NOVEMBER 2015 ;e Costco Connection 25
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Megan Lestino is director of public policy and education for the National Council for Adoption (NCFA;
NCFA DOESN’T believe
mandatory access to birth
records aligns with a culture that honors every
unique and personal
NCFA works daily to
strengthen the culture of
adoption in the U.S. and around the world. It’s
not a perfect system, but we celebrate that adoption practices have become increasingly open
and less secretive, minimizing any inappropriate
beliefs that adoption should ever be something
to be ashamed of.
A society that accepts and respects the positive practice of adoption should allow all individuals involved—adopted individuals, the birth
family and the adoptive family—to feel accepted
and validated if and when they choose to share
their adoption stories with others and whether
or not they decide to share or seek out more
information about their adoption stories. The
story belongs to those affected—not onlookers.
It is just as important that we respect the less
frequent cases when an adopted individual or
birth family chooses to keep all or part of their
story confidential. A healthy culture of adoption
requires that the parties to an adoption, particu-
larly the adopted person and the birth family,
have the right to choose when, with whom and
how much of their own story is shared. This is
especially true when an expectation of confi-
dentiality will be changed. If confidentiality has
been promised and remains desirable, it should
be within their power to maintain it.
Many parties may choose full, open, direct
communication. When that’s not the case, an
intermediary can help facilitate the sharing of a
variety of information, including updated medi-
cal histories, sociological background informa-
tion or answers to just about any other questions
that may arise. An intermediary can help protect
and honor the wishes of both parties. Mutual
consent offers the fairest of both worlds: keeping
the promise of confidentiality and allowing the
flexibility of openness when agreed upon.
NCFA has never opposed adoption
reunions or information sharing. In fact, we
accept, encourage and educate about the pro-
cess for willing parties. Still, we believe it is cru-
cial to continue to honor and advocate for those
who prefer confidentiality, because speaking on
their own behalf would mean losing the very
confidentiality they seek.
Mutual-consent systems are a compromise
that both offers promise and keeps promises.
We shouldn’t break promises of confidentiality
without first asking the permission of the
adopted people and the birth parents, because
their adoption stories belong to them. C
April Dinwoodie is chief executive at the Donaldson Adoption Institute
adoptioninstitute.org), an independent think tank and research,
policy and education organization.
DAI HAS conducted the
most extensive research
to date on the issue of
adopted adults gaining
access to their original
birth certificates. Our
findings reveal that providing this access does not threaten the integrity
of adoptive families or the institution of adoption; in fact, evidence suggests the opposite.
Secrecy undermines the integrity of adoption, and it can perpetuate shame for all members of the adoption constellation. Although
opponents often argue that first/birth parents
were guaranteed privacy, legal decisions in states
that have restored access have held that there is
no enforceable contractual or statutory guarantee to first/birth parent anonymity from adoptees, nor is there a constitutional right to privacy
protecting first/birth parents’ anonymity from
Further, DAI’s research demonstrates that
the vast majority of first/birth parents do not
wish to remain anonymous, nor do they oppose
adopted adults receiving their own factual birth
certificate. Further, outcomes in states that have
restored the right of adopted adults to access
their original birth certificates have been over-
Best practices in adoption today support the
notion of openness; DAI has found that the
number of “closed” infant adoptions in the U.S.
has shrunk to a tiny minority, with open adop-
tions constituting around 95 percent of place-
ments in recent years. The practice of adoption
has opened based on findings that demonstrate
the damage a closed system has perpetuated for
all members of the adoption constellation. Our
laws now need to reflect both best practices in
adoption and the realities of adoption today.
The basic legal standard in adoption is to
ensure the best interests of the child. In doing so,
it is paramount to consider the entire life span of
the child to be adopted. Practically, adopted per-
sons who lack access to their original informa-
tion are left without potentially lifesaving family
medical history as they mature into adulthood.
They are without basic information surround-
ing cultural and ethnic history. Most impor-
tantly, we are denying this class of people a right
that every other human being currently enjoys:
the right to know the truth of their origins.
Birth certificates are considered a vital
record; it is imperative that we restore to adopted
adults the right to access their own vital information. C