Adoption Myths

What many open records opponents believe about adoptee’s access to birth records is not supported by evidence. Here’s why.

Myth #1: “Mutual Consent Registries like the one we have in Indiana are fair and doing the job.”

Because an adult adoptee still has to obtain permission to see their original birth certificate from their birth/first parent, this law does not address an adoptee’s fundamental civil right to see their birth records. The American Adoption Congress estimates that state registry programs nationally have an average failure rate of 98 percent. The registry is failing in Indiana because:

  • Birth/first parents have to be found first, before they can give permission to release an original birth certificate. By law, this process must take place through a confidential intermediary. There are only a handful of these intermediaries in Indiana—and there is no program for certifying them. The state provides a list of a few independent intermediaries. If the agency that placed the adoptee still exists, they sometimes have their own intermediary on staff, and require that adoptees use them. A few are free but most require a fee that can be several hundred or even a few thousand dollars. This can be prohibitively expensive for many adoptees. We also consider it punitive, as every other citizen in Indiana can walk into their city hall and receive an accurate birth certificate while they wait, usually for $25 or less.
  • Birth parents may be “too hard to find” for many untrained confidential intermediaries, and they give up looking.
  • The actual place or date of birth may be incorrect on an adult adoptee’s “amended” birth certificate that they were given when their identities were changed at their adoption. The confusion over the amended certificate leads to confusion in finding the correct details for the original birth certificate.
  • If the birth and the adoption were in different states, this can also create problems in even being eligible for a registry. If the birth/first parent or the adoptee has moved out of state, the process becomes more complicated, still.

Myth #2: “Birth/First Parents were promised confidentiality and wish to maintain their privacy.”

Most birth/first parents during the 1941 to 1993 period were never given an option to have an open adoption. Standards of the day required birth/first parents relinquishing a child give the child up with the understanding they would not contact the adoptive family or the adoptee. This was done so everyone could “move on” and adoptive families could feel protected from any unwanted contact by the birth/first parents.
Just because a birth/first parent doesn’t search for their child doesn’t mean they do not wish to be contacted.

In fact, when England opened its sealed birth certificates countrywide, a study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering found that 94 percent of non-searching birth/first parents were pleased to be contacted by their relinquished children. Similar results occurred when records were opened in Scotland. Indeed, in all of the 13 states in the US where closed original birth certificates were made available to adult adoptees, there have been no complaints, court cases or restraining orders issued associated with the new laws.

In fact, in legal battles over access across the United States, courts are finding that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed to birth/first parents.

  • “There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parent and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth.” (Federal Register, Model State Adoption Act 1980)
  • “The Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information” (The US Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, Promise Doe, et al., v. the State of Tennessee)
  • “The Oregon legislature did not create “a contract with birth mothers to guarantee them that their identities will not be revealed to their adopted children without their consent.” (Oregon Court of Appeals, Jane Doe v. the State of Oregon, 1999)

Myth #3: “Access to birth certificates will undermine the strength of the adoptive family.”

Every child adopted in Indiana since 1994 now has the right to view his or her original birth certificate in adulthood. The change in the access would only apply to adoptees whose records are now sealed in Indiana: those who were adopted between the years of 1941 and 1993. Adoptees affected are now adults, most with children and even grandchildren of their own. The strength of the bonds with their adoptive families is hardly in question. In fact, adoptive parents adopting today welcome the access to medical information and historical information birth/first parents can provide. They understand that when adoptees know the full story of their background, they develop better emotionally and create stronger bonds with their adoptive families.

The evidence in other states where open access has passed also shows widespread support for the measure among adoptive parents.

  • “84 percent of adoptive parents support adult adoptee’s access to their own birth certificates.” –“Cornell University/NY Citizens Coalition for Children survey”, 1995.
  • “97 percent of adoptees said that meeting their birth parents had not changed the way they felt about their adoptive parents.” –“The Adoption Triangle Revisited: a study of adoption search and reunion experiences”, The British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 2005.
  • ”98 percent of New Jersey residents with an adopted family member feel that access to birth family information is important.” Monmouth University Polling Institute, 2006.

Myth #4: “Passing this law will mean that a flood of adoptees will be showing up on their birth/first parent’s door, unannounced.”

Evidence from states where access has been granted proves this so-called “nightmare scenario” simply doesn’t happen. In fact, in states where adult adoptees can access their original birth certificates, an average of only between 3 and 10 percent of adult adoptees request their original birth certificate. And even among this group, only a minority take the fateful step to seek a meeting with a birth parent.

HEAR supports the idea of confidential intermediaries, understanding that they can be very useful to adoptees who can afford it and who do not wish to contact their birth parents themselves. However, we do not feel using a confidential intermediary, or asking anyone’s permission, should be required for adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate, or to mount a search for that birth/first parent on their own.

Those adopted after 1994 in Indiana have the fundamental right to view their original birth certificates with no conditions. All we are asking for is that those adopted in Indiana between 1941 and 1993 have the same right — full and equal access to the essential facts about their origins.