' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What adoption records belong to whom?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

What adoption records belong to whom?

Adoption records are spread all over adoptionland--at the offices of adoption facilitators, adoption agencies, attorneys, hospitals, state departments of children's services. And that's just domestic adoptions.

Some adoptees contend that, as the epicenter of all this paper and electronic bits, they are entitled to access all of these records. We at FMF disagree. Many of these documents contain details about the private lives of the natural parents and the adoptive parents. Some of it is likely to be subjective interpretations of the social workers who took the information from a distraught woman.

But it is not just the name and last known address of the adoptee--it is the personal data of another person, or persons--and thus should not be shared
with anyone else, just as medical records are considered private and not to be shared with outsiders. Adoptees should no more have these records than children raised by natural parents should have records of the intimate details of their parents' lives--unless they wish to reveal it.

The documents that may exist in domestic adoptions include data on expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents. Since much of the information is designed to market each to the other, the accuracy is as questionable as PR releases and advertising are about any product. Whether true or not, these records belong only to their subjects--first mothers or adoptive parents.

Adoption agencies compile information on natural parents before and after the birth of the child, on the adoptive parents both before and after the adoption, and on the child after birth. Again, adoptees are not entitled to these documents. Jane says this from personal experience:

In 1986 when my lost daughter Rebecca was 19, she requested information from her adoption agency and was given "non-identifying" information. When we met 11 years later, she offered to show me what she received. I took a brief look, but it was too painful to read all the way through. It was the story of a young woman in crisis, not the woman I became.

Rebecca asked me about an uncle with "mental issues." I didn't know whom she was even talking about. It turned out to be my younger brother, David. He never had mental issues; however, he did drop out of school, smoke pot, and protest the Vietnam war. A classic 1960's hippie all his life. I must have mentioned something about him to the social worker; I don't recall. But mental issues? If that's the case, there were an awful lot of people in the Sixties who had mental issues. But a straight-laced social worker took what I said about my brother, and wrote down mental issues. Rebecca had 11 years, the time between receiving the non-ID and meeting me, to dwell on the possibility of mental illness in my family, which could be genetic.

It was absolutely wrong for the agency to give Rebecca personal information about me or my family.  It would have been much better if the agency had given her my name and last known address, and left it to me to tell her about myself and my family. 

...for the legal skinny
Laws allowing release of "non-identifying" information were enacted to divert adoptees from pursuing legislation which would reveal their natural parents' names, or even what is recorded on the original birth certificate. The birth certificate does belong tot the person to whom it applies, with the full details of the birth: parents, place, date, time. The laws denying this basic information to individuals are not only immoral and unjust, they categorically have not worked, for the innate desire to know one's ancestral roots cannot be satisfied by a few choice non-identifying bits, carefully selected by an adoption agency, often to justify the adoption. Under the false guise of protecting the mother's privacy, these laws allow agencies to create an imaginary woman and man consistent with the popular image of natural parents. Ironically, the natural parents are legally barred from this information that then may be passed onto the adoptee and the adoptive parents.

Or suppose a first mother is not sure who the father is, or in fact, was addicted or an alcoholic at the time she conceived. But now it is 20, 30 years later, and the woman has turned her life around. The difference between hearing the story from one's mother and reading some cold words on a piece of paper that may have been written by a non-sympathetic and judgmental lawyer or social worker is vast. Furthermore, say the mother doesn't wish to reveal the sordid parts of her life, even to her child. Certainly this information is hers to keep.

Adoptive parents should receive the information about the natural parents necessary to raise the child. This has not always been the case. It took several lawsuits where adoptive parents sued agencies for "wrongful adoption" for not disclosing critical medical information about the natural parents before agencies began being upfront about the natural parents with adoptive parents.

One of the more infamous cases is recounted in Lorraine's memoir, Hole In My Heart:  Louise Wise Services [a once respected agency in New York City] went out of business in 2010 after a couple of well-publicized lawsuits. In one, a couple was told that they were adopting the son of a bright, accomplished college student who helped support her mother and whose fiancĂ© had unexpectedly died, and she got pregnant soon after during a rebound affair. In fact, the mother was a lobotomized schizophrenic, and the father was also a mental patient; the couple conceived when both were institutionalized. At the adoptee’s insistence, his parents sued Louise Wise Services. He had schizophrenia and died at 29 of undetermined causes. The agency also separated identical twins as part of a social experiment, without telling the adoptive parents they were doing this, so neither did the children know they had a twin until circumstances brought them together.

Coincidentally, Louise Wise was one of the staunchest opponents of giving adoptees their original birth certificates, and sent their attorney to Albany to lobby against it back in the Seventies. He used words such as disaster, havoc, pathology and harmful when he testified in Albany in 1976 against opening the records to adoptees. Harmful and a disaster to whom? Certainly the credibility of Louise Wise. Revealing the truth then would have destroyed the agency years before it was. 

Agency records also have details about the adoptive parents--their income, size of house, other children, medical histories and, we've read, sometimes how often they have sex (to determine if the infertility was caused by some sort of mental disorder). How often they have sex is certainly nobody's business but theirs! The adoptive parents should be allowed to get their records--not the adoptee.

When the child is born, hospitals and doctors create records on both child and mother. The child should have the right to see his records and the details of his birth, cesarean or vaginal, drugs used, for example, but not his mother's medical history. Medical hospital records may be a moot point, though, because they are typically destroyed after a period of time.

In an agency adoption, the child may go--and usually did go--into foster care before being placed with the adoptive parents. This may have been for a few days or many months. The adult adoptee should have the right to his foster care records, whether they are with the adoption agency or the state child welfare agency.

Once the child is born, the adoption agency may continue to gather information about the child and his adoptive family. It may also receive information from the birth mother. Again, this information should not be disclosed without the consent of the person providing it. The information may be completely wrong, either because the agency wants the inquiring party to think everything is hunky-dory, or because the person responding to the inquiry doesn't bother to check the files.

When Lorraine inquired about her daughter, the agency wrote and said that her daughter was "fine and happy" with her new family. In fact, the adoptive parents had notified the agency that her daughter had epilepsy, and were seeking medical information about Lorraine--at the same time she was writing to the agency to update her information, let them know her new address, just in case her daughter's family was trying to reach her.

Because of the seizures, her daughter's adoptive mother assumed that mental issues--those words again--ran in Lorraine's family. When Lorraine finally met her daughter and her adoptive family, the adoptive mother quizzed Lorraine thoroughly about any "mental issues" that might be in her family, or if any members of her family were institutionalized. Lorraine was puzzled by this questioning but let it go as the over-imagination of an adoptive mother about the background of the biological mother. Since both Lorraine and I were confronted with "mental issues" on our certainly blemished backgrounds, perhaps that is a running theme throughout adoption. As in--somebody in that family must be crazy....

Creating a "forever family" requires legal action. Adoptive parents almost always have had a lawyer and the natural mother may also have had a lawyer. State bar ethics rules properly demand that the lawyer's records be available only to the lawyer's client. This gets murky when the birth/first mother thinks that the lawyer handling the case is also representing her, for we know of cases where lawyers have given adopting parents personal information about the birth mother that in any other case would be considered a breach of ethics.

Files at the courthouse or in its archives contain the documents necessary to transfer the legal
parentage of a child from those who created him to the those who will raise him. These documents include the petition for adoption, the mother's and, in some cases, the father's consent, the home study, any open adoption agreement, a report from the state child welfare authorities recommending the adoption, a notice to the vital statistics department to prepare the amended birth certificate, and the judgment or decree of adoption.

Oregon enacted a law in 2103 allowing adult adoptees to access the entire court file other than the home study. Colorado followed a year letter, allowing adoptees to access the home study as well. These are good laws and should be adopted by other states.

For adoptees, the most important document in the court file may be the consent whereby the mother who bore them terminated her legal relationship by her own hand. Adoptees may not be aware that consents typically are canned statements prepared by lawyers or adoption agencies designed to confirm that the mother's consent was voluntary and thus ward off any subsequent claim that the consent was coerced. Mothers may not read the before they sign; I didn't. Lorraine has no memory of whether she did or did not.

Whatever the papers say, it probably has little bearing on reality. Certainly they do not say, I, ___________, under undue stress due to a lack of familial support and inadequate finances and no financial help from the biological father, or the state, of my family, and with the deepest sorrow for this act I am likely to regret to the end of my days on earth, do hereby relinquish all legal rights to my child, a statement that would adequately describe the emotions and conditions of most first mothers at the time they sign the termination of parental rights.

Sarah Morris, one of the first Oregon adoptees to see her court file, describes in a FMF post her shock and anger at reading the lies in her mother's consent.

The 2013 Oregon law also allows natural mothers and, in some cases, biological fathers, to access portions of their child's adoption file. The law requires a judge sign off, but that's pretty much a formality. Learning the names of their child's adoptive parents and the adopted name of their child through court documents has been invaluable in helping mothers find their lost children.

The final piece of information about an adoptee and, to many, the most critical--the original birth certificate--is hidden in a vault at the state's vital statistics office. The OBC is available to adoptees in about 20 states and at a matter of right and justice should be available to adoptees in all states without restrictions. This is a document that is about them, and should be theirs by a matter of absoltue right. Beyond giving them the name of their natural mother, the OBC is tangible evidence of who they were and who, in spite of a court judgement, they remain.--jane and lorraine
See for example $780.000 Wrongful Adoption Case Settlement

Sarah Morris, Adoption court documents contain the raw realities of adoption
Exactly what are 'adoption records' and who can access them?
What is in those agency files on birth/first mothers? Are they going to hang up?
Oregon to allow first mothers easier access to child's adoption records

Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents,and Adoptive...
by Jean Strauss
"Anticipating my own reunion as an adoptee, I devoured this book in about 2 days. It confirmed many of my personal feelings and gave voice to my own experience as an adoptee. It has also taught me to understand and be sensitive to issues my birthparents are/might be dealing with that I could not have anticipated. Two things about this book for which I am most grateful to the author: 1) the conglomeration of experiences of 70 different people representing all three sides of the adoption triad. 2) a clear outline of the emotional stages of the adoption reunion process."--Amazon reviewer

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
by Lorraine Dusky
"Birthmark changed my life. Dusky's words gave me the courage to search for the mother who lost me to adoption. Now Lorraine has done it again. I read Hole in My Heart cover to cover in one sitting. It is high drama--and a riveting case for adoption reform. Dusky shines a spotlight on the harmful outcome of closed adoption, and the lasting impact of secrecy upon relationships." 
 --Jean Strauss, adoptee, author of Birthright, filmmaker, A Simple Piece of Paper 

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."--Library Journal


  1. Sorry, but I'm going to disagree.

    I want to see the paperwork that my adoptive parents completed, along with the home study. I want to know how they managed to get approved, given the fact that they'd already allowed their bio daughter to suffer a decade of sexual abuse (by a non-family member) and abused another child so badly themselves that he ended up in a residential psychiatric facility at the age of nine. I was 10, certainly old enough to have a voice in what happened, yet no one from the courts or social service asked me what I wanted. How was that allowed to happen? Why were all the red flags ignored? What lies were told? What favors were called in?

    IMHO, my adoption was fraudulently granted, and I *deserve* to know the truth.

    And, yes, I want to know the specifics of our life at the time my birth mother handed me over. Did she have options, or was she forced into it? I understand that's what written may or may not be accurate, but I've been told so many different stories already; I'd like to at least know what the "official" version is.

    Adoptees have questions -- lots of them -- and it's way past time that they were TRUTHFULLY answered.

  2. I don't know how one would prevent exaggerations, untruths and outright lies from being written in agencies' or even medical files...in my case there was apparently a "conspiracy" between the doctors and the agency to take my daughter...and it is a good thing she never saw any of these things they supposedly had written, or I imagine she would never have contacted me. The only truth she is apparently going to get is when she speaks with me and her birthfather. I still dont' know yet just what her adoptive parents were told or if they had told her any of it...possibly not, and I give them credit for that if they did not.

  3. The "official" version,. as Kaye calls it is likely to be nothing but a passel of lies. Say an adoptee who is raising hell is sent to a therapist. Said therapist writes down bad behavior; individual is "angry" and "like to cause harm to others" and "lies" and "steals" from parents and friends and "has a serious cocaine habit"
    Is "socially maladjusted." Or "has a personality disorder." or"has AIDS." Has resorted to "bodily harm."

    And let's say the therapist adds some motivations on her own and blames all the problems on the individual being given up for adoption.

    Fast forward 20 years. Adoptee is a bright contributing member of society. Married. One child. Nice home. Whatever.

    Before the first mother agrees to meet her now-grown child, the state gives her all these records.

    Would that seem right? Medical and therapeutic records should be read by the person to whom they pertain.

    1. Here's where my inner "militant adoptee" makes an appearance .....

      Once you sign that paper agreeing to hand your child over to someone else, you lose all *rights* to information about the child. Whether by free will or coercion, you have made the CHOICE to not parent your child.

      By the same token, when someone adopts, that person has made a CHOICE to take that child into a family.

      The only person who was completely powerless is the adoptee. Because we had NO CHOICE in the situation, our need for information outweighs anyone else's desire for privacy.

      Lorraine, your example of a first mother being offered her child's medical/therapeutic records is not applicable. First of all, HIPAA laws prevent sharing of such information without the express permission of the person to whom those records belong.

      If you're talking about general health tendencies (e.g. specific diseases run in the family), then the mother doesn't need to know. Other than insanity (so goes the old joke), parents don't inherit anything from their children, but children DO inherit diseases from their parents.

    2. Actually, adopted-away children's medical records-history can be life-saving for the bio-family. Bio-families do not always know what conditions/genetic diseases/recessive genes are in their families. Adoptees may have very valuable medical information for their bio-families.
      My son inherited a deadly blood disease from my family, but he did not get treatment for it until it was much too late. We did not know about this disease, partly because of my mother's tendency to practice "faith-healing" and deny the illnesses in the family, and partly because of very real medical ignorance...which was simply due to the research not having come far enough to be of help.
      My son was reunited with me in 1989 and I told him there was strange blood illness in the family, but I did not know what it was. In 2007, my son got an acute blood cancer that I am told by one of his doctors is running in my family.
      My son died. I miss him terribly, and wish there had been some way to have known more, but we did not know what we did not know.
      My family now understands the disease, and the genetics, much better.
      Adoptees are biological relatives of their birth family and their medical history is just as relevant as any other relative and sometimes, even more so. Now that we know we have this disease, we are aware of it and the signs and symptoms. One of my cousins developed a similar condition about a year after my child's death, but he recognized what was happening and got treatment right away.
      My cousin is doing well today.

    3. I'm sorry about your son, truly.

      However, while I firmly believe the bio family owes a medical history to the adoptee, I don't believe it's the responsibility of an adoptee to provide medical information to the family that gave him/her away.

    4. Kaye--yes I believe that the natural family owes a medical history to the person given up for adoption. We are not against that in any way. When I gave up my daughter, I filled out a detailed medical history on my family--my father would die of a heart attack two years later so that was not recorded--and of the biological father. It was a form I filled out. That should have been given to the adoptive family. It was not. They did not even know the ancestry of the father, which closely allied with the adoptive mother and would have been a comfort to both of them before I came into the picture.

      It's the subjective commentary about the mother by someone in a therapist/counselor position that we believe should not be given to anyone--but the natural mother. Mental illness in Jane's family because her brother was a war protester? My first husband was a Conscientious Objector during the war and worked in a hospital for two years. He and I did smoke marijuana. Would I also have been characterized as someone with mental illness in my family?

    5. @Kaye,
      thank you for your condolences.
      Now, what I am wondering is: how would my son have asked my nieces, nephews,aunts, uncles, and other blood relatives for their medical history while refusing to give them his own medical history?
      He did ask us for our medical information, so your comment is relevant. However, he also offered his own history. I cannot imagine that he would have said that he had no responsibility to offer his own in return.

      He considered us his relatives, because, after all, my relatives are his relatives and blood ties don't end...not even with adoption or death.
      "Fair is fair." That is the kind of person that he was.

    6. Voluntary medical histories, given with consent are acceptable to me. It should be understood that diagnosis may be inaccurate, and can change with time.
      I have heard that today, with some open adoptions the agencies are encouraging adoptive parents and bio-families to directly exchange medical updates on a regular basis. This way, there will be information on the birth parents/family and on the adoptee that will be shared on a regular basis as the child grows up.

  4. "Adoptees should no more have these records than children raised by natural parents should have intimate details of their parents' lives - unless they wish to reveal it."
    Apples and oranges. I see no good reason why adoptees shouldn't have access to everything that pertains to their biological parentage and adoption. They should be warned that the information may not be true, but that it is for them to verify - insofar as it's possible to do that, of course. And if they so wish.
    It makes no sense for adoptive parents to get birth parent records that may contain damaging misinformation, but that the adopted person is not allowed to have them.

    1. Agreed. I'm an adult and willing to risk reading potentially disturbing information, if it helps me get to figure out the truth of my own history.

      And if that "truth" comes in more than one version, well, I've already been told several lies already -- I'll just do the best I can to make sense of it all.

  5. Why wouldn't HIPPA laws cover what a social worker wrote down about an individual?

    What you are saying is that we gave up our rights to our own records when we signed away our rights to parent another.

    No child has the automatic right to the therapeutic records of their parents. Yet you would claim that for anyone adopted.

    This would all be moot if adoptees had the right (as they should) to their OBCs and updated medical histories--from the parents themselves.

    1. When my adoptive parents died, I had access to all their records, financial and otherwise. Both of my birth parents are also deceased -- but I had no legal right to see anything they left behind, even the documents that specifically concerned me.

      If we want to get down to specifics, then I personally am willing to forego financial records and sex lives but -- yes -- I still maintain that I deserve to see home studies, psychological reports, etc. because those are all part of WHY I was given away.

      I agree that HIPAA laws would prevent release of specific information, which is why I said at the very least a generalized "x disease runs in the family" should be provided. I guess that's the medical history? I still don't have access, so I'm not sure .....

  6. I'm so glad to see you address this issue. The agency that handled my adoption in the early '60s refuses to provide me with information about the three months after birth that I was in their custody. (Actually, what they said was that there were so many babies that they couldn't possibly keep detailed information about each of those babies....). However, they did send me non-id in the form of the caseworker notes, redacted, that included many personal details that I did not need to see or need to know. I think it quite odd that they are willing to give me information about my mother that doesn't pertain to me. But they are unwilling to give me information about my first three months of life.

  7. A pregnant woman enters into counseling at an agency. She has no obligation to anyone to do anything.....to get the counseling.It is provided to her either by the state, county, or by a charity(non-profit).
    The counseling is protected by law(mental health law) and is private. This is the same as marriage counseling or other psychological counseling for a person or a couple. My parents had marriage counseling when I was a small child, but I am not entitled to their records.
    If they had divorced, I still would not be entitled to their records.
    Surrender documents do not deal with medical records/counseling records or other privacy "rights." Mothers relinquish the right to raise their child, but they don't give up the right to their medical (or other records)or their privacy rights as citizens.

  8. I'm an adoptee and I have found my mother. My father will only be found via DNA as my mother "can't remember" (her words).

    While I would LOVE every last detail in my records and I know enough to take everything in context, I firmly believe that records belong to the primary party they are about.

    As much as I would LOVE to read some social worker's take on my adoptive parents, I realize that, tables be turned, I would also have to be okay with my adult children having access to whatever documents pertain to my divorce from their father. Fair is fair.

    My mother read my non-ID. Some items she agreed with, others she disagreed with. I have a background in litigation so I have some professional experience with how two (usually opposing) parties might have very different views of the same set of "facts".

    Yes, it would be nice if I had "everything" but I should only be entitled to what non-adoptees have - an original birth certificate and answers to any questions my mother and father may agree to answer.

    My adoptive parents never wanted me to know that I was adopted. Should I have a right to force them to reveal their reasons for not telling me? Should my kids be able to force me and their father to reveal the reasons for our divorce? Fair is fair.

    Adoptees are owed the same facts and documents as non-adoptees, nothing more and certainly nothing less.

  9. One of the "reforms" that some mothers and activists have been fighting for is impartial/improved counseling for pregnant women and parents/children in crisis situations. We are concerned that these women will be taken advantage of as we were, with dishonest counselors, and others who sought only to separate us from our children.
    It is important that counseling be thorough, safe, and confidential. That is, the client must have a reasonable assurance that she/he can discuss personal issues in a protected environment without having to worry that family members or other unwanted eyes will read about her later.
    This is mental health counseling and is , and has been, private and protected under the privacy laws for decades.
    In the state where I live, a pregnant woman considering adoption or in danger of unwanted adoption can get counseling from any licensed counselor. The counseling must always be confidential.The law provides for a number of requirements that must be met in the counseling, such as:
    1. alternatives to adoption
    2. assistance in the community
    3. life-long effects of adoption
    I could go on, the list is extensive. I am one of the people who worked on this law and set of state regulations.

  10. Every State has a List of Required Information that adoption agencies and lawyer facilitators must submit in accordance with the adoption law for that state as part of the adoption process. A mother signs a consent for the agency or lawyer to release her confidential information to the state to be used by that state in accordance with state adoption law.
    Depending on the state, a lot of that information can also be on a state's List of Required NON-Identifying Information that *must* be released by the adoption agency, court or lawyer facilitator, to an adult adoptee upon request. My state's List of Required Information that *must* be given to an adult adoptee in their NON-identifying information makes it impossible to avoid including intimate, personal details and foolish subjective analysis of the mother, father and their families. Mothers sign a legal consent to release confidential information.

    My State's List of Required Information that must be provided to the adoptee upon request of their NON-Identifying information:

    Date, time and place of birth of the adoptee including hospital, city,county and state. An account of the health, psychological and genetic history of the adoptee. An account of the health psychological and genetic history of biological parents and siblings. Description of the adoptee and the adoptee’s birth family including: Given first name of adoptee at birth. Age and sex of sibling(s) of adoptee.Adoptee’s racial, ethnic and religious background. General description of birth parents, including age at termination of parental rights and length of time parents had been married at time of placement. Educational, occupational, professional, athletic or artistic achievement of the birth family. Hobbies, special interests and school activities of the birth family.Circumstances of any court order terminating parental rights of birth parent. Length of time between termination of parental rights and child’s placement. Status of termination: voluntary or court-ordered.

    My NON-id records are over 20 pages of photocopies of original documents with identifying info redacted from pages. The records still disgust me today. But for what it's worth, a social worker's personal prejudices, misinterpretations, careless note-taking, biased observations, mistruths, woven into the narrative of the personal/family history, is about the social worker and not the mother. And, the social worker's opinions and prejudices standout like Times Square on every page and is impossible to miss, even at a young age and during the first reading. The subjective psychoanalysis and rude observations, and the legal language in probate and other documents, all meant to incriminate the mother, Ironically, incriminates the social workers/caseworkers and the adoption industry.

    I know the records belong to me because MI law says so. The entire file belongs to the adoptee regardless of state law and we should have them. We don't care what was written about our mothers and our mothers don't need to explain or defend themselves.

    Mothers signed legal consent to release this information to states to use in accordance with state adoption law regardless if or how often the law changes. It might be uncomfortable but it isn't a breech of confidentiality. And I'm sorry that mothers also must have signed a waiver of their right to have, read or see any documents they signed, or that were written about them or pertains to them. Not the adoptees fault though, J&L.

    1. Since we are talking about different states, please say which state you are talking about, in order to help others who might read. thanks.

  11. J&L,
    "Mothers signed legal consent to release this information to states to use in accordance with state adoption law regardless if or how often the law changes."
    Maybe that is true in your state, but it is not true in mine, nor in many others. I never signed any consent to release information for the state to use. In fact, I never signed any papers at all, until I signed a foster care waiver (of custody/medical care) after I had given birth.
    And, I have gotten copies of the documents I signed....and that had my name on them. I have quite a stack of papers now. I also have documents about my son. So, you are making an assumption when you say that mothers must have "signed a waiver of their right to have, read, or see, any documents they signed or that were written about them or pertains to them." I cannot say that no mother ever signed away their right to documents, but more likely, it was never mentioned.
    There was never any such waiver in my case.
    However, I do agree with you about the non-identifying information. It is usually supplied by the mother, and is available to the adoptee and adoptive family and the mother knows about it or consents to that. In some states, mothers get non-identifying info also.
    I know mothers all over the US who have gotten their documents from agencies, so it isn't unusual for mothers to get documents, but they have to write and ask. In some states, it is now law for mothers/fathers to receive their documents...as they would in any court procedure, like a divorce, etc.
    Lawyers are a different story. Some are helpful, and some are not.Some have always been helpful.
    As stated before, counseling files are, or should be off-limits. If agencies are handing over social worker counseling notes, they are violating mental health laws, no matter what anyone calls it. And if, those files contain dishonest/deliberate defamatory statements about birth family, there could , indeed be criminal/civil liability .....on the part of whomever made the statements or on the part of anyone who might repeat the libelous comments.
    A libelous record does not become honest,absolved of guilt, simply by being passed on to an innocent adopted person.

  12. Lo,

    I surrendered my son in California, and have been getting copies of my documents, and records, and also some of my son's, on and off, for years.

    1. Must be nice to get information. I have written the juvenile court and the, what was once called, the Division of Family services. I wrote requesting any possible non-identifying information and anything that pertained to me/had my signature. I ended the request with, "if nothing else may I learn just one of the adoptive parents hobbies?" ..... I never received a reply from either source. Not even a simple NO. That was in April/May of 2014. By summer I was ready to give up as I could not endure another season of grief. Thankfully my child found me a few months later.

      I don't know maybe it is just me. Maybe Missouri is not so fiercely determined to keep mothers locked out but my experience has been just absolutely horrendous. The last time I tried (3 or 4 years ago)to go directly to the agency, they had moved from their previous location, and they were hard to find. It's as if they are in hiding and it DID seem they were rather upset?, frightened? that I had shown up in their offices. I wanted to fill out a medical update form and they gave me the runaround about 'need to talk to this person' and 'this person called in sick today'... uh-huh sure she did. I had asked at another department building across town to find out where to go and the woman THERE called the correct place and talked to the woman IN THE OFFICE that I needed to see and gave me the address and her name. Funny how things changed once I walked in the door. It's unbelievable. I don't know if other mothers find the same treatment but it is like they are scared to death of ? me? mothers in general? It's crazy but I have been having the strongest feeling that I had twins but was only told of one. Even after reunion with my child I still feel something (someone) is very much missing. My pregnancy weight and other things don't add up. I have also met another youngun' that is sooo much like me, personality, looks, etc, and this 'youngin' is an adoptee. it's almost too much to think about. That's part of the problem of being kept unconscious through labour and most of the time in the delivery room and kept in a drugged haze for 5 days after.. you don't have clear reference points. That's also the reason why I feel I desperately need my records. To clarify, one way or the other.

      LotrCat, Maybe the agencies do that know a days but not 30 plus years ago. I didn't sign a thing concerning, "legal consent to release ANY information for state to use in accordance with state adoption law". I wasn't asked about hobbies or any other thing regarding family information. So I have no idea what is in those records. All the more reason why I want the records that pertain to me and my child up to surrender. I need to put the pieces, good or bad, in place, if possible. Just like adoptees need to do.

      What do I do to attempt again? Do I get a lawyer? Or is it all futile?

    2. @Cindy,
      everything you are saying sounds very familiar. Yes, agencies are afraid of mothers. They are afraid of being found out for what they did/are doing. Secrecy in adoption covered up practices and problems for a very long time.
      They are even trying to write laws that will make them "immune" to any possible lawsuits/accusations that could result from the release of information in records files and/or reunions. I have been on bill-writing committees in the state legislature where this has been attempted.

      The social workers even sit there and cry, literally, when they talk about the "birth mothers who call and are mad because their kid got abused by the adoptive parents."
      The social workers cry and say "well, it is not our fault the adoptive parents beat up the kid."
      You could try to get a lawyer to write a letter for you. Lawyers know which laws might help to get information for you.My family owned a small law firm and they have acted as my legal advisers for decades.

      I don't know where you are, so I don't know what your state might allow you to have (by law). My agency was in California. I used a law there that entitled people to records that had their names on them or that pertained to them. I also asked to for medical files and used HIPAA. One thing that helped me, was to tell the agency that my son and I were reunited. I had met the adoptive family. I gave the agency my son's name,his adoptive parents' names,adoptive family members' names, everything I could think of that would prove that there was no need for confidentiality regarding names.
      BTW, I checked LOTRcat's post and she stated she is in MI, that is Michigan. I looked up the MI state adoption info website(in case that is where you are) and they do give mothers non-identifying information.

  13. I have had some trouble following and understanding this thread.

    Based on my family experience and as a birth mother, I'm for freedom of information. Shouldn't an adoptee have access to whatever they would like to see? Adoption agencies may lie, but so do family members. So do adoptive parents, so do ex-husbands. There's nothing uniquely institutional about lying! I think it would be better to see "something" instead of "nothing", wouldn't it?

    I don't think the possibility of lies by a social worker or agency should put off adoptees, or prevent them from obtaining any information they can. If a birth parent's name is not disclosed, at least let the adoptee find out something, anything they can.

    1. I agree with New and Old and do not see this as an important issue or one I would invest any energy in fighting with adoptees about.

  14. N&O,
    institutional and legalized lying is a serious matter.It is often a crime. The fact that family can lie(wrong, yes) does not make it okay for a licensed social worker to lie on a court or agency record that is going to follow someone for life.
    you are pretty new to this, and probably have not worked in records legislation, or counseling laws, either, so perhaps you have not seen the results of what happens when falsehoods are recorded/passed on. Or, when mothers and/or other people are counseled and their counseling records are passed on to others, after being breached and misinterpreted. We have worked hard to get safe confidential counseling for pregnant women. We don't want them violated. An ethical social worker helped us pass a good counseling law.
    A defamatory record can follow a person for life, and don't forget, these are also held by the courts. It is not just "who gets the records" but "where do they go" afterwards.
    What you are calling "information" is not information when it is made-up. It is falsehoods that have been placed in a mother's file...someone like you. Or one of the women here.
    The fact that the name is not disclosed doesn't matter. The name of the mother is in the file, in the court record, at the agency, and more and more, the adoptees are getting the mother's names...as they should.
    Mothers are not being hidden much anymore, so "non-identifying" info is not an excuse for agencies to make up defamatory statements about them. I am tired of hearing mothers called "drug dealers" "criminals" "unstable" "whores" "prostitutes" and many other things. And especially when it isn't true.
    Adoptees should have the descriptive family background (ethnic, religion, education, physical appearance, talents, etc) information, but not lies and defamatory comments.
    Sometimes "nothing" is better than "something" if that "something" is criminal. There is no "right" to lies. And there is no reason why agencies cannot responsibly provide descriptive information without violating counseling laws. Careful social workers do this.

    1. "Sometimes "nothing" is better than "something" if that "something" is criminal."

      I disagree. There's absolutely nothing that can be written in an adoption file that's worse than what an adoptee can imagine on his/her own, given the absence of REAL information.

      I think most adoptees would rather have SOMEthing, versus nothing at all.

  15. I agree with Gaye.

    If our fight as adoptees relates to securing equal treatment, then there are obviously records that remain off limits. It seems nonsensical to argue otherwise. For instance, I am generally not entitled to my parents' medical records, social work case records (if any), counseling records (if any), and so on. You cannot simply generalize about the information to which we are or are not entitled without examining the specific context of the record. A non-redacted original birth certificate? Entitled to it because we are the subject (i.e., the registrant) of the record. Court records? Same issue---we are the subject of the court records and are entitled to those records. My birth mother's personal medical records? Nope, unless there is consent. Same goes for my birth mother's or birth father's or my adoptive parents' counseling records. Or my brother's or aunt's or next door neighbor's. Or legal records involving a lawyer-client relationship between a parent and an attorney. Unless the records do not relate to a recognized confidential relationship that actually existed between the professional and the parent, I'm confused by the notion that we (as adoptees) are entitled to "everything." That doesn't make sense, particularly in the context of demanding equal treatment when compared to others.

    You have to look at the specific repository of the records and the context that surrounds the creation and use of those records. I cannot say "I am an adoptee" and therefore be entitled to anything in which I may be mentioned. Same goes for any adult who wants his or her parents' records, whether that parent is a natural parent or adoptive parent or a guardian or a foster parent. (though when a parent dies, that may change the equation and circumstance, but not always).

    We seem to muck it all up when we talk generically about "records" without examining or identifying the relationship and context that surround those records. Just in my case, there are at least five "repositories" of records: 1) the vital records department; 2) the hospital; 3) the court; 4) the maternity home; and 5) the adoption agency. Access or "entitlement" to these records will typically be different for each of these repositories, and it will depend on varying statutes and, in many cases, the context and relationships surrounding the creation of the record. I'm not saying we should be denied basic records, like an original birth certificate or our court records. But as you move beyond those records to medical records, psychological records, and the like, you have to look carefully at the alleged relationship and whether those records are protected by some recognized privilege--whether attorney-client, physician-patient, social worker-client, etc.

    That said, social work agencies have at times thrown around the word "client" somewhat willy nilly---at times saying everyone in the triad was a "client"--- when in fact no social worker-client relationship actually existed between certain individuals (or, worse, such a relationship would have created a clear conflict). That's when you may have to challenge whether the proffered reason for denying a record is, in fact, actually justified.

    1. @ Gregory,
      thank you for your comment. I agree with everything you say here.
      In my own situation, in 1967 in Cali, I entered into a counseling relationship with an LCSW, who did identify herself as my caseworker, who clearly stated to me that "the counseling between us is protected by the California Mental Health privacy laws, just as it is with any psychological/psychiatric or other therapy patient."
      She also told me that some "descriptive information like physical appearance, education, ethnic background" would be provided to adoptive parents (non-identifying) if my child were to be adopted.
      I was still hoping to find a way to keep my child, and indeed, that was also part of the counseling, although in those days not much was done to help young single mothers.

      When I did ask for help to keep my son, I was denied.

    2. Who is Gaye?

    3. Greg, you are a hero in my eyes. It's adoptees such as you with the tenacity, compassion, and brilliance who will help bring about positive change in the near future. Reading your comments brings me hope and reassurance. Thank you for what you do to help adoptees and also us first mothers. You "get it" and are a bright light leading the way.

    4. Argh. Who is Gregory and why is HE such a "bright light"?

      There are legions of adoptees fighting to correct inequities in current adoption laws and to raise public awareness of the disturbing realities existing in the adoption industry.

      We're ALL trying to bring about positive change. We just don't necessarily all agree on what that means.

  16. Another adoptee voice here. My take is divided between what I think is right as far as law and what is right for me personally. As for the law, I think respecting the privacy of medical records makes sense, they shouldn't be accessible by other parties. Counseling given to prospective parents should also remain private. But I think any savvy prospective parent these days ought to seek counseling separate from adoption services and that such counseling - separate - should be encouraged by adoption agencies, prospective grandparents and any other well-meaning advisor. I don't know what business is it of adoption agencies or the courts whatever the substance of someone's counseling consists of, it is for the benefit of that person alone.

  17. Colorado's new law allowing adult adoptees access to records specifically excludes pre-relinquishment counseling records. This was an important talking point in favor of the argument that the bill struck an appropriate balance between an adoptee's legitimate interest in knowing their past and protecting a birth /first parent's privacy. It also helped quell LCPA fears about lawsuits.

  18. Rich--thanks for adding this comment and clarifying Colorado. If we could have a bill like yours in NY, I would be dancing in the street. Thank you for all you have done for adoptees--and natural mothers!

  19. I am not and will not read all the comments here, but I agree with Jane. After reading the file that the court had on me (which, according to the current Superior Court Judge, can't even remotely be substantiated through the actual records) and the comments in the file that the social worker submitted to force the adoption through the system (conveniently the worker has "retired"), I can see where the adoptive parents thought they were going to have to deal with much more than was real. I believe that accurate medical records, my name, last known address and the OBC are the only things my daughter was or is entitled to. The rest of the stuff was either inaccurate, or, sadly, simply lies and probably created a lot of suffering that was needless. JMHO

  20. I agree with some of the commenter here, like Lori. As an adoptee the only things I feel I was entitled to are my OBC and accurate medical history,that includes any known psychiatric history. I am half lucky. I have my OBC. However I do not have an accurate family medical history, and that is my birth mother's fault (to my face she didn't give me an accurate family medical history), so I doubt she reported an accurate medical history when I was born to the delivering hospital. So this is a right that is unenforceable because as Dr House says people lie. I believe biological parents should be able to obtain the OBC, she or both are also listed on it. They should not have access to the amended birth certificate, they're not listed on it.

  21. Adoptees no longer have the "legal identity" listed on their OBC. The justification for releasing the OBC to adoptees is that it is their birth record, and everyone has a record of birth, with (accurate as much as possible) record of parentage. But, legally, the adopted person has no connection to it and their current "identity" is not listed on it. So, technically the "adoptee" is not listed on the OBC.
    The Amended Birth certificate is a copy of the OBC that is edited to remove the parentage and birth name of the adopted person. Both the adopted person and the birth parents have a "direct connection to the Amended Birth Certificate" because they either (gave birth) to or are the registrant or are related. Although they are not legally related, birth still connects them, just as birth connects the adoptee to the OBC.

    @ Mashka
    how would you establish a "right" to an accurate medical history? I am assuming you are speaking of relatives' medical history. Right now in the US, and in the past, there is no law granting access to relatives' medical histories. For anyone.
    All we can do is ask. It can be given voluntarily, with the caveat that it may not be accurate.
    There is no way to guarantee an accurate diagnosed medical history, no way to force anyone to "collect their relatives' histories" and no way to extract information from people who do not have it because it does not exist.

  22. @kitta
    Just a quick note that I disagree that my identity is not listed or contained within my original birth certificate. It's my original identity, and I carried it forward with me, legal or not. While about a year later I was fitted legally with a different identity (i.e. adopted, with a different name), what is contained on my OBC still remains who I was when I was born. It means a lot to many but not all adoptees that they know and understand that initial identity, whatever that brings to them. For us (and I suspect most people), identity is a very fluid concept, whether that identity is wrapped up or defined by race, gender, adoption, or any other constructed concept. I can understand that the name given to me on my original birth certificate did not remain my "legal" name, but it continues to be very much part of my whole identity, of who I am.

    I also disagree that a birth mother has a direct connection to the amended birth certificate. It is a new identity, constructed out of and from a prior declared identity. Every birth mother should have a right to the original birth certificate with the original identity, though some don't have such unrestricted access. But I don't believe there is a solid legal interest in allowing birth parents to have access to the amended birth certificate. I think for the most part only adoptees can claim interest in both---they are the subject and registrant of both.

    Interestingly, though, in a number of states adoptive parents have discretion to decide whether a new amended birth certificate should even be issued. In that case, where the original remains the only one, it seems everyone should have access.

    1. As a first mom, I would never want to see that delusional amended "birth" certificate. Why don't they just issue an "official certificate of adoption" and have that signed by the A-parents and recognized as an official proof of identification? It's delusional that the A-mother signed an amended certificate that states that SHE gave birth to my son on his birthday. It's like the Holocaust -- all record of me was meant to be wiped away. But you can't wipe away DNA. Everytime the A-parents looked at my son, they saw me. And they knew it. Adoption is really so stupid and so sad.

    2. @anon July 5 1:24
      the courts do issue an adoption certificate. It is called an "Adoption Decree" or "Final Order of Adoption." This is another reason why the Amended version of the OBC is not even necessary at all.
      BTW, I have never heard of an Amother signing the Amended BC. Cannot say it never happened, though. But, I have heard of lawyers having the natural mother give birth under the A-mother's name in the hospital.
      Yes, you are right....DNA is forever....cannot be wiped away!!

  23. Greg,
    when I said that the adoptee was not "listed" on the OBC I was referring to the legal identity of the adoptee. The OBC lists the birth identity of the child, as born to the birth parent(s). Once adopted, with an amended BC, the adoptee no longer has the birth identity. yes, some states allow the OBC to be retained after adoption, but most no longer allow that.
    Without a birth parent to give birth, there would be no OBC to create an amended BC from. The amended BC is not really an entirely new certificate: it is edited. The adoptive parents' names and address are placed where the birth parents names and addresses were. But the birth parents medical data as well as the other birth details and other details tha also belong to the birth parent's history remain the same.
    The adoptee and the birth parent share a common birth history. This remains on the amended birth certificate, in the US, at least much of the time.
    I say this, because I have a copy of my sons' Amended birth certificate and I filled out and signed the Original Birth Certificate, from which it was copied. They are the same, except for the names.
    Birth remains the same, which is really what you said in your message. And that is what I am saying.The connection is a birth connection. Adoptive parents do not give birth.
    Adoptees are born. Birth parents give birth to them, and their birth data is on both certificates. They have a right to both. I believe that all triad members have a right to access both certificates.
    This is in keeping with general birth certificate laws which allow many relatives to access birth certificates.

  24. Yes, yes, Kitta, but identity and connectedness, as Greg explained in his comment, are not solely legal concepts. Let's not forget the importance and value of personal history.

  25. Lisa,
    I was only talking about legal birth identity and connection, and I do have a considerable amount of experience working in records law access/state adoption regulation. I was not disagreeing with what Greg said about personal identity. Obviously, we all have and gain identity and connectedness from many people/relatives both biological and non-biological, but my concern is with access to records in this thread.
    Jane's post is about access to adoption records...that is why I am addressing that.
    Adoptees gain much valuable personal connection from us(their birth mothers) and personal family history when they reunite with us. This is another concept that flows both ways.
    Even birth itself is both a personal and public event, and has been called so by keepers of vital records, judges and lawmakers. Those of us who also work in search/support as I have are well aware of the personal history that adoptees are seeking from their families of origin, and also how identities can be somewhat altered when different information is gained.
    Since you have also been reunited, you surely are well-aware of this.
    Adoptees are just as related to their birth parents as their birth parents are to them. That is what I am saying. The birth family connection never ends, regardless of legalities. And that works both ways.
    What I object to is the argument that the legalities only "work" when they provide special rights for adoptees, such as secrecy for adoptees. Adoptees do not need to be hidden. Adoptive parents do not need to be hidden. Birth parents do not need to be hidden.
    We birth parents have been on the records ever since adoption started. The records used to be fully open. People seem to forget that, but we all could get them in the first part of the 20th century.
    They were sealed because adoptive parents, mainly in Cali and Ny wanted to keep adoption secret, and then there was criminal social worker Georgia Tann stealing babies...
    I found my son in 1989 because of a variety of reasons. He wanted me to find him, and we were lucky enough to reunite for 18 years. But, I don't believe in all of this secrecy, family separation,and related people having to do secret searches for family.
    Relatives should be able to know who their relatives are. It should be a natural part of living for everyone....unless a person has been determined/found to be a genuine threat or has harmed someone and there are laws and procedures to deal with that.

  26. Amended birth certificates must vary by state. Mine only has my name, those of my a parents, the city and state, and the date, and it is all printed on a typewriter. No other birth details or names. Philadelphia, PA.

    1. @Kaisa,
      on a typical birth certificate, the attending physician's name/signature would appear, as would other official names, possibly. The hospital information would be there, as well as your weight, time of birth and other birth details...there is quite a bit of medical information on a full birth certificate, including the results of tests, and whether the child was a twin or single birth,and if there were birth complications. City, state, and county are included where the birth took place....and names and addresses of parents.

      The mother often signs the original birth certificate. Adoptive mothers do not sign, their names are typed in on the amended version.
      It sounds like your amended bc is either what is called a "short form bc" or else it is what is known as a "certificate of birth registration."
      This could mean that there might be a longer form of your amended bc, maintained by the dept of vital records, which would have many more details on it. To get this, you would apply for it with vital records. Lots of people only received their short form or a certificate of birth registration....probably most people, including the non-adopted general public have never seen their full long form birth certificate.

      I didn't find this out until just a few years ago, when I realized that I did not have a copy of my own long-form bc. My father, who was still alive at the time, got 2 copies of my bc and sent one to me.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. The people at the maternity home in which my mother stayed know my father's name. But, the social worker cannot share it with me.

    I would need my mother's permission to obtain the information because they are her records. No, sorry, in this case, I believe I should be privy to that information.

    Some of the information should be hers to share. But, some of it isn't her information.

  28. @Kaisa,
    My friend who worked in Vital Records advised me to get my long form birth certificate when I told her that all I had ever had was my "certificate of birth registration." She told me that under the laws of today,since 9/11, I might need the long form birth certificate, especially if I were to want a passport.
    My "certificate of birth registration"" was very brief like the document you have described. It had my birth name, my parents' names, the birth date, and the city.
    I would check your birth state's vital records website and ask other people in that area who would have information about this, if you still have questions.

  29. Revisiting this older entry since the adoptee community is celebrating Hawaii's new law (Act 80), which apparently opens adoption records to adoptees, adoptive parents, AND birth parents.


  30. @Kaye,
    yes, HB 2082 now signed into law does apparently do just that. This is similar to the law in Oregon that Jane wrote about.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  31. As a first mom, I think everything in the file belongs to me and me alone. Sorry, this is harsh, but I'll explain: The only reason this "forever family" was created was because of ME. Abortion was legal, but I did not pursue it because I was raised Catholic and thought I would go to hell. Out of fear I carried the pregnancy to term. My friends thought I was nuts. My boyfriend had a wallet loaded with dollar bills and was about to drive me to the clinic. But in my Pollyanna-esque mind, I decided to do "the right thing." Well, I sure could have spared myself a lot of pain and humiliation. I made money for the agency, provided an indentured servant to a barren couple, not to mention the grandchildren they now enjoy. (So they got not one, but several family members because of ME!) The fact is, children NEVER have a say as to the circumstances of their birth! Adoptees using that battle cry just baffle me. I was not adopted, but did I have a choice as to my folks, as to my siblings, as to the socioeconomic status I would be raised in, etc.? NO!

    What I went through decades ago was very personal and private -- it was MY business, it was MY body. The file and ALL information in it, even concerning the adoptive parents, belongs to ME, because their "forever family" originated with ME! And I have the right to know everything that is in the file about them, as they received my blood relative. I received NOTHING from them. (Will never thank them, because they never sacrificed. Everything the ever did for my child, they got something for it.)



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