' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Get them while you can: Adoption files in Syracuse

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Get them while you can: Adoption files in Syracuse

Robert Lahm and the adoption files in his basement
Anyone who relinquished or was adopted from central New York in the last twenty years, needs to read this and grab this opportunity while you can: Your records! New Life adoption agency in Syracuse, New York shut down two years ago and the attorney who owned the building inadvertently inherited all the files from the wonderful people who ran the agency left behind. The files are in his basement and AVAILABLE to the people to whom they concern: THE ADOPTED.

"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."

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!

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.

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 forumfirstmother@gmail.com.

 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.


  1. Wow, I hoped you would do something about that CNN-piece
    "Adoption of Black Children by Overseas Families on the Rise".
    But THIS is really stunning news.

  2. Hi Lorraine,
    This sounds so GREAT!! I had to take this over to the adoption forum that I belong to; I posted your first two paragraphs over there giving this link for the rest of the story - hope you don't mind!!!

  3. Lee--No problem. Good idea. This news needs to be widely disseminated.

  4. This is fabulous. How wonderful to see an attorney who just gets it. No Bullsh*t, no ifs, ands, or buts, adoptees are entitled to know their natural parents and their heritage. Period!

    I especially love that his attitude is "so sue me" ....if only there were more like him.

    And while I am feeling so upbeat, here's a link to a beautiful you tube video showing the love between Dusten and Veronica. Enjoy!


  5. Totally brill :)
    Standing and clapping wildly.

  6. Please everyone, contact all of the Oklahoma Representatives and let them know that you support Dusten Brown and that Veronica is entitled to a best interests hearing.

    Oklahoma Senator Constance (Connie) Johnson is on our side, but she says we need to inundate the Reps with emails and phone calls. You do not have to live in OK for this to be effective.

    We can still stop this unethical adoption.


  7. It makes you wonder what other agencies that have gone out of business did with their files. I suspect adoption files are in basements and landfills all over the country. States should create central depositories for these records.

    As I recall, Florence Fisher wrote in "The Search for Anna Fisher" that she located the doctor who had arranged her adoption. He had died and his widow had his files in her home. She refused to let Florence see Florence's file.

  8. Why states? Sorry, but if interstate and even international adoption has been practiced, that job should be done on the country, i.e. federal, level, if you ask me.

  9. Off topic, but I'm sure many readers here will find this interesting:

  10. Off topic but important.

    Another child, Baby boy Jerrad Jonas Jesse Wood-Lee was illegally adopted from Oklahoma.


  11. Lorraine,

    Great story. I wonder if Tim Green's file is among those. IIRC, he was adopted in Syracuse.

    Also, I completely disagree with the idea that adoptees telling our APs how we feel will bolster support for open records. If anything, it will do the opposite. We who search are horrible, ungrateful bastards who don't appreciate all that money our APs paid for us. They will be calling their congress-person asking why reunion isn't a jailable offense.

  12. How would I find out where an adoption took place in New York...I have a rather interesting story about an adoption that I never was informed happened as well as the fact that this was a big police investigation before the adoption as the person left my home state of Michigan with my child without my consent and later adopted him while living in Ilion, New York. The police in Michigan wouldn't file a kidnapping charge as no one could locate the woman and they thought I was just a teen who was disturbed. I got to meet my son and hold him (hug him) when he was 18 years old and he spoke with the police officer who handled my case in New York so this kid knows the truth but the lady who stole him has him convinced it didn't happen the way the police nor I have related to him. I do know she ran from New York and went to Canada for a while to hid out with the baby. She had this chance because the police officer and I went to the court to get an order to pick up the baby, this gave her the window of opportunity to run. I came back home broken. She eventually got in contact with me when he was 17 telling me he wanted contact and strung me along for a year playing games with my heart and head until I got a call from him and found out he didn't even live with her and he came to visit me for a month. We talk on the internet but not as much as he and my children speak. I am ok with this because it means he still is in contact. I just need to find out how this lady got to adopt a child she stole.

  13. Elizabeth, I think it is likely your son might be able to find out where his adoption was finalized by asking the woman who raised him. He might be able to do more about finding out where than you can. My partner Jane might have another suggestion--check back here in a couple of hours.

    There is a registry in New York that your son could file for information. While your case is unusual, and the information on the website does not address the issue you bring up, this may be where he can find out where he was adopted, if he was at all. Perhaps he was never legally adopted. His finding out may be easier than you trying to do it. He should go to the New York State Adoption Information Registry and begin there. You might also register and see what they tell you. They might come back and say there had been no adoption of your son. However, we do know illegal adoptions happen.

    Good luck. My heart goes out to you with such a painful story, but at least you are in contact with your son, something that many first mothers are unable to do. That does not make up for a kidnapping, I know.



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