' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: NCFA no longer opposes unsealing adoptee birth records--Yea!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NCFA no longer opposes unsealing adoptee birth records--Yea!!

Reunited without birth certificate, Jane (l) and Lorraine
All birth certificates will be unsealed one day, William (Bill) Pierce, who founded the National Council for Adoption, once told our reform firebrand, Florence Fisher, founder of ALMA. When NCFA (pronounced Nik-FA) was opposing us regarding unsealing birth records at very opportunity, Pierce privately said this to Florence, who then told me, close to three decades ago.

Yet as the years rolled by NCFA continued to oppose us. When Florence and I testified in Washington DC in the late 70s for unsealing birth certificates at a Senate hearing in Washington, DC, NCFA handlers literally held up a weeping natural mother who was testifying for keeping records sealed. Forever.

She spoke before I did. By the time I was called to testify I was livid. I started out by saying said something to the effect of her anonymity disqualified her from being taken seriously--as it would on any other issue--but I might have well been
whistling in the wind. Of course she couldn't use her name--or any name at all--as she was asking that her name not to be even included in the Congressional Record--let alone be covered by the press, who were not there anyway. I asked, is there any other issue where an anonymous person would be taken seriously?

I don't remember much more of what I said--it must be there in the Congressional Record--but when I got back to my seat, the anonymous mother was weeping profusely and literally being held and sheltered by two NCFA handlers. I have often wondered who she was and what happened to her and if she ever reconnected with the child she so desperately--at that moment--wanted to stay anonymous from. It certainly seemed that her feelings were so raw that she must have been saying words that she didn't really feel, or understand, but I knew no matter what, she was managing to do a hell of a lot of damage to unsealing the birth records. The people running the committee were going to keep that image in her in their minds.

That bill, the Model Adoption Act of 1980,* went down in flames as the drunken, womanizing senator from Texas, Sen. John Tower, led the fight against that provision in Washington. (I'm not saying anything about Tower here that hasn't been reported elsewhere; his loutish behavior was primarily the reason he was rejected as the first Bush's Defense Secretary. But I digress. I still get mad when I think about all the people--and many or most of them adoptive parents and legislators--who have stood in the way of giving adoptees what should never have been taken away from them.)
My original birth certficate

Tower wasn't acting alone, however. Before we got to that point, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare held public hearings across the country. Florence, the late Betty Jean Lifton and I testified the same day at Columbia University. Adoption lawyers testified. Social workers testified. Agency owners and directors testified. Psychiatrists and psychologists testified. Lots of adoptees and other first mothers testified. Our friend Lee Campbell, founder of Concerned United Birthparents, was on the panel writing the bill itself. When it included a provision for unsealing birth records, the collective adoption-reform movement was floored and credited Lee with being the spark plug behind that.

NCFA watched over the while thing, lining up adoptive parents to testify. Comments were also solicited from the public: More than 3,000 letters rolled in, and more than 82 percent of them were against unsealing birth certificates, according to E. Wayne Carp in Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of AdoptionNinety percent of the adoptive parents who wrote were adamantly against the open records provision. Florence heard that NCFA had solicited adoptive parents to write in and object.

Later, NCFA would send someone to various states to testify when unsealing birth certificates were on the agenda: Tennessee, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, et cetera. Weirdly enough, NCFA is a non-profit and non-profits are not supposed to take political stands, yet NCFA certainly has. Their status as a non-profit should have been yanked a long time ago, but it's a cozy circle of non-profit adoption agencies with directors who make big salaries supporting a lobby organization to push for the legislation they want, and what they have wanted in the past is sealed records, and because adoption is always thought to be a Good Thing, no one has questioned their questionable practices. Piece, incidentally, I was told by a source at the Child Welfare League of America, started NCFA in 1980 when he was not appointed the head of that other organization.

But after all these years of dogged and effective opposition from NCFA, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Quietly and without making an announcement, NCFA is apparently no longer actively opposing allowing adopted individuals to obtain their original birth certificates. Read that again: NCFA is no longer actively opposing unsealing original birth certificates for adoptees. Slowly but surely we are winning.

NCFA is not lobbying in New York against our bill (A909 in the Assembly, and S2490a in the Senate), nor did they oppose the bill that did pass in New Jersey, one that only awaits Gov. Chris Christie's signature. (Whether that will happen is anybody's guess, since he vetoed a similar bill two years ago--though he has an adopted sister.) NCFA was not active in Ohio when a bill that opens almost all the records for every adoptee was passed, nor did it show up in the state of Washington last year. I haven't heard about the other states with live bills this year--Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania--but it appears that NCFA is no longer yammering about the ruination of the adoptive family and the devastating consequences to mothers like the one I so well remember. We don't expect NCFA to come out for adoptee rights that include identity, but if they have at least gone silent on the issue, we will rejoice. RIP Bill Pierce. You were right, truth is going to win. Adoptees are going to be free to know who they are.

Yes, there is good news.

Other groups that have stopped testifying in New Jersey are the Lutheran Office of Social Ministries and the New Jersey State Bar Association. In New York, the bar association opposition is weakening though not yet dead. While the chair of the adoption committee of the Family Law Section of the New York Bar, Aaron Britvan, testified against our bill (A909) at a recent hearing, his speech was rambling and was mostly about the wording of the bill--I think he was trying to make more work for lawyers. He and I go way back as enemies on adoptee rights. (Incidentally, he is one of those adoptive parents we spoke about in recent comments who, as he put it, was "blessed" with a biological child--after he and his wife adopted.)

The Catholic Conference of Bishops in New Jersey, which speaks for Catholic Charities, is pushing for the natural/birth-parent veto, thus letting adoptee rights be subordinate to the mother's wishes. The same is true in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, it adds that if an adoptee can prove he already has had contact with one of his birth parents, it does not object to his having his original birth certificate. NOW, that National Organization of Women that ought to know better, is actively opposing the bill in Pennsylvania. The New Jersey ACLU also continues its staunch defense of mothers in the closet at the expense of the rights of adoptees. How the ACLU and a state chapter of NOW arrived at this absurd and unjust position is beyond me. When I got a call from the ACLU a month ago soliciting funds, I gave the person calling a vivid earful of what the ACLU in New Jersey--and I have just learned, Pennsylvania--is doing and why they are wrong. You might as well take every opportunity to educate, right?

But it's not over until the bills pass and governors sign them. So I beg, urge, coax every single individual with a connection to any or several of the above states and who believes adoptees should have the right to find out who they are to write letters--to the governor, to the legislative leaders, to your own representative or senator if you live in the state or it is where you relinquished or were adopted. Keep it short but heart-felt and to the point. Do not let this great opportunity to go by without making your voice heard. It won't happen if you do nothing. And if not you, who? If not now, when?--lorraine 

To be involved in the effort in New York, contact Joyce Bahr of Unsealed Initiative at unsealedinitiative@nyc.rr.com. The group recently had a successful day of lobbying in Albany, and now has numerous sponsors and supporters of the bills, A909 and S2490a. We need you!

In New Jersey, Contact NJCare at njcare.staff@gmail.com. And see sidebar on left about writing Gov. Christie. There is not too much time left. Refer to the Birthright Bill, S873.

Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption by E. Wayne Carp

In this lucid and thought-provoking book, Carp reviews the controversies surrounding the management of adoption records in the United States. Identifying the concerns of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, Carp surveys changing social attitudes toward the importance of family history, governmentally dictated secrecy, and the recognition of often conflicting rights of everyone involved in the adoption triad. Over the decades, government-supported, legally mandated concealment has prevailed, but the rise of search and reunion groups, adoption registries, newsletters, Internet bulletin boards, and web sites as well as experimental consensual open adoptions are beginning to force the records open. The debate continues (see, e.g., Katarina Wegar, Adoption, Identity, and Kinship, LJ 4/1/97), and Carp makes an important contribution. Highly recommended for academics, professionals, and the interested public.--Library Journal


Incidentally, Carp's authoritative book, from myriad sources, puts the percentage of single (birth) mothers who relinquished their children to adoption before the seventies at 80 percent, and that is the combined figure for both white and black mothers. Since we know that nearly all black mothers kept their babies, the figure for white mothers is considerably higher, more like 90 percent. More on this later.


  1. I know there is still a lot of work to be done, but with this news and continued effort, I can hardly wait to say I-told-you-so.


  2. This IS really good news, although there is still such a long way to go.

    I am as upset today as I was the day my daughter's OBC was sealed away. Regardless of the fact that we are in a very open adoption, regardless of the fact that my daughter will always know her biological parents, regardless of the fact that her father and I did not want her OBC changed or sealed, it was all done anyway. We have her original, but that is far from the point. These laws are unfair and outdated in today's adoption climate where the majority of adoptions are open to varying degrees, yet still they remain, keeping so many from connecting with the mothers and daughters they long to know. I can think of no other laws where the protection is for a very, very small few who simply fear the unknown rather than a concrete and actual threat.

    I wrote to NY and NJ regarding these laws, adding my voice as an adoptive mother and former resident of NY. I am disappointed that no movement exists in my current state of CA. There was a bill several years ago (before we were involved in adoption) but it didn't go far before being squashed.

    As an adoptive mother who adamantly support open records, I would love to provide any support. I try to do whatever I can when I hear of something- such as writing letters to NJ and NY- but I would be happy to do more. Please continue to let us know of any developments so we can continue to support this.

    Someday, I have hope that my daughters will both have the same and equal access to their birth records, not be divided by one being biological and one adopted. I am hopeful that my adopted daughter will see in her lifetime records opened to her and all adoptees.

    I truly appreciate everything you ladies do to fight for these laws to be changed. You have fought for so long, for so many years, sacrificed much, and I sincerely admire you. Thank you for fighting for people like my daughter and her mother.

  3. I am happy to hear this news, but at the same time I hesitate to get too elated....there is a long way to go.

    I, like Tiffany, wrote to NY and NJ. I emailed legislators. I can not understand why this is still an issue.

    I have one document that proves to the world I am even on this planet! And, post 9/11, I can't use the document for anything legal. I have a folder one inch thick filled with information about my dog and her lineage. What is wrong with this picture?

    Watching the NY hearing, and ,later, the hearing in PA, it is clear that those who oppose unsealing the records are so out of touch with today's world....yet they hold the cards. Gov. Christie (don't get me started) is so ill-informed, yet he vetoed the bill last time and carried on about birth mother privacy, as if he knew what he was talking about. And then he blurts out that adoptees "want everything." He has everything, so why can't adoptees? Those with the least information always make the most noise.

    I am extremely curious to see what Christie does this time around.

    Anyway. I was born. To someone. I have a birthday, a birth time, a birth weight. Possibly a name. Why is this a secret? I want to know this information because it is mine to know. All this slow moving legal nonsense in my way is accomplishing nothing.

  4. O/T...See last line of linked article. Two of the three children were adopted.


  5. The article Robin posted a link to:

    The girl and the older boy were adopted children, and the younger boy is the biological son of one of the women...

    SALINAS, Calif. (AP) — Three starving children — including one who was chained to the floor to prevent her from getting food — were found last month in the squalid home of a Northern California couple, authorities said.

    All three — two boys and a girl — were taken into protective custody, and one was hospitalized, Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller said Friday.

    Authorities discovered them in the Salinas, Calif., home on March 14 after two of the young people missed appointments, according to several published reports.

    "It was a particularly heinous case," Miller told the Monterey Herald. The children had "hardly eaten for months."

    The boys are 3 and 5 years old, and the girl is 8, authorities said, and they all exhibited bruises and signs of other physical as well as emotional abuse.

    The girl, who appeared to have suffered the most extreme abuse, was chained to the floor to prevent her from getting any food, they said.

    "It seems that the little girl was the major target of this abuse," Miller continued, adding that she looked "like a concentration camp victim."

    The girl was in the hospital for about five days, he said, and seemed "traumatized."

    There was evidence that she was may have been put in the closet as well as that she was sometimes shackled at the ankle and at other times by a collar around her neck, Miller said.

    Eraca Dwan Craig, 31, and Christian Jessica Deana, 44, were both arrested at the scene on suspicion of felony child cruelty, false imprisonment and other charges.

    The women, who are domestic partners, do not appear to have criminal records in Monterey County. They were both arraigned in Monterey County Court on Tuesday and are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 28.

    Authorities said the women seemed to be making preparations to leave before they were arrested.

    Investigators found little food inside the home, which was cluttered and dirty, according to reports.

    The girl and the older boy were adopted children, and the younger boy is the biological son of one of the women, Miller said.


  6. I have mostly avoided commenting on this topic because, like many on this forum, I am shocked that this is even an issue. So I don't know what to say!

    I do have a confession. Until I started reading Lorraine's and Jane's posts about sealed adoptee records, I thought I had my son's OBC. I absolutely know I have seen it - I have a vivid memory of his OBC, with the full names of his first parents. After I read one of Lorraine's posts on this issue a while back, I thought to myself, "But I have my son's OBC!" I immediately went over to his folder - and hunted, and hunted. No OBC. I have no recollection of when that document was taken away and sealed! Neither does my husband. I am embarrassed to admit our cluelessness - we have a fairly thick file of his lineage, family medical history, etc. and I had assumed for years that the OBC was in there somewhere. Like Tiffany, I am in California.

    Adoptees absolutely deserve access to their original records. These are vital to their identity and their emotional and physical well-being. I hope progress continues to be made on this front.

  7. Robin, that article makes me ill. I could hardly get through it. I live just a few hours from Salinas. I cannot fathom how anyone can treat children in that manner.

    Jay, we "purchased" two birth certificates. One went to our daughter's mother and one we kept. I didn't know about the sealing of the OBC when we initially went through the relinquishment, but our finalization took 11 months so during that time, I became educated about the despicable process.

    I cannot recall if you said you have an open adoption with your son's first parents or not, but might they have a copy of the OBC?

    My husband had to take the OBC to get our daughter's SS card. An absolute nightmare- he dealt with people who clearly had no understanding of adoption. They wouldn't even issue the SS card without the OBC, and this was AFTER finalization when the OBC had been officially sealed! I was very upset he had to take it with him and very nervous about losing it. We are moving it from our safe to a security deposit box at a bank. It's ridiculous that I have to be so careful with this document just because my daughter is adopted!

  8. Tiffany I wish I had known, when my son's adoption was finalized, that the OBC would be sealed. I recall even holding it in my hands! I could easily have made a copy. When Lenny's adoption was finalized, we were given a new birth certificate and a SS card. So our experience was different from yours, maybe because we adopted through foster care? I do remember looking at his new birth certificate and thinking how weird it was that an official agency would fabricate a lie - putting us down as if we were his biological parents. But even after we got the new birth certificate, I assumed that the OBC I had seen previously was in our records. That whole aspect of "sealing" completely escaped me!

    Lenny's first family situation is complicated. We communicate with his first mother, but that has been one-sided for the past 3 years. She has not responded in that time, and I hope she is OK. She unfortunately does not have a stable place where we can consistently locate her, so the communication is through Lenny's former social worker - who mostly keeps our letters, etc. in a file for her to (hopefully) one day access. As for the other family members, contact is not possible for reasons I cannot divulge.

    I will ask Lenny's former social worker (and through her, maybe his first mother if she will respond) whether we can get a copy of his OBC.

  9. Thank you both--Adoptive parents who are on the right side and are speaking up. Not enough adoptive parents do.

    As a side note, the legislator in New Hampshire who pushed for--and got--birth certificates unsealed in that state was Lou D'Allesandro, adoptive father. I worked with him to get it passed.

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  11. Jay Iyer said,"how weird it was that an official agency would fabricate a lie..."
    Yes this is one of the things that is so disturbing about modern adoption.

    In researching my own family history I learned a family member, my great grandfather, had been born to very disruptive circumstances. His mother was institutionalized (an insane asylum it was called back then), his father died when he was just three. He was however not put in foster care not adopted, but instead raised by various aunts and half siblings until his brothers were old enough to become his guardians. He was bounced all over and had a quite storied upbringing. But through it all he always knew who he was, who his parents were, his siblings and half subs (big family ). It is really thought provoking for me.



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