wish contact. They want to force contact regardless of a consideration of the degree of damage or harm this may do her and her present situation. There are no guarantees of her safety or that the adoptee won't use the information in an untenable way. Even blackmail. In ACLU fashion we should let the woman decide what is in her best interest after giving her the choice. We should not force a choice on her which may even endanger her."

    The last two statements sound exactly like the pro-choice argument. At the time I thought I was just imagining it.

    Enlightening. Thank you. I honestly had no idea. It's such a crock.

  18. Just an addendum to that. I don't know if you know what the documentation from China looks like but it is more authentic than the ABC. It says the whereabouts of my daughter's parents (referring to them as "her own parents") and place of birth are unknown and that this weird lady consents to adopt her. All of it on public record.

  19. I think we are working up to a whole piece about the ACLU and their cockamamie ideas...

    thanks for checking on them...not one dime will i give them until they change their errant ways.

  20. The ACLY and the NCFA work hand in glove.
    "As observed by Jeremiah Gutman, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and former Chairman of the ACLU’s Privacy Committee: “A pregnant woman unable or unwilling to rear a child may find her choice of options limited if she cannot rely upon the promise of confidentiality and secrecy to protect her privacy. She may be inclined to bring the pregnancy to term rather than secure an abortion, but, if she cannot rely upon the adoption agency or attorney and the law to protect her privacy, and to conceal her identity for all time, her choice to go the abortion route may be compelled by that lack of confidence in confidentiality.”

    Such bull!
    Quite apart from the fact that the "open adoption records encourage abortion" argument has been thoroughly disproven, there never has been any such guarantee of confidentiality - or even a reasonable expectation thereof. It is myth, pure and simple.
    In fact, states where adoption records are open have lower abortion rates than those where they remain sealed http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/

    Any "promises" that may have been made - or even implied - were at best stupid, at worst dishonest. Certainly they don't deserve to have legal heft, especially at the cost of another person's fundamental human right to their own history.

  21. NCFA--had to Google it. First name that came up was Bartholet. Is she against open records too? On top of everything else? WTF is it to her?

  22. !@#$!! dam
    re aclu and NCFA. WTF? is right

    by the way, see my previous post on Bartholet, I argued with her on PBS the day of the Anna Schmidt/Jessica Deboer transfer. She told me that any reserach that shows adopted people have any problems statistically variant from the non-adopted population was "garbage." Yes, that was her word.

    So I would guess she is against any open records. She is ... deranged.

  23. Thanks Kippa, there you have it, ACLU echoing exactly the ideas of their foes at Right To Life, "open records cause abortions". Doesn't matter that it is not true and makes no sense. They just add the twist that the fear that the adoptee may want to know his roots someday restricts a pregnant woman's "choice".

    I guess they never heard that choices have consequences. Bringing a child into the world includes the chance that that child may someday need or want to know your identity. NOBODY has ever been able to guarantee that will never happen. People search and find every day despite sealed records, and confidentiality from one's own offspring is a myth.

    NCFA, ACLU, Right To Life.....strange bedfellows indeed!

    I wish I knew what to do about it all!

    Bartholet is indeed against open records, she is a long-time darling of NCFA and pals.

  24. I remember reading some kind of a something somewhere in which Bartholet wittered vaguely about the subject of Open Records. I think she was obfuscating. It was very fishy.

    If I find it I'll pass it on.

  25. I am wondering though, if the open records movement in the U.S. hasn't succeeded because maybe it does not go far enough. Adoptees lobby for open records for adoptees. Natural parents lobby for open records for adoptees. But neither group lobbies in any vocal degree for open records for natural parents. It appears to be a "non-issue."

    I have not seen a closed-records lobby such as the NCFA so virulent in Canada the way it is in the U.S. In fact, one of our own pro-adoption lobby groups specifically states:
    " The ACC holds that:
    * Every adopted adult has an unqualified right to access his/her original birth certificate, the court files pertaining to his/her adoption, and his/her personal files held by the adoption agency, government, and/or licensee.
    * Every birth parent has an unqualified right to access the amended and original birth certificates of his/her adult adopted child, along with the court files, any document that he/she signed at the time of surrender, and his/her personal files held by the adoption agency, government, and/or licensee.
    * Birth siblings and birth grandparents of adopted adults have an unqualified right to access the amended birth certificate of the adopted person.
    * Adult direct descendents of adopted adults have an unqualified right to access the original birth certificate of the adopted person."

    Open records legislation in Canada tends to follow these principles (with, unfortunately, with some veto provisions in place). Our 4th province will be opening in June. Or, to put it another way, 40% of Canadian provinces (and all 3 territories) will have open records.

    I believe that a campaign encompassing open records for natural parents shows that we are not content just sitting passively waiting to be found: we want the right to search for our lost children ourselves. It tends to pull the rug out from under the myth told in legislative halls that we are passive "victims" who need protecting.

  26. Cedartrees, could this possibly be because the driving force behind the Canadian legislation was a first mother--Mariyln Churley--not an adoptee? She was not only instrumental politically but she got a lot of media attention as well.

    It was very disappointing to see the vetos catch fire like that and see the government cave. Were the pro-life groups behind that, by any chance?

  27. Yes, MPP Marilyn Churley was the driving force behind Ontario legislation, but it was a grass-roots effort everywhere. Groups of adoptees and natural parents working together had a huge effect, with progressive adoptive parents supporting it as well.

    I don't think it was the pro-life groups behind the vetoes A lot of adoptive parents spoke up against "intrusion" in their families' lives. "Scare tactics" were used, that vetoes were necessary to protect adoptees from parents who had abused them as children.

    I can only speak as a volunteer searcher for BC and Alberta, but the vetoes that i have seen here have not prevented adoptees from obtaining their original names, their complete case files, and the name of the parent who did not file the veto. The only name left off was the parent who filed the veto.

    Vetoes filed against natural parents prohibit them from obtaining the adoptee's adoptive name, but the natural parent still obtains the adoption case file, non-ID information on the adoptive parents, and the original birth record (that they themselves signed), and of course the surrender papers.

    Children of deceased adoptees or deceased natural parents can request records as well, by presenting evidence of death (death certificate, etc.).

    It's accepted that most people who apply want their records in order to search and reunite. That is out in the open, on the table. In our open records campaigns, we never said "it's not about reunion," because in most cases it is. I think addressing that issue straight-on helped as well.

  28. Thinking about it, being involved in open records campaigns in 4 provinces, I do not remember Churley playing an active role outside of Ontario, which is the province in which she was an NDP MPP.

    Here is the record of the BC legislation in 1995, which was included as part of a new Adoption Act:

    First Reading (introduction)
    Second reading (debate) and more and more
    Third Reading (vote)

  29. Sorry, I'm in Ontario--she was visible here. Of course, there were others involved elsewhere.

  30. As far as I'm concerned, Ontario's Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian gets full credit (snark) for screwing open records in Ontario.

    She brilliantly created an atmosphere of hysteria, replete with tales of desperate adoptees and suicidal birthmothers. She even went so far as to imply that open records could set off a spate of honor killings (though evidence of the latter juicy piece of fear-mongering disappeared from the internet as soon as she realized how badly it would damage her credibility. But I and others saw it, and know that she said it)

    Cavoukian gained support by conjuring up a powerful mythic image - the vast and shadowy armies of the night, those secret birthmothers shrouded in the rags and tatters of anonymity and shame. Then she ran publicity-rampant with the fear-mongering.
    Of course, it never occurred to Mr. and Mrs. General Public that this Greek chorus of secret birthmothers invoked the nether world is a false and illegitimate constituency - which only goes to demonstrate how handily myth can be used to confound the starkest facts.

    Then there's the 'Enter Clayton "His legal knowhow is above rubies" Ruby' story. I might be inspired to rant about that later, unless you're lucky ;-)

    Whatever. What the late great Ontario fiasco confirms for me is that open records activism has more heft and is more likely to be successful when it is rights oriented and adoptee driven.
    I wish it wasn't so, but it does seem to me that the pathetic image of the tragic birthmother, like a character out of one of Charles Dickens' more maudlin novels. is the kiss of death. It is too laden with ambivalence in the public imagination.

    I do think that biological and a-parents have a valuable part to play in terms of support, including disabusing the general public of the old pernicious myths that still attach themselves to their respective roles.

  31. Forget to add that, according to this report http://www.thespec.com/article/519197
    about 1,200 Ontarians had already filed some sort of veto by early February of this year.

    It saddens me that some people who fought for open records are still trying to frame this farcical law as a success.

  32. Dennis McCarthy said "There is too much free-floating, unrequited anger among searching parents and adoptees whose posts I've read on the Internet" Whether he has a point or not is beside the point. What made him the internet police?

    I wonder if it has ever occurred to Dennis that the reason it is "free floating" is precisely *because* it's "unrequited" - which, as I'm sure Dennis, him being so intelligent and all that, already knows, means "unanswered".
    When legitimate anger is ignored that in itself is fuel to its fire.
    It seems to me that the problem here is one of the continuing powerlessness of young, poor and/or otherwise beleaguered women. Plus ├ža change, and all that.
    Real justice emerges only when powerful sources of revenge are acknowledged and can come to be persuaded that there are calmer though still passionate roles for them to play in responding to generations of harm and hurt.
    I think this is what the older mothers of the so-called BSE mean when they say they want a public apology for the wrongs they have suffered.
    I have certain amount of sympathy with them over this, although I would not support it because, despite Roe versus Wade, despite increased availability of contraception and despite more liberal social mores, no truly clear distinction can be made between a coerced surrender of today and a forced surrender of yesterday. The commonalities far outweigh the differences.
    But that's just my opinion, of course.

  33. As an augument on its own merits, and as a concept for people to wrap their heads around, I also favour an approach based on adoptee rights: the right to information about one's identity. Unfortunately, everyone else is collateral damage, to phrase it in a really negative way. Such a right cannot be limited. How could it be? If I were an adoptee, I'd be so there.

  34. If anyone wants to peer into the mind of an adoptee against open records, it's all right here in the Ontario judgment. I just read it. Scroll down for a bit and you will find the stories of three adoptees arguing for their right not to have their info disclosed to their birthparents, and one howler of a story about a guy who got someone pregnant in the 1970s, denied paternity, and thought that would be the end of that. These four individuals contested the original Adoption Information Disclosure Act in court.


  35. Thanks, Osolo.
    Of course, not one among them a woman who had relinquished.
    That was the strategy, of course - to paint "birth mothers" as freaked-out woundees desperate to hide their shame. And then to pull in a "representative" group of adoptees and a purported father. It's a joke. Unfortunately one that the judge appears to have taken seriously.

    Here's a report from the Law Times

    I guess it all comes down to the way the Charter is interpreted. Personally I think the judge's decision was nonsensical, but then I would, wouldn't I?

    Re. the baby daddy, staunch my bleeding heart.
    D.S = BS.

  36. Speaking as an outsider, my impression of the lousy law in Ontario was that including birth parents in access to records muddied the water and made it easier to push for the vetoes, rather than helping.

    From a practical standpoint, adoptee rights to their original birth certificate, period, is a clearer, cleaner argument than arguing for reunions from both sides.

    Search and reunion are about personal adult relationships, something that has to be worked out on an individual private basis, not mandated by law. Looking at the issues as about reunions, not rights, is what brings in registries, mandated counseling, intermediaries, vetoes, "what if" horror stories as happened in Ontario.

    I still see keeping adoptee rights separate from personal issues of reunion and relationship as the better way to deal with laws.

  37. This isn't what I was looking for, but I found it interesting.
    Elizabeth Bartholet, "Family Bonds: Adoption, Infertility and the New World of Child Production".
    I found it on a limited preview through Google book search. From page 58 she gives her own very special take on openness, in which she manages to completely avoid the fundamental point that every person has the right to their own history.
    Not only that, but she writes "The pressure for openness is coming from a movement that is profoundly hostile to adoption as a family form" which is not only untrue but also as blatant a piece of fear-mongering as ever there was (I think that, despite what she says later, the implication may be that the movement is really birth mother driven and reunion oriented).

    But anyway, if you haven't read it before, go check it out for yourselves.
    It seems to me to what we have here is more obscurantism than caveat.



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