JOINT PUBLIC HEARING
SEALED ADOPTION RECORDS AND THE
SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
April 28, 1976
Hearing Room A
Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York
THE TEMPORARY STATE
THE ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEE
ON CHILD WELFARE ON CHILD CARE
SENATOR JOSEPH R. PISANI ASSEMBLYMAN RICHARD N. GOTTFRIED
The original microfilm of the typewritten transcript available at the Legislative Library in Albany, New York did not contain the following index. It is unique to this electronic edition of this text.
Prefatory notes by the editor i
Introduction by Senator Pisani and Assemblyman Gottfried 1
Testimony of Carol Possin, President, New York State Citizens Coalition for Children 5
Testimony of Mrs. Dorothy Dooley, New York Foundling Hospital 11
Testimony of Mrs. Marilyn Maul, Adoptee 16
Testimony of Ms. Aphrodite Clamar, Psychologist, Adoptee 28
Testimony of Mrs. Doris Bertocci, Clincical Social Worker, Adoptee 40
Testimony of Gertrude Mainzer, Esq. 53
Testimony of Dennis Lynch, Adoption Coordinator, Saint Dominics Home 66
Testimony of Ms. Lorraine Dusky, Editor, Free Lance Writer, Natural Mother 74
Testimony of Ms. Betty Jean Lifton, Author, Playright, Adoptee 78
Testimony of Larry Dunsker, Adoptee 89
Testimony of Ms. Vincenette S. Scheppler, MSW, Adoptive Parent 92
Testimony of Ms. Carol Rettig, Adoptee 97
Testimony of David Martin, Adoptee 99
Testimony of Shad Polier, Esq., Counsel to Louise Wise Services 102
Testimony of Ms. Danielle Degolier, Adoptee 126
Testimony of Ms. Naomi J. Roepe, Natural Mother, Adoptee 135
Testimony of Esther Golove, Adoptee 138
Testimony of Ben Bruso, Adoptee 141
Testimony of Ms. Ruth Mitchell, New York Council on Adoptable Children, Adoptee 144
Testimony of Thomas Regan, Albany Home for Children 147
Testimony of Richard F. Mastronarde, Child and Family Services 150
Conclusion by Senator Pisani and Assemblyman Gottfried153
Senator Lewis Adoptee Rights Bill 155
Sealed Adoption Records 156
Prefatory Notes by the Editor of this Electronic Edition
Spelling errors in the original have been corrected, but there may be minor typos in this edition which have yet to be corrected. The pagination corresponds to the original (the original having been double spaced).
In addition to Pisani and Gottfried, hosting the hearing were three members of the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare: Vincent A. Riccio, Rev. John T. Fagan, and Mrs. Margaret K. Glass. State Senator Albert B. Lewis, Democrat of Brooklyn also was a host, being a sponsor of a then-current adoptee rights bill. This hearing was reported on in Ronald Smothers, Albany Hearings Assess Adopted Persons Rights,N.Y. TIMES April 29, 1976, A 43:1-2.
Many thanks to Assemblyman Gottfrieds office for locating a copy of this hearing at the Legislative Library.
I am here as Chairman of the Temporary
State Commission on Child Welfare. I am here with my
colleague, Assemblyman Gottfried from the Assembly, who is
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Child Care.
We are holding a public hearing today on the question of sealed adoption records and the search for identity. It is a subject which I believe is being formally inquired into by the Legislature for the first time, although there have been some proposals introduced in the Legislature - one that I recall, introduced last year by Senator Lewis, who is here now. For the first time, I think, in the history of this State, the Legislature is being called upon to address itself to this very important and very delicate issue of whether or not adoption records, up to this point sealed by order of the court, should be made available to adoptees.
Now, under the existing law, of course, the adoption records are opened by order of the court and only by order of the court. I would say, generally speaking, there is no specific pronouncement in the law that an adoptee is precluded from learning what is in the adoption records. However, by implication, since there are specific provisions prohibiting the disclosure of information in the adoption records, that, implicitly, means that neither the adoptee nor anyone else will be able to obtain this information unless the court has granted an order to open the records.
There is a growing tendency on the part of adoptees, I would say, that has come to the fore more this year than it has ever before to seek these records as a matter of rights. There are 2.
some authorities in the law who have indicated that perhaps there is a constitutional right on the part of every adoptee to look at his adoption records in order to ascertain for himself to his or her satisfaction all information that is available relative to their heritage - their blood heritage.
I must say that the Legislature has not considered any legislation in this area as of this moment in terms of debate. However, there are a number of proposals that I understand are under review and will be submitted to the Legislature for consideration, and we think that it is propitious at this time to give the public an opportunity to express themselves from the standpoint of the three parties involved: From the standpoint of the adopted child; from the standpoint of the adoptive parents; and from the standpoint of the biological parent or parents. And, of course, agencies, voluntary adoption agencies, child care agencies and adoption agencies that have been working in the field for many years - their views would also be of interest to us, particularly in light of the new programs that have been initiated in some of the agencies to try and cope with this problem. It is one of the most sensitive, one of the most delicate problems that I, as a Legislator, has ever had to confront. We are dealing - particularly retrospectively - with the surrender of children that perhaps may have taken place twenty or thirty years ago and has, to all practical purposes, removed from the mind of the natural or biological parent, and the stark reality of a confrontation that was never anticipated resulting - if, perchance, the Legislature allows the opening of records on the part of all adoptees as a matter of right. 3.
I think that we have to proceed cautiously, but we have to come to grips with this problem and find out what the legal parameters are, and what the social and moral parameters are. I am very pleased that Assemblyman Gottfried has joined with us and that we have joined with him in a bi-partisan and dual-house inquiry into this very important issue.
I am Chairman of the Standing Committee on Child Care of the Assembly. Earlier this year, as we began looking into this issue, we found that the Temporary State Commission was, at the same time, doing a similar study, and todays joint hearing is an outgrowth of that.
Let me just say at the outset that I think we are all here very sensitive to the competing values and concerns that are at stake here. On one hand, the adopted child, who may have a very strong and legitimate desire to know what his or her background and identity is. On the other hand, I think we all appreciate that there is a legitimate concern on the part of a natural parent who may have placed the child for adoption on what was at that time the legal, valid understanding that he or she was cutting off all contact with that child forever. And, likewise, a similar feeling on the part of the adoptive parents that when they adopted that child they were taking on that child, similarly, forever, and that all contact and knowledge, etc., of the natural parent would be terminated.
And I think that there is some question raised as to whether natural and adoptive parents would participate in those proceedings
if they did not have that feeling of finality. That, certainly, is one of the issues that we will be concerned with today; as well as being interested in knowing the experiences that people have had in this kind of reunion where they have taken place. I think that we would be particularly interested in knowing what the legal experiences have been in New York State, how this has worked in the courts; and, secondly, what the personal situation has been either where that reunion has been accomplished, or where it has not been.
We would also be interested in suggestions - practical suggestions - as to, legislatively, what we might do in this area. Some of the issues are whether any legislation should apply to previous adoptions, or only to subsequent adoptions after the law is enacted; whether there might be some intermediary in the process created by the Legislature, or whatever.
CAROL POSSIN, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK STATE CITIZENS COALITION FOR CHILDREN Mrs. Possin:
I represent the New York State
Citizens Coalition for Children, a statewide Coalition of
adoptive parent groups. We considered the issue of open
records at a meeting of our representatives last week. We
found mild dissent among adoptive parents about whether adoption
records should be open, and we agreed on the following points:
* The issue of open records is of minor importance in comparison with the real problem in adoption, namely that over 16, 000 New York State children in public care should be adopted, projecting from the State Board of Social Welfares estimates for New York City children. But this state spends about $300, 000, 000 on foster care and only 1% of that figure on adoption services. The major problems in adoption are the financial and other barriers that keep children out of secure, permanent homes.
* We are not opposed to our childrens contact with biological parents. Many children are adopted at school age, and they have memories of biological parents that cannot be denied.
* Adoption records must not be open to the public.
* Adoption records should not be open to the adoptee until age 18. A young child may be disturbed by problems related therein.
* After age 18 adoption records should be open to the adoptee upon his demand, but these records should not reveal
the identity of the biological mother unless she consents or is dead. True, the adoptee has a right to his identity. However, anonymity is also within the biological mothers right and in the childs best interests. Because knowing that agency and court records will be open to the child, the mother might choose the only way to remain anonymous, i. e. abandon her child.
* The adoptee should know more about his biological parents than he knows now. Information should be made available to adoptive parents before placement of the child with them. The state should develop regulations and forms requiring that agencies give adoptive parents for their children all possible information relating to the nationality, physical traits, and medical and social history of the childs biological parents. Such information forms are currently being tried by Monroe County. For further information, contact Lynda Bailey, Council of Adoptive Parents, 35 Bittersweet Road, Fairport, N. Y.
* The issue of open records is sensitive, requiring more thought and discussion. But, again, it is not a priority issue.
It strikes me that your primary focus seems to be on the rights of the adults involved, or on biological and adoptive parents. Do you think that an adopted child has a legal right, regardless of the biological parents consent, to know who his or her biological parents are?
I think that there is a right there, but its conflicting with somebody elses right to privacy. I tried to indicate, but perhaps not too clearly in this testimony, its more than a question of rights. Its a question of practical safety for the children. Now, we have no research to prove or disprove this question in our minds. But, what would happen if you were a biological mother and you have a baby that you do not want to keep? You honestly do not want any further contact with that child in later life. You do not want to feel that eighteen years from now that childs going to walk through your door. What will you do with that child? If any agency involved is going to reveal your identity later on, it seems to me the only route is some kind of a private placement arrangement, or abandoning that child along the roadside.
I dont mean to be sensational about this and to imply that this is going to happen in a thousand cases, but the life of one child is worthy of consideration in this matter. I didnt mean to overemphasize the rights of adoptive parents, either, Assemblyman Gottfried; I dont think I called upon that in any point here. Weve hardly discussed the rights of adoptive parents. We are concerned about the rights of the children to know as much as they can and need to know about their parents in all these areas of medical,
physical traits, social history of the parents - they should know all that.
Do you have any position in the case of a natural parent who gives up two or three children for adoption - the children are adopted by three different adoptive parents; and the children, adults now, would like to contact, not necessarily their parents, but their brothers and sisters who were given up for adoption? This is a case that I know of at the present time.
Oh, yes; I have cases like that, too.
Two sisters would like to find a sister and a brother that they grew up with until they were three or four years old and they cant find them Would you have any objection to that type of record being made available?
This was not brought up at our meeting, but I cant imagine that our group would be opposed to that. And my personal opinion is that information should be made available to the adopted child.
I believe that part of the problem that you see and I can understand is a problem would be a child, possibly born out of wedlock, who now, as an adult, wants to go back and find his mother - maybe for a reason that he might have - his hostility - to bring out in his confrontation, or for some other genuine reason; and this mother moved on and she has established herself and whatever she had is now behind her. You can see, and I can very well
see, that that power might be a power that could be abused under certain circumstances. Do you that that [sic] in drawing a bill - if a bill should be drawn and proposed and becomes the law - that we could provide a surrogate or a judge to hear the reason for the childs desire to find his parent, and also for the judge to bring that parent before him in a closed, x party hearing to find out whether or not there are reasons - and good reasons - why the parent should refuse? Do you think that we could put that in a bill and leave it to the discretion of the judge as to what is the best interest of the parent and the child?
Well, I would have to think about that. But, offhand, I would say that there would be very few reasons in my mind why that child should know who that parent is. Its simply, in most cases, just the opinion, the decision, the personal feeling of of [sic] the parent involved. What good would it do to force a reunion if the biological parent does not want it? It would not do the child any good. I can think there would be no relationship growing out of it. Wouldnt it perhaps be a better system where we had some mechanism to determine the consent of the biological parent. And, if that is there, then allow the meeting to take place by itself.
That was the next question. The mechanism of contacting the mother and, in fact, it might very well be the case that fifteen, sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one years later, or whenever the application is made, that the availability of her whereabouts would not be readily available. Supposing that they cant find
the biological parent, or the court or whoever made the search did not make it as carefully as someone having received the consent, since the biological mother is not able to be contacted, and now finds the biological mother. Do you have any ideas or thoughts on that procedure?
I recognize that no one is going to search as hard as the adoptee himself. I think we have to all recognize that. We can give that task to a court, to the agency who handled the adoption in the first place, to some kind of listing service that matches biological parents and the children that they gave up, whatever. But I know that nobody is going to search as much as the adoptee and that is a serious problem we have to face. However, that idea of allowing the adoptee to do the searching conflicts with the other idea that we must allow the biological parent to consent.
I think that one thing you can do very simply is, upon surrender to the agency, allow it to be a matter of record that the parent would allow or would be open to having his real identity released to the child upon the age of majority. That would probably cover a large number of the cases already.
Now, the other category, where there is no consent, we have to allow for some way to have the parent change his mind if he wants to. Whether it is the agency doing the contacting or the court. The decision has to be made.
MRS. DOROTHY DOOLEY, NEW YORK FOUNDLING HOSPITAL Mrs. Dooley:
Because of the growing climate and the great need expressed by adult persons who were adopted, for the last year at our agency, which is the New York Foundling Hospital, we have instituted a policy of entertaining any request from a returning adoptee, and ourselves being willing to enter into the search to find the parents, or at times, the siblings. We had just over one hundred such instances this past year. Many of them were not searching to look at the parents, really, but were searching for more information, which we readily gave, never, however, revealing identity, (name or whereabouts).
We, ourselves, have entered upon the search to find the natural mother, to ask her if she would be willing and ready to meet her adopted child. And, if she were, we would be ready to act in whatever liaison capacity either one of them would wish. We were not able to find all; we found maybe about half of those we were seeking. There were some very beautiful reunions, which had a great deal of emotional component, you may be sure. There were some that were sterile; they met and they left. But thats all they wanted, and life is, after all, like that - not everything according to pattern.
I know that it is a costly thing and it is time-consuming, but we felt that in the interest of humanity that we should do this. We truly understand that there is here being presented, truly, a conflict of interest. Especially, we feel the mother has the right to her privacy, but we also feel that the returning child - the returning adopted person - has rights also, to know, and I do not know the resolution to that conflict. I also know
that there are many complexities to it because in searching for a mother who wishes not to be known:
(1) This was thirty or forty years ago;
(2) She has changed addresses many times;
(3) She is, perhaps, married and has a different name.
In addition, we are dealing with, I will tell you, a very delicate and difficult thing and it must be handled with great delicacy. One does not wish to contact anyone with whom she is presently associated, who might not have know about the existence of this child. And so, it is not a simple matter to do this.
Where do you get your information about the biological mother? Do you get it from your own files, or do you make a petition to the court?
We have our own files which are in closed records, but which, at our discretion, may be referred to.
Have you ever engaged in an application to the court to open records?
This is done pretty much on the basis of an in-house operation, then?
Yes. We feel that the mother gave us her confidence and so we go back to her again and say are you willing to break that confidence, do you wish to reveal this?
Are they satisfied to know that their background is such and such, that their father was a carpenter, information like that?
Yes. About half who came back were seeking information, not a meeting. However, many who just came for information, when they realized we would be willing to arrange a meeting, then went on to that. I might say in reference to the last speaker - it is the policy of our agency and I know of many other adoption agencies to supply complete - absolutely complete - medical records, as well as such information as at all possible to the adopting parents at the time of adoption.
Is this in writing - the medical records?
Yes, and often the medical records too, but, whatever.
Its all in writing?
It can be. In fact, we believe it should be, and where it isnt, I think it should be put into writing.
In your experience, were any of those meetings destructive, for either party?
I know you said some were sterile; some were very cold, I
guess thats what you meant. Would you say that any of the meetings were destructive, in that it caused damage to them?
No, not that I know of. After...we frequently arrange for meetings, and we dont continue then, always, with them. However, I think that all adoptive parents should be comforted. It has been almost 100% that when we would hear from these persons later that they were very quick to tell us that having met this natural parent whom they had fantasized, perhaps, about for a long time, they really knew that it was their adoptive parents who were their real parents.
You would say that usually those meetings were positive - that they were helpful?
Oh, yes; I am sure they were. In fact, they ended a life-long search for many of them. We have had persons sixty years old coming back with tears in their eyes thinking that now perhaps there is a possibility of finding out more and possibly meet them.
You mentioned that these searches were fairly costly. Can you make any kind of rough estimate of what that would be?
Well, every case varies, of course. But there was one case recently that I happened to be concerned about myself, and the only address we had for this woman was Oklahoma. But we did know that she had lived with an uncle when she was here in New York, and her uncle had written a book, and what is more, he worked on a newspaper.
This meant going down to the Public Library and looking through all of their archives and finally finding this newspaper that had folded, by the way. But we managed to get to its officers and were able to locate the uncle, who was able to put us in touch with the girl in Oklahoma. So, if its that kind of thing, its time, and long-distance telephone calls, and all of this. At the same time, trying to preserve everyones right to privacy.
MRS. MARILYN MAUL, ADOPTEE Mrs. Maul:
While growing up as a child and being
adopted at the age of eleven, I must say that I never felt
adopted. I probably never knew what the word meant.
Now as an adult thirty-seven years old, I am beginning to feel
adopted. I dont think any fault of my own, only in
the eyes of others that dont believe I have the right to
know my biological family and all that goes with it.
I suppose never having lived as an adopted child, one can not identify with the problems which occur in their lives. The need to know of ones origin is difficult to explain to an outsider. I find that the people who have known me all of my life, cannot understand why all of a sudden I need to know.
I suppose in my own mind, I didnt realize how much I actually though about not knowing my biological parents.
During my four pregnancies, the thought was brought to light as I was answering the medical histories of my mother and father. Of course, they needed the medical histories of my husbands parents too. This annoyed me to the point of almost feeling apologetic for not having the information they were seeking. All I could answer to their inquiries was that I was an adopted child. Therefore, I had never known any history of my parents medical background. They would in turn answer oh as if they thought that was a pity.
They never went further into the questioning, simply marked none in the blanks provided.
Three of my children had physical difficulties which required hospitalization. Here again, I could not be of any help. For all we knew, their illnesses could have been in the family blood line. I would never know!
In the meantime, these thoughts began to play on my mind. In all their lifetime, they could carry with them a line of uninformed heritages. This really began to upset me to the point that I found it difficult to discuss this with anyone - even my husband. He had come from a biological family and had their histories to follow him through his life. I dont know, perhaps some of my concern was jealousy, I may never know.
This I do know. Two years ago I began having physical difficulties. My doctor couldnt actually relate it to any specific origin. I did have surgery. Some people felt my problems, as they were, had to be connected to the surgery. As it was explained, some women go through this after a hysterectomy. Well, I accepted it for a time and did what I could to get myself feeling better. I would have periods of low depression. I could barely keep my head above it. I visited my doctor again. He said this depression was actually a medical problem which could be helped with medication. He also said that I should not let it get the best of me.
Well, it did. The pains in my legs and fingers were real to me. I had dizzy spells I could not understand. I was not sleeping nights, but taking daily naps which lasted up to two hours. I felt that I could not go on like this. Was this all physical or could it be psychological? My faith in God did not reveal all this to me. Again, I asked my doctor what could be done. During his questioning, he did not stop at my life, but continued into the health of my parents. This was the breaking point! I could no longer hide what Id carried all these years. When he wanted medical history, I told him that I didnt know nor did I ever know for I was adopted. This didnt seem to phase him in the least. He just didnt understand what the reason was that there wasnt any medical history for them. He suggested that having this on my mid all these years and not actually talking it out, created many of my problems. I didnt know who, where or what was involved in my life. He said that I should pursue the idea of finding my medical records with the help of my lawyer. He continued me on the medication until we saw what became of the situation. I went home with a flicker of hope. Now the rest was up to me. Could I begin to search for my family and was I able to take the pressures which would be felt from the beginning to the end.
I had seen two T. V. shows on adoption and read several articles in the newspapers. None of these resources stated positive thoughts about ones search. They merely pointed out the difficulties one encounters while searching. I prayed if God wanted me to know what was in my past, He would help me through. He would open and close the necessary doors.
First of all, I had to ask my adoptive father if he would permit me to look into my past. He agreed. I began and his sister helped in as much as she had foster children in her home years ago and had a paper with the letterhead of the agency from which I was adopted. With the knowledge of having known my mothers first name, maiden name and married name, I contacted my lawyer to see if he would help me. He said he would have to check the laws on the subject and would get back to me. I waited. In the meantime, I got out a baptismal certificate that I have always had. I asked my father if he knew my biological mother as all the information on the certificate would have had to come from her. He knew nothing that would help me.
My lawyer called. He asked me to get an agreement in writing from my dad. Also, a letter was necessary from my doctor stating my present physical condition and psychological state of mind, and his reason for my needing this information. This was all done and forwarded to my lawyer.
It seemed like weeks had gone by before I heard from him again. Waiting for this call created an unusual amount of stress and anxiety. He did call and would now try to get a court order which would open my adoption records for me to check out the medical history I needed to know. Some weeks passed again before the copy of the signed court order came in the mail. Now my lawyer said we should call and make an appointment to go to City Hall and view the records. We did. The following week, we made the appointment to go downtown, meet with the lawyer and view what was in the records - if anything.
This trip made me feel somewhat guilty. I dont know why either. This was information about me. Why should I not be allowed to see it. Morally and legally I should be allowed to know of my medical history.
We met in City Hall. My lawyer found the girl with the keys to the records room. She and only she could get them out for us. We went down the stairs and entered a room. I noted rows and rows of files and a dingy smell in the room. It sort of scared me. there were two table in this room which we sat at. A gentleman was sitting at one table reading some sort of records. My lawyer gave the girl my file number and she began to look for it with the help of a man, who I though by the way he was dressed was a custodian. Evidently, he was a legal person hired to open the files when needed. He was the one to break the seal. My lawyer paid a dollar for the seal and then was
given a receipt. He was now responsible for those documents.
We sat down and he began to finger the papers. I wanted to hold them myself because they were about me. He continued to hold the papers and made no effort to give them to me for inspection. He said I could take notes If I wished as I would probably never see them again. He began to read aloud. At his point, I wondered why there wasnt a chamber where we could read aloud all these personal papers, without the ears of complete strangers listening in the same area. After reading the legal jargon that I could not fully understand he got to the parts that were of interest to me. He read the things of my adoptive family as to why they wanted to adopt me and things of my adoptive family as to why they wanted to adopt me and things about their personalities which really didnt interest me now. Also, he read they previously adopted a son, I had grown up thinking he was their biological son. There was some information as to their hobbies and lifestyle, religion and so forth. This really didnt matter to me now. I wanted him to come to the information about my biological mother and father. After several sheets of information were read he finally came to me....where I was born and how. I assumed that with my mothers and fathers last name being the same, I was their child. But, for the first time, I was about to hear it wasnt that way. In front of my husband, my lawyer, and this other unidentified man. I found that my father was not the man named on my baptismal certificate.
In fact, my mother was not married to my father when she had me. It was an affair that resulted in my birth. After reading this, my lawyer seemed somewhat embarrassed as he too believed I was legitimate. My husband never said a word. The lawyer continued and I found that my mothers first husband died. She lead a promiscuous life thereafter. My fathers name was listed. It suddenly revealed, why I had always felt I had Italian blood in me. My father was very much Italian. We also found there was a second marriage for my mother. Her reason given for not keeping me was that she wasnt interested in me as much as her other children. This hurt me tremendously! But I couldnt let it show there in front of everyone. Basically, through this whole thing I found no medical history. At this time, the file was handed to the man and he stated that he would take care of it. Could there be a possibility that other people might happen to have glanced or actually read any of this information without us knowing, before they resealed this envelope? In future instances, what could be done to insure the privacy which an adoptee is entitled to while viewing his or her personal adoption records.
While we were leaving the building I asked my lawyer where do we go from here. At this time, he offered a suggestion to me to leave my fathers name out of the search. Go home and start calling people with the same last name as stated on your baptismal certificate.
After careful consideration my husband told me to think of what a phone call to a 70-year-old woman might do to her after all these years. With there being no other alternative, I simply picked up the phone and started calling. I made several phone calls before I came to a person that felt a cousin could help me if Id call her. In doing so, I found that her mother and mine were sisters. After talking with her, she suggested that she call my mother first and let her know that I would like to be in touch with her specifically for medical and genetic background information. I waited a day and a half and decided to call her again to see why they had not been in touch with me, or to tell me what my mothers reaction was to my wanting to talk to her. My cousin told me that my mother was stunned and could hardly believe it! She couldnt figure out how I found her after all these years. I then told her that I would call my mother myself. I made several attempt to get through to her. When she finally answered the phone, I said, hello, this is Marilyn. She said this was a bad time for her to talk, call me later. I finally reached her very late in the evening. She was very nice to me, and acted as if we had never been separated. We exchanged small talk about the families. I then got to the point and asked her about the medical history I needed for so many years. She was surprised at this question and sorry for the inconvenience of not providing this.
I was then given the basic medical information-that she was diabetic, had heart problems and arthritis of the hands and knees. Nothing more! During the course of the conversation she mentioned that there were brothers and sisters, and step-brothers and step-sisters which I had not known about, nor they about me! She then asked if she could have time to think. I was at this point so thrilled to be speaking to the woman who gave birth to me, that I agreed to give her this needed time to get it all together.
Reviewing this entire experience, I have often wondered if I were 18 years old, unmarried, with no basic responsibility only to myself, could I have psychologically, and emotionally accepted and handled the tremendous impact on my life of finding out that:
1. I was illegitimate
2. I has my fathers legal name
3. To be able to talk to the woman who gave birth to me.
4. To find that I had brothers and sisters
5. To realize that I still had a very sketchy medical history.
Actually, what is the proper age to look into such records? Who can actually handle these things? Do we need the help of a Social Worker? Who is to prove the age of accountability.
What is the answer?
I found out I have a large family - unbelievably. In all, there are about eighteen people; either half brothers and sisters, full brothers and sisters, or step brothers and sisters because of a second marriage. The relationships with my brothers have grown. This is unreal. I grew up in a home with three adopted children, all boys, and I was the only girl. And I never knew those boys as brothers, they all came from different crops. They went their ways, there was a ten, fifteen and twenty year difference in our ages, so we couldnt identify as a real, blood-related family would identify. Here I was, then, with brothers and sisters that were mine.
I think the next point I would make is that my brother to me has been so beautiful; and as I am meeting them, I have met three in the flesh, one sister in the flesh, two out-of-state on the telephone, and I have started to meet some of their children. In immediate response, they look at me like they are seeing a ghost. Not because I am coming out of the past. But because I had lived with them, and grown up with them in an almost identical sister. I could even, in my heart, feel I might be a twin. Its a feeling I have had all my life, and I cant explain it. But at this point they showed me a picture of her, and it was like looking at myself. And it was the most eerie feeling I think that I have ever had in this world.
Ironically, through this whole thing, everything is so secretive, you cant open the records unless you do it properly, etc. I tried to do everything legally as much as I could. It turned out to be a real good lier, but Im not lying to you now.
Also, why cant I have my birth certificate? Its surrendered
in Albany, locked up, never to be seen by anyone, when I got all of those purely confidential records - highly secretive - and felt guilty doing it. But now I cant get my birth certificate, that might possibly identify me as a twin sister. And I cant get that birth certificate. I get a lovely form letter telling me that they have no record of my name. They gave me the surrendered one from my adoptive parents, but I still have not seen my original birth certificate. And until I die I am going to want to see it to see if I have a twin sister, or if theres any knowledge of it.
At this point in my life, also, of doing this, I was very much alone except for two friends, Betty Jean Lifton and Anna Fisher. I identified with them both, we laughed and we cried; they were my soul and kept me together. And with my faith in those two books, I got through this. After thinking about it, I am very selfish. If there are any other persons in the Buffalo area doing this, Ive got to get to know the, I called Albany Research Center, and I started a club. Its called AIM - (Always In Me). There was no way it was going to go out of my mind. I have to help others, if only psychologically, to get through this. And my input of faith might help them. They might never come up with the jackpot I came up with. And Im not necessarily saying its going to be a totally happy ending. I know somewhere along the line some of these brothers and sisters in my family are bummers, and were going to have to identify with each other and accept whatevers there because were families now. But my reunion has been beautiful. Its not like Im seeing strangers. Its like Im seeing a part of me and I feel so comfortable, and so good, and so warm, that I know
God has blessed me. And its just the most beautiful feeling in the world.
I have a brother flying in from California just to see me, because he has to see me and touch me. He has lived with a guilt feeling surrounding my death for forty-eight years. It just broke my heart for him; at forty-eight, hes crying and telling me why he cant believe Im alive.
I will say that I did not have the breakdown; I think that I have gotten my cool now, and I know that through my life God has destined this for me because every person that I have been intimately, quite socially associated with has been involved in some way in the realm of adoption. I can point to every one of my friends and tell you what connection they have had with adoption. Now I can call on these people and their lives and on my life to help these youngsters that are also looking, and who are in the same shoes Im in.
In terms of your birth certificate, a petition on the part of all the parties concerned should result in a court order. In other words, if you and your biological mother join in a petition I see no reason why a court should not open up that birth certificate.
If its a court order, I can try, but I doubt very much if shell let me go that far, for reasons that I cant say.
MS. APHRODITE CLAMAR, PSYCHOLOGIST, ADOPTEE My testimony to the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare reflects both my professional and personal experiences with adoption and the issue of the genealogical search.
My training is as a psychologist. Presently I am on the faculty of a well-known New York City medical school, where I am assigned to its affiliation hospital as the director of a psychiatric treatment program for court-related children. In addition, I am in private practice as a psychotherapist. In my practice, I have treated a number of adolescent and adult adoptees who are seeking their roots and identities. And, most important, I am myself an adoptee, having been adopted at the age of 18 months by a couple who lived in Massachusetts.
In my opinion, adoption has proved an effective method for providing a home for children who, for one reason or another, must separate from the natural parents. But, even as it provides a home and material care, the adoptive status causes the child a degree of emotional stress not found in children living with their natural parent(s).
The most severe of these stresses is in the area of self-development (ego) and self-identity. Perhaps the most helpful tool in coping with life is our knowledge of ourselves as individuals with the roots of our past and the promise of our future. It is difficult enough to determine who and what you are even if you are raised with your natural family. Imagine what
it is like to live in limbo - not to know your roots, not to know the source for your idiosyncrasies, not to know of the genes you carry, not to know your ethnic, cultural and, sometimes, racial origins. To wit, not to know all the details of your life that the non-adopted would take for granted as its due.
How then do you persuade the adopted child that you value him for who and what he is when you dont want him to know anything about himself? How do you persuade a child that he is loved when you refuse to acknowledge his past and confirm his heredity? Surely not by hiding his adoption records and pretending his existence began at the moment of adoption. His existence began at the moment of conception - in utero - and, surely, should he so desire, he has a right to know where he comes from.
I have come to this hearing to testify, both in support of and against the bill proposed by the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare under the Chairmanship of State Senator Joseph R. Pisani. I support that part of the bill which would open up Health Department records, court records and agency records to adopted persons following their eighteenth birthday. At the same time, however, I wish to speak out as strongly as I can against limiting access to adoption records to those whose adoptions take place subsequent to the passage of this law. To deny access to those whose adoption took place before the enactment of this law is to arbitrarily create two classes of citizens. If the law is just and valid, its benefits should be extended not only to new adoptees but to those who have until now been barred from learning about who their forebears are. It is neither logical nor fair to establish, through the provisions of this proposal two classes of adoptees -- those who may know and those who may not.
I respectfully urge the members of this committee to enact the major reform of this proposal giving adoptees the right of access to their sealed records, to all adoptees -- past and future -- in this state.
I am aware of the reasons for the provisions in the proposal under which past adoptees would not be given access to their records. There was always an assumed or implied pledge of confidentiality given both to the adopting parents and to the surrendering parent(s). Even in those cases where the surrendering parent formally agreed not to seek out the child she was giving up for adoption, there was never any written restriction against the right of the child to seek his natural parent. The only restriction was the sealing of the record. I think the members of this committee should be aware of the results of recent studies of adopted children who have sought out their natural parents. In a study entitled Adoptive Parents and the Sealed Record Controversy, published in the November 1974 issue of Social Casework1 , Annette Baran, Reuben Pannor, and Arthur D. Sorosky conclude:
The premise that has governed the philosophy and practice of adoption has been that the relinquishment of the child by his natural parents permanently severs all ties betwen [sic] the child and his natural parents. Although the present standards of anonymity were developed as a safeguard to all of the people involved in adoption....for many reasons these standards have been the cause of insoluble problems. ...Adoption agencies must recognize that the aura of secrecy has been more of a burden than a protection to adoptive parents. For example, adoption agencies have insisted that adoptees be told early and clearly about their adoption, yet little help has been provided to adoptive parents in dealing with the complicated feeling arising out of their adoptees dual identity. They have not been educated to understand and to disassociate themselves from their childs genealogical concerns and curiosity. Open access to information and the enabling of the adoptee to consider contact with his natural parents at maturity would create a more wholesome environment for parents and child.
The same authors, writing on The Psychological Effects of the Sealed Record on Adoptive Parents, published in The World Journal of Psychosynthesis, November-December, 1975, deal directly with the question before us at this hearing.
As we studied dozens of reunions, one paramount thread ran through the fabric of these human dramas. Regardless of what kind of relationship, positive or negative, that had existed between the adoptee and adoptive parents prior to the reunion, the effect of the reunion was to enhance that relationship.
Even when the reunion resulted in an on-going relationship between the adoptee and birth parents the feelings of the adoptees toward their adoptive parents was more concretely positive and assumed a new meaning. What emerged was the realization that the adoptive parents are the only true psychological parents and that the lifelong relationship with them is of far greater importance than the new connection with the birth parents.
As a result of the reunion, in a significant number of the cases, a better and closer relationship developed between the adoptee and the adoptive parents.
I should like also to call to the Committees attention the statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adoptions and Identity Development of Adopted Children (published in Pediatrics, May 1971). That statement declared in part:
There is ample evidence that the adopted child retains the need for seeking his ancestry for a long time. Adopted children frequently make a request to their parents or pediatrician for more information on their origin. When invited to the adoption agency for additional information, the individual may fail to go and may reveal his confusion and inconsistency by making the same request at a later date. What he is actually seeking is to achieve a unity and persistence of personality in spite of the break in the continuity of his life. The struggle with this problem may reach its peak in adolescence and, in the extreme, result in running away in search of real parents.
The need for knowledge of ancestry may go
unrecognized, or it may be suppressed by both the parents and the
child. Parents should discuss with the child aspects of his
background. An honest and straightforward exchange will do
much to reduce the anxiety inherent in this area of identity
formation, and such an exchange should be encouraged and assisted
by the pediatrician.
The burden of these studies is to underscore that: (a) adoptive children need to find their roots; (b) open access to information by which the adoptee can find his genealogical roots is better for the adoptee as well as for the adopting parents.
Whatever benefits were thought to derive from the sealing of adoption records are far out-weighed by the psychological damage done to adoptees forbidden from finding out who they are and where they came from.
For these reasons I respectfully urge the committee to recommend the enactment of legislation that would give [^adult] adoptees, henceforth and retroactively, access to their records.
For the record, Ms. Clamar, there is no specific bill that has been approved or recommended by the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare. We have this entire subject matter under discussion and study. The bill that has been introduced is the bill that was introduced by Senator Lewis, who is on the dais here today as a member of the Senate. So, just for purposes of the record, if there is any bill that we are talking about it is Senator Lewis bill.
I read a copy of the report that was submitted.
Yes, that was a staff report to me and to the Commission, but it has not been adopted by the Commission as of this date.
We still have that subject matter under study, and one of the reasons for holding this hearing is to apprise the Commission members of the attitude of the public, and those that are concerned with the subject, so that we will be better able to formulate an opinion on the Commission. You were taking some of the things in the Commissions report as to the Commissions attitude, and thats merely a staff report to the Commission.
My bill would just show two approaches, one prior adoptive rights, as compared to the rights subsequent to the adoption.
That was only in the recommendation? Okay.
In the early part of your statement you said that the adoptive child has a tremendous need for this. More so than children living with their natural parents. In your experience, have you come across children who have grown up in foster homes who had similar needs as the adoptive child? Or does the foster child seem to handle it differently?
Well, mainly it would depend on the experiences of the foster child. The adopted child comes into adoption...(tape inaudible)...If it would help them to track down their parents, certainly they should have whatever health information is available, or whatever other information is available. But that information and those histories vary from agency to agency, some of which are very complete and some of which are inconsequential.
Would it be helpful, do you think, to give the person seeking
the information a statement based on the record without actually turning over the record.
That depends on what you would have in that written statement. Would you have the mothers name and their name at birth?
Well, someone would have to determine what we are going to give these people. But, say that it is all this information. I can see that it might not help a child to know that a caseworker writes into a record his thinking about a person. You know, hes trying to make a decision and he does sometimes put it into the record that, he strikes me as being this or that, etc. Or, I talked about this and that with my supervisor. Would this really help a person? To know that their parents were the subject of such discussions and things like that. Im wondering about the feasibility of turning a child welfare record over to a child. Because its not a record just about a child - its a tool of the agency.
Can I just add to that? Lets assume theres information in the record about the mothers past. Lets say she was a prostitute. Lets say she was a drug addict. Lets say she was engaged in all kinds of activities which, perhaps, is part of her past, and shes gotten it behind her and is totally recovered from it., Should this be disclosed to the adoptee?
If she were a drug addict, yes. Because if the child was born at the time she was addicted, then youve got medical information there. I would be in favor of turning over all identifying
material which would enable the child to find the mother, to know his name, to know his ethnic background. To know as much medical information as is possible.
Psychological reports also?
Psychological reports as well?
Of the mother?
Of the mother.
Yes. But remember we are talking about adults, were not talking about children.
Well, were talking about adults.
You talked about psychology. What are some of the manifestations of people that are in you work that you find that are overt? Could you describe some of them? Such as lack of identity.
Many children feel that they dont belong. You find children who sit in classrooms, and they stare into space, and they are constantly fighting with their parents, and they are withdrawn from their world. They have feelings of being not only insecure but unworthy. Of questioning where did they come from, what was so terrible about me? Thats why I say that if you are going to
open the records, nothing can be so terrible on those records than what the child has imagined.
Im sure I know what you were going to say. But the reason why I asked this question is that unless somebody can interpret - can get the record and tries to interpret it for himself - would there be greater psychological damage - if, for instance, a psychologist such as yourself werent involved. With just a layman involved, trying to interpret those records for himself - would there be bigger psychological damage? Due to the inability to handle this information?
Are you saying, then, there should be someone who can help the person and counsel them as they go through this material?
I almost have a feeling that in trying to interpret some of this material, that later on there might be even more damage, and there might have to be a more intensive type of therapy.
I think you mean should there be someone there to help them, to counsel the person, and help them to integrate what they find on those papers.
Well, then it gets rather unwieldy and a rather expensive type of thing, to have someone that must be an interpreter of what is going on in the record.
But I think that if you are not going to go into the expense of setting something like this up, and it isnt really that expensive
if you really have to have professionally trained people who have worked with adoptees and who understand what is going on, then I think that you will have to depend on the ability of the person [to] integrate and synthesize. Remember, psychologically, we only absorb that which we can absorb. Theres an awful lot that we dont absorb. If we cant take it in, its lost, it gets not seen by us. And I think we have to rely on the person being able to integrate as much as he can.
How would you answer the conflict of interest issue on the right of the parents to privacy?
Could you explain that?
Im saying, if a parent does not want to see the child, and does not want to visit with the child, does not want to be known,
Explicitly. Assume that is the case.
Im sure there are natural parents who do not want to see their children.
How do you handle it? Should there be a right of the child to know and to seek out anyway?
Well, I suppose that what you can do...there are two possibilities there. You can arrange at the time of the adoption to have the parent indicate that they do not want this information
given out. Now, peoples minds do change, and experiences change, and what was a scandal thirty years ago is quite acceptable at this point, or does not have the proportions of a scandal. So that I feel there would have to be some effort made to find such a parent who has designated, I do not want to be known, to ask them, to approach them.
But the impression that I got from your statement where you say, in conclusion, that the Commission should recommend enactment of legislation that would give adult adoptees, henceforth and retroactively, access to their records, was that you had at least qualified to the extent of the consent on the part of the natural, biological parent.
Not consent across the board, but only consent if the parent, at the time of the adoption, was so adamant about not having their identity known.
Well, but were talking now about a situation where thousands upon thousands of adoptions have already taken place.
Now, it is rather easy to legislate prospectively. Whether youre right or wrong, at least its a lot easier to talk about something that hasnt happened. But, now, were talking about thousands of cases. There are many thousands of children - adults who are adopted children. And that question, that consideration, was never part of the adoption process.
Then, now that I hear your question more clearly, I would stick to what I have said here. No. I would open those records.
In other words, you say there is no right of privacy for the natural parent as far as youre concerned.
In terms of the studies that have been done, the results have been positive enough in enough cases that I think that it would be best to have them opened for everyone. If the parent really and truly does not want to be known, and certainly one would have to have discretion to approach a parent; you dont just go up and say, Here I am. You do have to be discreet about how you do these things, and I would expect that people would have enough judgment that they can handle that kind of thing. If the parent is strongly against you and doesnt want any part of you to exist...
One of the problems is this: When youre talking about a right, then that right is available to those that have the right and there is nothing built into the law that says, You have the right but you must be discreet. You either have a right or you dont have a right. If you have a qualified right, then thats something else. Then its not really a right.
No, I would give the right.
40. MRS. DORIS BERTOCCI, CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER, ADOPTEE Mrs. Bertocci:
I speak to you as a clinical social worker
who is an adoptee. You may find the following personal
background helpful in weighing my testimony: I was adopted at the
age of nine months through one of New York Citys major
placement agencies. I love and honor my parents and I am a
happy wife and mother. But despite my good fortune and
essentially successful adjustment to the problems of living, I
share with countless other adoptees a burning need to know my
roots. I am here to help you understand that this need is
healthy, intensely human and worthy of the most solicitous
treatment under the law.
The adoptees search for information about himself should never be taken as a casual inquiry motivated by idle curiosity or as the vengeful act of a chronic malcontent. It is a vital undertaking which has the earmarks of a fight for life. It is a fight for the emotional part of a life which remains confused, poorly integrated and, in many instances, compromised and even arrested.
No matter how sympathetically you listen,
if you are not yourself an adoptee you will have difficulty
understanding the proportions of the void in the adoptees
emotional constellation because you know as much as you want to
know about your roots. This knowledge is so essential to
your personality and so taken for granted that you cannot really
conceive of its importance to you just as you cannot really
conceive of what it would be like to be alive but not to have a
skeleton. The adoptee is looking for his skeleton and
really does not care so much about the details of what he finds
so long as he can experience its reality and structure.
Adoptees are sometimes bitterly disappointed by what they find
but they do not regret the search. The details are not as
important as the truth; it is not what they know but that they
For two years prior to my present position, I was employed as a caseworker for a small private agency which provided counseling services to unmarried mothers. The adoption agencies agreed with my agencys policy of encouraging the young women to see and even hold the babies they planned to surrender. This practice was based on psychiatric evidence that a woman cannot successfully mourn the loss of her baby unless she has a real object upon which to focus her feelings. In brief, reality was healthier than fantasy. Ironically these same adoption agencies do not use the same reasoning when that baby grows up and required reality (information about his natural background) rather than the frustrating fantasy which necessarily takes its place.
We do not know why some adopted persons
express no need to search for information about their natural
background while others express a very great need to learn about
their origins. As a member of the latter group I am
attempting in the only way I know how to impress on you the fact
that there for us there is no peace from our conflict; we are
incapable of putting this behind us without real, solid
information on which to focus our feelings. In considering
the issues I am bringing to your attention, I would recommend, as
an absolute must, your reading the article by Arthur
Sorosky, Annette Baran, and Reuben Pannor entitled Identity
Conflicts in Adoptees.2
Adoption workers have in many instances been hostile to the adoptees need to know and they sometimes wrap themselves in the legal ambiguities which allow them to justify their resistances as being legally mandated.
When an agency is willing to share information, as in the case of the agency which placed me, it is typically done with obvious reluctance and dubiousness as to the value such information would have for the adoptee. The social worker I saw was warm and professional in her behavior; but she was also evasive in response to a number of my questions, denied knowledge of or made uncertain references to facts which I already had in my possession, and seemed uncomfortable with my
inquiries, stiffening and asking at one point
What do you want to know that for? The fear may
be that specific information, which is trivial or irrelevant to
the social worker, will be blown out of proportion in its
importance to the adoptee. But specific information has an
enormously relieving effect; it does not intensify an
obsession. In many instances, this resistance and
obfuscation by the agency may be a response to a fear of legal
liability for divulging information. But in other instances
I think it reflects the agencys resentment of the
adoptees implicit challenge to the presumption upon which
their adoption work was based -- that the adoptees identity
necessarily becomes totally rooted in his adopted family. I
resent the assumption that my personality is so limited in depth
and breadth that I am incapable of a firm attachment to my
adoptive family and, at the same time, of a meaningful
involvement in some form or another with my biological origins.
When I was an infant, the entire resources of the agency were focused solely upon my welfare. The only question that was asked was What is best for this child. Oddly enough, when I grew up and turned to them for help, the agency switched its ground (without, as nearly as I can tell, questioning its ethical obligations and conflicts of interest) and asked only What is best for the natural parents. Adoption agencies apparently hold that they cannot reveal identifying information
because of their promise of confidentiality to
the natural mother. As far as I know it is entirely a
matter of interpretation as to whether such confidentiality
extends to the child, as the adoption agencies claim. I
doubt very much that most natural mothers receiving the promise
of confidentiality thought at the time that their child would be
included in the mass of individuals from whom she wanted her
situation kept secret. But I can tell you that in my work
with unmarried mothers each of whom received regular, intensive
counseling, the notion of secrecy from the child was never
However, even if one agrees that after twenty or more years the natural parents best interests are to be paramount, one has to ask whether the agencys unhesitating preservation of anonymity as a bar between natural parent and child is in the parents best interest. The agencies presume that after a period of readjustment and mourning, the natural mother puts the experience behind her, and thoughts of the surrendered child cease to preoccupy her even on a conscious level. And so, we are supposed to believe, most natural mothers proceed through the rest of their lives with a minimum of conflict about this sad episode in their past. What is missing in this presumption is any understanding of the elaborate defenses which the personality utilizes in order to come to terms with the loss of the child. This is not to say that there are not women who may experience a
minimum of conflict during or after the
surrender of a baby; my guess, based in part on my experience
with unmarried mothers, is that many such women may be seriously
handicapped emotionally in their capacity for sustained
relationships with any human beings. Other women may make
their peace but [pay] a certain price in terms of the quality of
their relationships with other people. But the main point
is that we do not really know how most natural mothers dealt with
in their subsequent development with the surrender of a child.
In any event let us suppose hypothetically -- and it has to be hypothetical since there is no solid evidence -- that most natural mothers do manage to forget, do cease to wonder about the welfare of the child they surrendered, do experience virtually no on-going conflict. Even if that is true, the child she surrendered -- if that child is one of the thousands for whom we are seeking free access to the other part of their identity -- the child bears the conflict every day of his life. Further, should that child succeed in finding the woman who bore him, is it so unrealistic to expect that if the woman has indeed made her peace with the surrender of her child, she could not continue to utilize the same defenses (detachment, indifference or whatever) which she had heretofore used? What I am really asking is, what evidence is there that the natural mother who is found, and who does not wish to be found, thenceforth suffers in some significant and permanent way?
My recommendations are that the law be clarified to
allow the only people who now matter in this context, the natural
parents and the child, to overcome the barriers which were
rightly erected to protect them from the idle curiosity of third
parties. Specifically, after a child is eighteen years old,
either the child or its natural parents should have access to
adoption court and agency files. If some protection against
abuse of the files is deemed necessary, the courts should be
empowered to investigate the proper intentions of either party
requesting access to the files.
Adoptees searching for their roots are not ingrates and they are not sick or maladjusted. More usually the determination to search is an indication of health, courage and a capacity for deeply caring.
I also feel, along with an agency in California, that adoption agencies should be encouraged to try to keep their files updated if they can. That is, they should encourage natural parents to provide as much information (background) as they can, and they should also encourage adoptive parents and families to be in touch with them occasionally so that they can leave information on the welfare of the child.
I have, really, a question I wanted to ask, which is: If Legislation were to be changed so that adoptive people would have access to their files - supposing a natural parent was getting the opportunity to make a statement to an adoption agency that they would not wish to be found - could that be possible?
Prospectively - yes.
But I mean retrospectively.
Retrospectively, it would be difficult. I cant see how realistically we can accomplish that.
One thought I had when you were asking Ms. Clamar some questions is that should a natural parent be contacted and told, Your child wishes to know who you are, and even wishes a reunion with you; would you want it? And if they say no, I would still say that they should have the opportunity to discuss their feelings with a professional person. Perhaps, of course, those natural parents are afraid that all of a sudden they are going to be legally liable or responsible for this child, and they should know very clearly that they are not. But, whatever their fears are, I think that the natural parent should be given a chance to express them to a professional person.
Well, I think thats pretty much the part of the Foundling Hospital framework thats going on now, where they take all kinds of cautions to be fully advised of all the parties, all the ramifications, legal, social, psychological and otherwise. And that is one of the approaches that has been recommended to us. That it be done by using, if possible legislatively, the model that the Foundling Hospital is engaged in. Let me put it this way: if a law can be passed on the subject, I am sure that provisions like that can be included in it. But its not going to be a very easy task.
Not a very easy task to prepare legislation along those lines, as you can well imagine, because we are dealing with a lot of subjectivity.
If, for example, my natural mother were located and she expressed a clear desire not to have a reunion, I would at least hope she would have a chance to talk with a professional person about it. Id like to know what her feelings and what her fears are.
As you indicated before, you do appreciate the very delicate psychological problems that are involved, for all parties.
I certainly do, yes.
Do you think that the identity problem would be eased for most adoptees if they were given more information, if their adoptive parents were given more information?
Do you think that would solve part of the problem?
Then, are you saying that in some cases its not absolutely necessary to know the actual identity?
I would leave that up to the adopted person. You know, many
adopted people do not ask for identifying information.
Many just want medical information; some want ethnic background;
religion, a general description of their natural parents
personality, and such. Others want to go further and have
identifying information, and others want to go beyond that and
actually have a reunion.
I think its absolutely crucial, and I speak for myself personally again, that it has meant a great deal to me to know as much as I know about my natural background. And I have been able to obtain a certain amount of identifying information merely because Im clever, and not because I got a lot of cooperation on the part of officials. But thats important to me. And one of the things I want to emphasize is that is that its very relieving to me. Its not that it kicks off a whole string of obsessions, because if you want to call it a preoccupation, I would say, it was there to begin with. Whatever I can learn relieves me and helps me feel I am settling myself down.
Can you give us some suggestions as to what information should be given?
A lot of information.
Absolutely, you must. Ethnic background, religion, physical description of the natural parents, a description of their personalities, the nature of their relationship. Something that was very important to me was whether or not my natural father even knew
that I existed - I wanted very much to know this. What the relationship was. Whether the natural father participated in the planning for the child. There ma be other things, but I think those are critical.
What would you think about the information that surrounds the actual surrender? What the people who were deciding the surrender said about their thinking and why they were doing it. Do you think that would be helpful to you?
Thats a hard question for me to answer because I know what the caseworkers thought of my natural mother. And it was all very reassuring. Youre saying, if some of the information is not complimentary?
No, Im not saying that at all. Im just saying that, in connection with the person or persons who signed the surrender - what their thinking was at the time - the natural parent.
Yes, I think that would be...you know, some adopted people may not find that important. I would, personally, find that important. I guess, in general, what I am saying is, I would leave it to the adopted person to know, or to be able to express, what is important to him to know. Some people dont like to know very much, and some people want to know a lot.
I notice that you have a clinical background also. Is this an awareness on your part because of your clinical and your psychological depth - or would someone who is a layman have the same feelings?
Can they handle the stress and what may be before them in terms of getting the files, etc., the same as you? Do they have the ability to handle these files? You have a clinical background.
That doesnt mean that I am well-glued, although I am. Having a clinical background does not mean that I have a superior capacity for integrating all of this. There are people without clinical backgrounds who can integrate it and deal with it quite well. I really dont think my clinical training is as important as just...
But it gives you a different awareness on how to handle this situation.
It helps; it helps.
But Im thinking of someone else that doesnt have the awareness that you have. Without the ability to get the kind of thing you need, will this be dangerous?
I dont see it as dangerous. I think the most dangerous thing is ignorance. I think the destructive thing is not to know.
Well, thats a nice cliche, but there are other people where if something comes to them it is very damaging because they dont have the ability to handle it.
I have not yet met such a person and, frankly, Id like to speak with them. It takes time to integrate some of this, but as
I said, even for those who were disappointed in some of the things they found out, the fact that they could finally stop walking the streets, and no longer look at a woman and wonder if it was their mother, just to be able to relax and feel settled about it, is the most enormous benefit for them.
53. GERTRUDE MAINZER,
ESQ. Mrs. Mainzer:
My testimony will be limited to one experience. I am an attorney in New York City and I think I am the first one who brought cases in New York City before the courts re access to adoption records. And I feel it might be of interest to the Commission to know how these cases have been handled, or what the experience was, and what the result was. Because it is interesting to find that only one of the cases which I have handled has been reported. This is a case that has been mentioned in your report and recorded in the Law Journal. The other cases in New York County and Staten Island, all of which have been cited in favor of full access to the records, have not been reported. I explain it by the reluctance by the judges to admit what they have done because my judge told me that his court was against his allowing access.
Why do I think these cases are important?
(1) It is important to realize what the arguments are which brought the court to the decision to open the records
(2) It is important to bring expert testimony before the court which is relevant
(3) It is very important to see the results afterwards: (a) the results of the cases; (b) the results for the people who have obtained their full records.
In this whole discussion here today, I think it is extremely important to differentiate between two issues. We are here concerned with the possibility of changing the statute which might or might not apply to access to the records, and not with the issue
of searching for names. We are concerned
with access to the records of adult adoptees - nothing
else. The reunion and search for parents which we have
heard from all adoptees - those searches have taken place without
going to court. My argument for opening the records is that
whoever really searches - finds. Therefore, these adoptees
use illegal means, tricks and all, to obtain what they want
although its disrespectful of the law and therefore I feel
the authorization should be given to make the records
available. Because these searches are already morally
wrong. So, even though the record would give them the
identifying information, a search under the law is still a very
In addition, in all three cases which I have handled, none of the adoptees who have found their records and everything have started to search for their parents. My first case was in 1972, the next, in 1973, and the last one in 1974.
The fourth case which I had prepared a year and a half was ready to go to court in the Bronx when the adoptee called me one day before the hearing, after I had prepared all my petitions, all my constitutional arguments, the hearings had been set, everything for the case had been prepared, and told me she was not ready to face the trauma of the court proceeding. In addition, as you may remember, the statute requires notice to the adoptive parents. Now this person had an extremely good relationship with her adoptive parents, but she knew they would feel hurt if they found out that she was going into this proceeding. So, I argued with the court that they should dispense with the notice to the adoptive parents requirement, but they did not consider that sufficient argument. But the requirement itself is unconstitutional. Because
every adult can buy a house, can have ten
illegitimate children, can give up children for adoption, can
marry, can do anything, without notice to adoptive parents.
Now, why should an adopted person have to give notice of a
proceeding in a court to his adoptive parents? But, anyway,
this trauma to the adoptee of having the court deny my request to
dispense with the giving of notice destroyed the petition, which
is an additional argument hat I think can be made.
I think it is not sufficient that I obtain in every court where I go the record; it has to be regulated by the statute that the adoptee can go to the court, get a birth certificate and everything, without a court proceeding as a matter of right, by giving proof of being an adoptee and an adult, having reached majority. This is the only reason why I feel the court proceedings are not sufficient. They dont do away with the terrible trauma of having to go to court, besides being a long-drawn out proceeding.
None of us really feel that the statute, as it stands, really applies to the adoptee at all, the adult adoptee. If it is applied to the adoptee, my position is that it probably is only conceived to the time when a child is a minor. Therefore, I feel that it does not apply to adult people at all. But, if it applies, then you have to show the court why you want access to the records. You have to show good cause before a court why you want the information.
Now, my interpretation is that this does not mean you have to show specific good cause, but my position is that every adult adoptee, per se, has shown good cause, because, in general, for various reasons, the adult adoptee needs this knowledge. At least
the ones who ask really want to know.
Why? For many reasons.
As the law is processed, it is a crime to marry a natural brother or sister or father or mother or, in some states, a cousin. You might say that is a very remote possibility. But thats not so. One of my cases was where an adoptee had been engaged to another person who was adopted. She had decided to take the risk, although she did not like it. They decided to go on a trip and she applied for a passport. She was then thirty-five years old. For the passport she needed her birth certificate, and for the first time, when she was thirty-five years old, she got her birth certificate. Up until 1950, you might know, there was a long form for an adoptive birth certificate, which was much more complex. On top of it it said: Alteration approved by the Board of health, with the date. And under the words, Certificate of Birth, it said By Adoption. Since 1950, it is always out; now it says only, Certificate of Birth. Therefore, she found out she was adopted, that they were, then, both adopted, and she broke her engagement and did not get married.
Also, there was another case in 1970, where a woman was in prison for being married to her son, a boy she had given up nineteen years before as a baby. It was a case of incest, under the law, even though the woman did not have that advice when he became her husband. So, as long as the coincidence exists, I think every adult adoptee has good cause for knowing whatever they should.
Also, there are medical reasons. How important are they? It is important, for example, that you know your father had hemophilia. For if you become pregnant, you must have the test to determine if the child is a girl or a boy. Because if your father had hemophilia, you have a 50-50 chance that your boy will be a
hemophiliac. Therefore, you have a chance
to decide whether you want to go through with it or have a
medical abortion. If its a girl, you dont have
to worry. All of these things are important, because some
of the symptoms dont appear until you are twenty or thirty
years old, and there are many medical reasons to consider.
Also, if you have some black blood, you may have a tendency for
sickle-cell anemia, and, therefore, it is important to know all
you can of your background. And you must understand, that
there are other illnesses which are just as important and just as
hard to detect unless you know you medical background.
All of this is important, not just for adoptees themselves, but in general. Genetically, this is important. In the first case which I had in New York County, this was exactly an issue. I represented a woman from North Carolina who had a child which suddenly developed certain physical, medical symptoms. The physician recommended that she should try to obtain the medical background of the family. I went to court. The surrogate opened the record, but he said, Mrs. Mainzer, I opened the record because you have a medical good cause showing that this woman should have the record. I will give you this record; read it; there is not a single word of medicine in this record. So, he saw that, even though there was nothing medical in the record, he felt she was entitled because she has a problem. Now, I was suspicious. I feel if there is absolutely nothing in the record, something is hidden. I convinced the judge that I might be right. And, since this was an emergency matter, he agreed to subpoena the agency records, in that case.
We had a second hearing, with the agency, and the judge
found that: (1) the woman had not been an only
child; (2) she had two retarded sisters; (3) her mother had been
in institutions practically all her life, besides being a chronic
alcoholic which has great consequences for children also.
It was this horrible record - the judge gave me access to
complete agency records, which is important in connection with
your question - which was about 200 pages of the most horrible
record for a person to read - that this woman had to read.
I was shocked myself. I asked the woman if she really
wanted the records. She said not knowing was worse because
she had been suspicious, she had a sick child and if she had
known what was in these records she would not have had children.
Therefore, I say, this case was opened on account of a woman who had a sick child, but it shows that its just as important for someone who is well and not sick, because she might find the same background. Therefore, I say that generally we are entitled, not only when we are sick.
The interesting thing is, after this woman had received her records, she wrote the most moving letter to the judge and to me, and the judge showed me the letter because he was proud of what he had received; she said that for the first time in her life she felt free. She met a man, she gave him her records,, and she said, Look, thats me. She could marry him; she invited him to the wedding. And she wrote to the judge, You were reluctant to let me know what was in my records, but you have given me the freedom to know who I am, and know in my second marriage I certainly will not have any children.
Now, this is the argument, whether medical or not, I think, for every adult adoptee, to have access to their complete record.
The third reason that I feel every adult
adoptee is entitled to his record, is that without knowing that
background, the person is cut off from continuity. A person
is not just a human being in the present, in his family, in his
surroundings, but needs the feeling of continuity, knowing that
he has a link with the past, and also that it will be a link with
the future generations that come after it.
Someone said, We all have the feeling of a symbolic immortality, and all want not just to know, when youre dead, youre dead. In a sense, we have immortality for those following after us, but we also want to feel that we are a continuation in the lives that have gone before.
It might be interesting to you, if you are familiar with the work of Erik Erikson, who is really the founder of the personal identity issues, and I dont think he could have come to his conclusions if he hadnt been adopted. I found out that Erik Erikson was adopted, and now that he is over seventy years old, he has admitted that his concern for being adopted brought him to acceptance of the importance of personal identity. He knew only that his fathers name was Erik, and he calls himself Erikson, the son of Erik. Therefore, he combined, in that name, this continuity in the present and the past. He was identifying with his Danish background.
Another argument is that in the event the courts would not agree that every adult adoptee has shown good cause for the preceding reasons, I feel very strongly that the statute would be unconstitutional for various reasons. And I was amazed that in your report that you do not enter into the constitutional argument at all, that all the report says is you dont feel the constitutional
argument rises to compel an consideration.
I feel this is certainly not true. I feel, also, that
everyone should be able to obtain their birth certificate from
the Board of Health. If its a certificate of
adoption, then what they are certifying to is not the truth,
because it is not a certificate of birth, and they can sue the
government. But this treatment that you, as an adoptee,
cannot get your birth certificate unless you ask the court to
subpoena the records of the agency, is certainly a violation of
the equal protection clause because its based on status,
like sex, race, religion, national origins. And to base
differentiations on status which you cannot help, you cannot help
that you are adopted, you have not been a party to agreeing this
is the basis either, and therefore your rights cannot be taken
well without even considering them. You are treated as if
you were nobody.
After you reach majority, there is no reason, whatsoever, to justify the treatment of adult adoptees, or to take away any rights under the due process clause and the protection clause. In addition, the statute, under the access to the records provision, requires you to go to the court where the adoption took place. Because of all the secrecy, many of these adoptees dont know where the court is; they dont know where they were adopted. And, therefore, there should be access to a court, closest to them. I had one case, the one I talked about in Bronx County. I went first to New York County, because I had no idea where the girl was adopted. I only knew she was born in New York County, so I brought it together with another case I had there and the judge said their records said she was never adopted from her home.
You see, this is a violation of due
process. Because where should we go? We dont
know anything. We must go to every single County to find
out where this girl was adopted. The girl must have been
adopted in one of the Counties in New York because she has a New
York birth certificate. If you subpoena the records of the
Board of Health, you may find out where this girl was adopted,
and I go to that court. So I had to go to the Board of
Health, then find out where she was adopted, then go to trial in
that court. But then I had to take time and effort to
compile all that information.
The due process clause and equal protection clause is also discrimination, not only based on standards, but its basically a discrimination based on illegitimacy. Statistics have shown that 90% of all non-family adoptions, involves illegitimate children. Therefore, it is not only a status of being adopted, it is also an additional discrimination against illegitimacy, which by the Supreme Court, is pronounced to be unconstitutional.
It might also be a violation of the freedom of worship. Some believe that after death we become reunited with your family members. So, it might, in that connection, be a violation of religion. The Mormons believe in this. Im not sure.
It might also be a violation of the 13th Amendment. Because your roots are cut off and you are treated like chattel. In early papers, it is even called indenture.
These are the constitutional arguments which I think are very, very strong. I wish your Commission would expound on these in an additional report. I think it is very important to clarify them.
On the contrary, on the birth certificate,
the name, the original name, was Irish, which could very well
mean that the birth religion of the child was Catholic.
Now, I personally couldnt care less if a child was adopted
in a Protestant home or a Catholic home if it fits. But I
think one is entitled to know, and I think the position of an
agency to opening of the records and denying information or
identifying information is wrong, because the agency during the
trial agreed to give me all of the information except identifying
information as a protection of the natural mother in the
case. Where abandonment has taken place I think it is
entirely unjustified to consider religion if you have no
relationship whatever to the mother. The argument of
protecting privacy, I think, can also not exist in children who
are freed for adoption by termination of parental rights.
Because this, as you might know, today is the greatest source of
adoption, because children are not available any more because we
have abortions or girls keep their illegitimate babies.
The only source - really big source - for adoption is children for which parental rights have been terminated, which means it leads to the adoption of all the children, and, at any rate, it leads to the adoption of children where the adoptive parents and the natural parents have probably met. Because under Social Services Law 392, you have the foster care review proceeding which requires notice to all parties in the decision of whether or not the child should stay in foster care, return to the mother, or be recommended for adoption. Therefore, in the case of children for whom termination of parental rights is recommended and adoption, there is no argument of protection of privacy of the mother.
At this point, since I talk about it, to anticipate your
question which you have already asked the other
speakers: Do I think that the privacy of the mother should be
protected in a surrender situation? I would like to tell
you my opinion is no. (1) I think there does not
exist the privacy of a natural mother, independent of the child,
because privacy is something which you own alone. Birth
involves two people. Therefore, it is a shared
privacy. I dont invade the privacy of the person with
whom I have the act of birth in common. This is a logical
argument against invasion of privacy. the more emotional
argument and also the legal argument that it is not an invasion
of privacy is the following: When a girl signs a surrender, she
expressly waives notice of the adoption, and she waives her
consent to the future adoption; which means, since, as you know
and the agencies confirm, the natural parents are not in touch
later with the agency, this mother or parent does not know if
their children ever get adopted.
Now, how can you make a promise to somebody with whom you cannot give any promise because you never know if the child really will be adopted? I have seen statistics of the surrendered children. At most, one-third get adopted; the others dont get adopted. Maybe Im wrong, maybe Im right; I worked hard to find that out. Every one of us has skeletons in the closet. Somebody has been a prostitute, somebody has committed a crime, or has committed adultery, or has given birth to an illegitimate child. We might want that to never come out, but we are not protected against that the skeleton wont walk out of the closet, especially if the skeleton is a human being with certain rights which belong to a human being. I think the adopted person, in
case she gains access to her records, still has
to make up her mind, if she wants to have a search or a reunion,
this is certainly no argument against the opening of the adoption
records. If you ask me how she feels if she then goes and
tries to find the mother, this is a different issue, and I think,
in that situation, this person is in the same legal situation as
any other person who knocks on my door. You have to use the
means which are permissible under the law. If you intrude
in a way which is an invasion of privacy, then its a
tort. But, otherwise, there are no grounds, legally,
emotionally and by definition, why I feel it would be an invasion
of privacy to open the records to an adult adoptee.
The only other point is that it has been argued and also discussed in your report that in case a statute would be created, it would only work prospectively and not retrospectively. I think in your report it has shown very well that up to 1967 the names of all adoptive parents appeared on the petition, so the whole retroactivity would only relate to the time between 1967 and now. This whole sealing provision and that the parties dont now what is in the petition is only very recent and, therefore, the retroactivity or prospectivity is really not that important. It should be accessible to all of them.
The only other thought I would like to express is that I think access to the records would help the whole adoption practice and process. It would lead certainly in adoption agency practice to a better selection of adoptive parents, because the discussion would include how they would feel if, when their child reached majority, he would be able to find out his name. If the
adoptive parents have not thought through this issue, then, like in other countries, they might not be the best adoptive parents. You have to come to terms with impotency and frustration before you adopt a child. If you have not, I think another family should be selected. If parent then have their children grow up in that kind of atmosphere, that one day if they want to find out, it would only create a better relationship of trust than it was before.
I just want to make it clear, relative to mention of the report. There is no Temporary State Commission report. There is a staff report to us that has not been acted on as of this moment and the consideration on this issue is open on the part of the Commission and that is one of the reasons for having this public hearing. I dont want the public to be misled into thinking the Commission has spoken on this subject. It has not.
66. DENNIS LYNCH,
ADOPTION COORDINATOR, SAINT DOMINICS HOME Mr. Lynch:
Todays legislative hearing deals with the issue of sealed adoption records, which records it is important to emphasize in the beginning, are the joint history of children, biological parents, adoptive parents and agencies. This particular topic of discussion is part of the continuing examination by The Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare and the Assembly Committee on Child Care of the rights of children versus the rights of adoptive parents, biological parents, agencies and in the final analysis, society. In the next fifteen minutes I would like to provide some background information to lend a sense of perspective to this topic then describe the controversy over sealing or opening these records, submit my proposal for resolution of this problem and finally to relate this particular topic to the dilemma of waiting children in general.
Historically, children or infants as they are labeled in the laws of this state, have been the foundation of the family unit whose sanctity has long been respected from the intrusion of the state, federal and local law excepting in a very limited and prescribed manner. The biological parents were given absolute rights over their offspring and children became both de facto and de jurie parental property. It is significant to note that the etymology of the word, infant, is from a Latin word denoting someone unable to speak for themself. Hence, the biological parents of infants were the only spokesman or advocate for their childs interest.
However, with the festering of scientific, socio-economic and interpersonal changes in our society, the traditional family unit has virtually disappeared. The loss of the extended family, the phenomena
of the deserting parent and the single parent
families have created a situation wherein traditional
child-rearing practices are no longer applicable. The
liberation of many parents as well as the more
commonly known instances of abuse, neglect and abandonment have
today resulted in a discrepancy, which coupled with a lack of
expertise in child-rearing, as to who really advocates for the
childs best interest, or as it is correctly referred to
the least detrimental interests of the child.
The notion of rights for minorities of which children are numerically the largest part has attracted the attention of numerous individuals, societies and organizations. Legislative and judicial conferences throughout this nation have especially recognized that the rights of children need to be protected and that the biological parent cannot always be assumed to act in the childs best interests. In past court decisions the rights of children have been protected and observed in opinions such as In re Gault, Kent v. United States, and Haley v. Ohio. In respect to the rights of others who are infants in the catholic meaning of the word, these minorities; the poor, the aged or the ethnic groups, or ethnic purists as they are known in some political circles, have been recognized in decisions such as the famous Gideon v. Wainwright, Goldberg v. Kelly, Perez v. Levine, and most recently Mendoza v. Levine. These judicial determinations and the resultant legislative enactments of the New York State Assembly and Senate have increasingly and significantly protected the rights of minorities, especially the children of the State of New York.
With this perspective in mind, I would like to address the present
problem of access to and the sealing of adoptive
records. First, it is important to understand that case
records of children are in the most instances unorganized masses
of bureaucratic forms, worthless notations, illegible entries,
misfiled papers and occasionally important references to
significant persons in the history of adoptees. However,
without regard to the content of such records of adoptive
children, the significant question is the availability of the
case record itself. The past practices of the courts and
agencies is to seal such records and not to release any of its
contents unless ordered to do so by a court of competent
The reasons for the aforementioned practice are many. One, it was long believed and in many of the inert agencies the philosophy still exists that the release of children by their biological parents for purposes of adoption was a very shameful and degrading event with horrendous auspices for both child and parent. As a matter of record, the piece of paper used for such a decision by a parent to release his or her child is called an instrument of surrender. One can draw many inferences from such terminology but the one that most readily comes to mind is that of a criminal surrendering something to the authorities. there is little consideration to the view that the release of a child for adoption is a positive plan made by a concerned person who recognizes his or her inability to be a parent and assume that duty. Accordingly, laws were enacted to prohibit both the child from knowing of the surrender and the public from knowledge of such an event. One can realistically argue that such a defense of sealed records cannot be
valid in as much as it is a reflection of poor
social work practice that should be discontinued.
Another reason for the sealing of records is supported by the argument submitted by many child care agencies that a bond of confidentiality between social worker and biological parent is required if a caseworker is to properly service his or her clients. This argument is absurd because no guarantee of confidentiality can be offered by a caseworker in as much as case records are subject to subpoena, and review by agency staff, state and federal personnel. I would offer that perhaps many agencies are afraid that an unsealing of adoption records would make it more obvious to the public review or inspection by adoptees of the negligence in case-work done by agencies. This could even put agencies in a precarious legal position in regard to possible actions being brought by adoptees.
The attempt to keep records closed is commonly referred to in many instances as a desire to hide mistakes or misrepresentations. It should be noted that this legislative body had long opposed passage of the so-called sunshine laws which were intended to shed some light on the activities of our elected officials.
Third, it is argued that biological parents have their rights to confidential consideration or even to secrecy and this must be respected even if it is opposed to the rights of children for information about their past. This argument is just another example of the treatment of childs rights as subservient to the rights of parents, whose rights were terminated already when the child was freed for adoption.
There are many other reasons offered for
the sealing of adoption records, but in the interest of time and
in recognition of this committees desire to hear as many
speakers as possible, I will not list any more such reasons but
only wish to assure this committee that a rebuttal can be given
for them very easily.
I propose that our laws be amended to provide children with a more expedient and economical means of access to their case records. It is imperative that adoptees know and understand their past so that their present and future will be more comprehensible to them. We are all acquainted with psychological studies which stress the vital significance of the early years of life and with this knowledge it is important to permit these children to discover the events surrounding their early years.
Recognition should be made that todays adoptees are not the white infants of yesterday, rather they are older and more disturbed children who desperately need every piece of information and every insight into their past which will give them an opportunity to overcome their trauma and have lives as mature adults. Todays adoptees are living in an era with relatively fewer prejudices in regard to legitimacy versus illegitimacy, adoptive parents versus biological parents, and half or full sibling versus adoptive sibling.
1) Social Service Law 384 be amended to include in the instrument of surrender a provision wherein a surrendering parent can express the willingness to permit their surrendered child access to the case record. When a child is freed for adoption by means of a surrender,
said surrender and case record are to be filed
in the court where the adoption is finalized and the clerk of the
court should provide a book wherein the names of the adoptive
child and biological parent and adoptive parent shall be listed
and upon the appearance of the adoptee or his attorney such
record is to be opened for review. The adoptee need only
satisfy the clerk of the court in regard to his or her identity.
2) When the rights of the biological parent or parents are terminated by means of court action, Social Service Law Section 384 and Family Court Act Section 611 shall be amended to provide that at the time of the dispositional hearing, and upon application to the court by the guardian ad litem for the child, the court shall order that the name of the freed child as well as the case record therefore shall be filed in the court where the adoption is finalized and the names recorded in a book in a like manner as mentioned in proposal number one. The motion by the childs guardian ad litem shall not be denied except upon the showing of good cause by the biological parent or agency.
Such Proposals are only for the adoptee to secure information and not for anyone else.
In conclusion I would like to comment on the implications for adoptable children in general. The concept of identity as defined by Erikson is a life long process and the opening of adoptive records will do little to significantly alter a persons identity, provided he has struggled with and established one prior. This bodys concern with the identity of children is more appropriately directed toward an examination of the present situation facing the estimated 10,000 children in placement who have been abandoned or neglected by their biological parents and
are without permanency. These are the
throwaway children who need this committees attention and
notwithstanding this committees past work, are in an almost
hopeless situation that will only lead to anger, frustration,
bitterness and ultimately anti-social behavior. What is
this committee and this profession of social service doing to
foster an identity for these psychological orphans?
Unfortunately, the answer is that little significant changes have
occurred in the bottom line.
Why is it that the rights of biological parents have long been recognized, and the rights of putative fathers have recently been addressed in the court decisions of Stanley v. Illinois and in New York in Orsini v. Blasi, yet the rights of children, specifically to permanency have been ignored and recently suffered a set-back in the Child v. Beame case. Why is it that our state expends so little to remedy the plight of the ten thousand neglected children and yet invests so heavily in capital, business and non-human services? The bankruptcy facing this state is a moral one and to this we must answer. Justice Jerome Frank of the United States Supreme Court observed, The test of the moral quality of a civilization is its treatment of the weak and powerless children, this state has already defaulted in its obligation to them and the question remains to what degree are we a part of this decadence and when will this state begin and to what degree will it attempt to meet the needs of some of its citizens of tomorrow, today.
If we were talking about legislation to give the child in the future the right to have access to the records, regardless of the natural parents willingness to surrender children for adoption?
I think it would have a significant impact, but the question really is not what are we doing to cater to the rights of the biological parent. The question should be, more appropriately, or should address itself to, what about the rights of the children. Now, the parents have rights that, supposedly, they are obligated to carry out, regardless of whether we seal or unseal the records, and I think that is the more fundamental question.
Well, at this point, a question has been raised that if we dont give natural parents that potential for anonymity in the future, they might, instead of putting their children up for adoption in an orderly fashion, simply abandon them, which would give them anonymity. Do you think that is a danger?
From my experience with the fifty or so surrenders I have taken and the hundreds of hours I have spent in New York City Family Courts I dont think that it is going to be a danger. I think that parents want to know that they are providing something good for their children and they want to be able to understand this is a positive action, not something thats going to bring shame, etc.
74. MS. LORRAINE DUSKY,
EDITOR, FREE LANCE WRITER, NATURAL MOTHER Ms. Dusky:
I am a magazine editor, free lance writer, and also a natural mother who gave up her child for adoption ten years ago. Because of my interest in this, I have written a number of articles on adoption, particularly the sealed records. In doing so, I have talked to between thirty and forty natural mothers.
You keep mentioning whether the mother might have second thoughts about giving up her child for adoption if she knew that her anonymity would not be protected. If I had known that some day I could meet my daughter it would have been so much easier to sign those papers. My social worker and I went over this point again and again and again. Never, never, could I see her, not ever, time heals all wounds, she would say. It does not heal this one. I did not have something in my body, give birth, and then just give her away without wondering, what is she like? I would do anything for a scrap of information now. I am not saying that at age ten I should know where she is, but I would just love to know whether she likes poetry, whether she takes tap dancing lessons, or if she was adopted.
I finally did write to my adoption agency about two years ago, and although there was no information about her now, I mean I wasnt asking for addresses or names. I finally learned that she was adopted. That is a very real trauma. Ive met many adoptees whose stories never jibe with what the mothers are told, because Im familiar with many reunion cases also.
I think the records should be opened to adoptees. It
should not just be from this time on but should deal with the very real problem of the thousands of New York State adoptees, and the five million or so adoptees and then their natural parents in the county.
Suppose the natural mother, whoever she might be, does not want her identity to be disclosed. Should she have this right, do you feel?
No, I dont.
Suppose she said, I dont want anyone to know anything about me. This is a final act on my part and one of the considerations of surrender of this child is that I retain anonymity for the rest of my life. I want to get it behind me. Lets assume she has that attitude. Right, wrong, or indifferent. Should she be entitled to have it as a matter of right, or should she, somewhere down the line, suffer the trauma of a confrontation?
(A) I dont believe a confrontation would be traumatic.
(B) No, I dont believe she has the right to that privacy.
I think that womans right is infringing upon the rights of adoptees. You have a child - it is something to deal with.
There are others who share your views and other that disagree with you, but I wondered what you thought about it.
Some research has been done. When it has been done with the natural mother, specifically, almost to a woman it is so rare that they do not want to find out what happened to their child. Mrs. Dooley, from the New York Foundling Home, testified this morning, and I was very gratified to hear what she said because I wasnt aware of what they were doing. Later on, I talked to her and asked her how many women did not want to meet their children - the ones they contacted. It turns out there were none. She said that there was one that was reluctant at first, and then changed her mind. So that, when the Adoption Research Project in California put ads in newspapers asking for information, they got many letters from natural mothers. Some of them were very moving and passionate. One thats been quoted quite often is something to the effect that no cross is harder to bear than losing a child and not knowing what happened to it.
Therefore, all this supposed feeling of natural mothers who dont want to be identified I really think is more in your eyes than in reality. Yes, it could be true, but in those cases I still dont think thats right.
You say youve been writing articles about this subject. In your research that you must have done, have you had any information from the State of Connecticut?
Just that, as I am aware, the records are open in the State of Connecticut to those who seek them.
They have recently been closed again.
You must be aware that they are open in Finland and Wales and Scotland and havoc does not break in the land. And a bill was being considered by Parliament; they were overhauling all of their adoption laws to open the records to children at the age of nineteen, I believe; I do not know if that has been passed, but that was what was being recommended by the British Association of Adoption Agencies. I was there about six months ago and spoke to them.
78. MS. BETTY JEAN LIFTON, AUTHOR, PLAYWRIGHT, ADOPTEE Ms. Lifton:
I am very happy to be able to testify
before you today. As you may know, I am a writer and
journalist. I have recently written a book, TWICE BORN,
Memoirs of An adopted Daughter, about my own psychological
development as an adoptee, woman, wife and mother as a result of
the sealed record which closed me off from knowledge of my
biological past. I have also written an article in The New
York Times this past January called The Search, in which I tried,
in my best journalist tradition, to tell all sides of the
controversy over the sealed records. A controversy I know
Now I will be quite frank with you -- I have read the REPORT CONCERNING DISCLOSURE OF ADOPTION RECORDS TO AN ADOPTED CHILD AT THE AGE OF 21 submitted to Sen. Joseph Pisani, chairman of the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare by his staff. I believe it was sent to me by accident, and I am aware that in revealing this I may never get another mailing from that office. But I must take the chance.
I was impressed by its bulk, by its length. I was delighted that the staff did so much research on the subject. I learned a lot. For example, I learned that there was some question as to whether the 1967 law sealing the records in New York State was understood to limit the adoptees access. That really blew my mind. It seems that the main focus was on the limitation of disclosure as between the natural parents and
the adoptive parents. The Court of Appeals has never
addressed the adoptees right to access.
Allow me to quote from page 13 of the report:
This statute does not prohibit disclosure of the childs surname to the child himself or to the adoptee following his majority, and it may be argued with some force that if the Legislature had intended to bar access to the adoptee, it would have said so. In summary, whatever may be the preferable public policy, it is apparent that the current state law is at best vague and ambiguous concerning the propriety of disclosing from court records, an adoptees biological history following his majority.
My immediate thought was that we adoptees
are being kept from a right that is already ours legally --that
even now we have the right at the age of majority to get our
court records. And that all of our suffering to date may
have been unnecessary.
I ask you to look into this.
I also ask you to understand that this legal ambiguity is being further complicated by the pressures from adoption agencies, who feel their former policies being threatened, and by lobbying of adoptive parent groups, those good burghers who elect you to follow their wishes -- in this case, keeping the records of their adoptive children secret. I am not aware of lobbies of natural mothers fighting to be saved from their own children; yet to protect their own interests the agencies and adoptive parents are invoking the right of the natural mothers.
I am aware as I speak to you that this same report I have been quoting has come to conclusions which you have already read --not to enact Senator Lewis amendment to the Social Services Law because It fails to protect the interests of natural parents in adoptions heretofore completed.
I will not ask why this report was not submitted after hearing the testimony of people here today like myself. I would like to think that the fate of Senator Lewis bill
has not itself already been sealed. I
would like to believe that what I have to say, as well as the
others who have come up here on the long trip to Albany, will
still have the possibility of influencing your thinking about
opening the sealed records.
I am honest when I tell you I am not optimistic.
I have heard that many of you feel it is too radical just to spring the records open. That you are looking for some half-way measure, some tool that will enable you to make some kind of compromise, some handle that you can point to that will satisfy all sides while preserving the National Treasure, which in this case is the adoptees original name by birth.
When I am not writing about adoption, I am a humorist, and I should suggest to you now the final solution: that all original family names of adoptees, living and dead, be moved from the state courts and sent to Fort Knox where they can be properly protected. The possession of children and the possession of money are often equated in this land. We fight to protect that which is ours, what we own, and sad to say, we feel we own our children -- whether we are natural or adoptive parents. But in the case of adoptive parents, there is the illusion that they can own their children for life, even after the age of 18, which is the age which sets the natural children legally free.
I warn you I will give you no half-way measures here. I dont believe in them. I want the constitutional right which is mine, with no strings attached to adoption agencies or county clerks. We adoptees have had go-betweens all our lives, from the moment we were babies being parceled out by private lawyers or adoption agencies. We do not want other people making decisions for us, searching for us, determining whether or not we meet a blood relative in this life time.
I have written some questions that I thought you might ask me, and some answers that I thought I might give you. You may have others. Lets try these first.
1) WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THE RECORDS SHOULD BE UNSEALED?
Because as a citizen of this country I believe it is my constitutional right to have access to my birth records as do all other citizens. As a human being I feel it is important for my mental and physical health to know my biological heritage -- and as a protection from incest which has been know to occur when adoptees have not known their genetic origins.
2) SINCE THE ADOPTION AGENCY TAKES MEDICAL
RECORDS AND FAMILY HISTORIES, WHY ISNT THAT ENOUGH FOR AN
ADOPTEE TO KNOW?
First of all, only half of adoptees come through agencies, and are completely cut off from any knowledge if the adoptive parents do not want them to know anything. Those from agencies, like myself, can only learn old information which was taken at the time of adoption --often twenty, thirty, forty years before. There is no way of learning from the agency what happened medically or emotionally to our mothers after they gave us up. There is no way of knowing the relationship our mothers had to our fathers, the true story of our conception -- whether a love story or a horror story, it is our heritage, and we have a right to a version of it uncensored by social workers. It is the truth of our existence --even the proof.
In one of the Mary Hartman TV episodes, Mary picks up the phone and calls information to ask if she exists. Right now an adoptee has little alternative but to do the same.
3) ISNT THIS UNFAIR TO YOUR ADOPTIVE PARENTS, SINCE THE
AGENCY PROMISED THEM THE RECORDS WOULD REMAIN SEALED?
This is not a promise the agency can make. It cannot play God with an adoptive persons life. Since all children are free at 18 or 21, depending on the state laws, to vote, leave home, go to war, pay taxes, why are adoptive people given this one constitutional restriction. If an adoptee is old enough to die for his country at eighteen, I maintain he is old enough to see his birth records. And I suggest that if he is not given that right, he should also be exempt from paying taxes, going to war, paying traffic fines and driving on the right side of the road. If adoptees are really the chosen people, then they should have all constitutional rights or none. I say this really not as a joke, but to help you understand what it is like to be deprived of ones birthright.
4) WOULDNT IT ALSO BE UNFAIR TO THE
NATURAL MOTHER WHO EXPECTED CONFIDENTIALITY.
Again we are talking of agency placements. Confidentiality is the agencys term blown up out of all proportion to fit the agencys argument. Just think-- when the natural mother turned her baby over to the agency, she was a confused teenager, usually being prodded to do so by her own mother who was afraid of a family disgrace. The young mother was not given a choice then about whether or not she ever wanted to know about her child in the future, or have her child know her. She was told: this is forever.
If we saw this situation in a Greek tragedy, if Sophocles or Euripides had written it, we would have tears in our eyes for those natural mothers. Imagine the cruelty of any society which says to a woman -- give us your baby born out of wedlock and never hope to see it again. What human being can be forced to separate from the child of their flesh -- their first born-- and not have the dream somewhere inside them that
someday they will hear if their child lives or
I have in my files hundreds of letters from natural mothers who gave up their children five years ago, ten years, twenty years. They all tell me they have never forgotten their children. That they feel deceived because the social workers told them at the time that the pain would eventually go away -- and it has not gone away. They dont want to take the children from the adoptive parents, whom they feel grateful to, but just want some word about how their child is doing. These are the natural mothers that the agencies tell us want confidentiality.
Even while I was typing this I got a phone call from a natural mother I didnt know. Her son is now twenty. She had read my book. I told her I was coming here to talk to you. She said, Oh please make them understand that natural mothers want to know what happened to their children, thats all. That we do want to be contacted if it will help our children. And she added: For all I know my son could be dead.
I ask you how can the adoption agencies speak for these natural mothers when they have never bothered to be in contact with them once the baby was turned over to them? If they truly cared about those women, as they claim to now, they would have sent them word over the years as to how their children were doing.
We do know that a research study by psychiatrist Arthur Sorosky with social workers Baran and Reuben, has revealed that the majority of natural mothers they contacted wanted word of their children, and wanted to meet with them if possible.
5) BUT WHAT OF THE RIGHT OF THE NATURAL MOTHER WHO DOES NOT
WANT TO BE CONTACTED?
There will be some, of course, especially those who have kept it a secret from their present families. But the right is with the younger person, the child. It was for the child that society made all these provisions-- the best interests of the child is the term used. At what age are those best interests abandoned for the best interests of everyone else? The adoptee at 18 and over is still that same adoptee -- the child within the adult.
The best interests of the adopted child are the right to grow into a well-adjusted, free person with the same rights as everyone else in the society.
6) WHAT DO YOU THINK OF USING ADOPTION AGENCIES
AS GO-BETWEENS FOR ADOPTEES AND NATURAL PARENTS -- TO CONTACT THE
PARENTS AND DETERMINE WHAT IS BEST FOR ALL PARTIES?
First of all, the agencies do not have the staff or the financial means to find natural mothers whom they have no updated records on. So only those adoptees whose mothers were easy to find --who hadnt married a few times, moved to other parts of the country -- could be helped.
But more important, adoptees dont need go-betweens once they are adult any more than any other citizens. Why must adoptees be a different breed? You tell us we are not different, you want us to act normally like other people, but you treat us differently legally. If our lives are still to be governed by legal contracts made over us by others when we were babies, then I tell you we must consider that we are like slaves sold at auction for life --because money passed hands when we were transferred to our adoptive homes, and only slaves in American history had no legal rights over their own person and names when they were grown.
7) WHAT DO YOU THINK OF USING AGENCIES AS COUNSELING SERVICES
IN THE INTERIM PERIOD?
I would like to see counseling services set up for adoptees, --but by para-medical people, like other adoptees, and by psychiatrists and psychologists familiar with the emotional problems caused by the present situation.
I do not consider adoption social workers qualified to advise adoptees or natural parents in this situation since they have shown no insight into their psychological needs. For as long as they advocate sealed records, agencies are the enemy to our well being as emotionally healthy people. Yes, I use that loaded word enemy, even though I know that as individuals they are good people and mean well and are the victims of outdated psychological theory. I challenge them to educate themselves, to read psychiatric literature on identity by people like Erik Erikson, David Kirk, Rollo May, and to come in out of the Dark Ages.
Just as I challenge you who have the power to change the laws, to think carefully about what you are hearing today, to read the testimony for we have made 20 copies available to you, and to change these medieval laws that are destroying one group of your citizenry.
8) DO YOU THINK THAT IF ADOPTEES ARE ABLE TO
MEET THEIR NATURAL PARENTS, THAT ADOPTION AS AN INSTITUTION WILL
I think it will be strengthened. Many adoptees feel closer to their adoptive parents, once this barrier is removed. When adoptees learn the truth, confront it and absorb it, they are able to look on their adoptive parents as friends, not adversaries, and to appreciate what they have meant to them. If there has been love in the adoptive relationship, nothing can threaten it any more than anything could threaten relationship in natural families.
9) WHAT DO YOUR THINK, AS A COMPROMISE MEASURE,
OF OPENING THE RECORDS IN THE FUTURE TO ADOPTEES YET TO BE BORN,
BUT KEEPING THOSE IN THE PAST CLOSED?
I think this would be a copout for the state legislature. There are five million adoptees living right now, and as long as the records are sealed, they are condemned to go to their graves not knowing the heritage of their biological tire to this earth.
The records should be open for the living as well as the unborn. I am here today to talk for the unborn.
I say for both -- give us our human dignity which is enclosed in out constitutional right. Unseal the adoption records.
I understand that really the main issue here is a legal one, and how you can solve this legally. I have been looking through the Law Reviews and I have been trying to amass myself as much legal material as I can and in the last piece of research that I was looking at I was amazed to learn the following:
The 1967 sealing of the records in New York State was not understood to limit the adoptees access. Thats a very important point. It seems that the main focus was on the limitation of disclosure as between the natural parents and the adoptive parents. The Court of Appeals has never addressed the adoptees right to access. Consider - and I picked this up in some research - this statute does not prohibit disclosure of the childs surname to himself, or to the adoptee following his majority. And it may be argued with some force that if the Legislature had intended to bar access to the adoptee it would have said so.
In summary, whatever may be the preferable public policy it is apparent that the current State law is, at best, vague and ambiguous, concerning the propriety of disclosing from court records an adoptees biological history following his majority.
My immediate reaction on learning this, was to think that maybe we adoptees were being kept from a right that is already ours legally. And I want to ask you today - please, look into this.
I also ask you to understand that this legal ambiguity is
being further complicated by the pressures from adoption
agencies who feel their former policy is being threatened, and by
lobbying of adoptive parents groups, those good burghers
who elect you to follow their wishes, in this case, keeping the
records of their adoptive children, secret.
I am not aware of lobbies of natural mothers fighting to be saved from their own children. Yet, to protect their own interests, the agencies and adoptive parents are invoking the right of the natural mother.
When I am not writing about adoption, I am a humorist; and I should suggest to you now one final solution. That all original family names of adoptees, living and dead, be moved from the States courts and sent to Fort Knox where they can be properly protected.
The possession of children, and the possession of money, are often equated in this land. We fight to protect that which is ours; what we own. And, sad to say, we feel we own our children, whether we are natural or adoptive parents. In the case of adoptive parents, there is an illusion that they can own their children for life, even after the age of 18, the age which sets the natural child free.
I will give you no half-way measures today - I dont believe in them. I want the constitutional right which is mine, with no strings attached to adoption agencies or county clerks. We adoptees have had go-betweens all our lives, from the moment we were babies being parceled out by private lawyers or adoption agencies. We do not want other people to make decisions for us, searching for us, determining whether or not we meet a blood relative in this lifetime.
89. LARRY DUNSKER,
ADOPTEE I come before you today as an adult adoptee who
has searched and successfully found his biological family.
From my own personal experience, I have had what I consider to be
a very happy home as an adopted child. I was loved, cared
for, very secure - both with my parents and with my cousin -
relatives. I searched because I needed to know my
biological background, heritage.
I came to this late in life, when my first child was born, and I said to myself that this was the first flesh and blood of mine that I had ever seen. It was purely an emotional issue. I wanted to know what I had passed on to this child and I started my search.
During this search, other problems came up. The emotional problem was mostly having to use illegal means, for the most part, to find what you wanted to find, of access to the records, I felt that, as children, the Legislature had acted to protect us. But the children of yesterday become the adults of today. We have our needs, we have our desires, and we cannot be discriminated against.
You said you had to use illegal means.
I wanted to ask this of other people, but I didnt. Did you not start by going back to the agency that handled the adoption?
Yes, I did. The woman was summarily helpful. I received non-identifying information. I asked about hereditary and she told me that as far as she knew there were no diseases which could be passed on. I asked what she knew about my mother and she said she was a young woman who had a child out of wedlock. That was about all she could tell me.
I believe the problem of incest has been mentioned. I would like to say that in my case it was a very real concern. I know that even though I was raised in upstate New York, I was born in the New York area. As it turned out, my wife is from the New York area and the question occurred to me, Was this woman I was about to marry a possible relative? Or a close sibling? It took a long session with my in-laws to reassure me that there was no possibility of this, but those things do happen. You should be aware of it.
Did you make any petition to the court?
No. I did not. I did this primarily for the protection of my adoptive parents. I know that they are very emotional on this issue when it comes to discussion. I have to be as gentle as possible.
How did they take it?
They have finally adjusted to it. They are older people and I think they viewed my curiosity as not loving them, which is
totally false, and it took an awful lot of time on my part to convince them that I did love them, I do consider them my parents; the biological family I have found is encompassed with the rest of my family, and I make no distinction between the two. I feel closer to my adoptive family than to my biological family.
You have resumed a relationship with your biological family?
Yes. I have found a brother, possibly a half-brother; he is living in Japan; we are communicating by mail. My biological mother passed away seven years after I was born. I have found her two brothers and some nieces and nephews.
MS. VINCENETTE S. SCHEPPLER, MSW, ADOPTIVE
PARENT Ms. Scheppler:
My testimony today is based on my experience as a psychiatric social worker who has provided therapy for adolescents, many of whom were adopted. I have also been involved for seven years as a director of adoption programs. My work has been with unwed mothers and fathers, adoptive parents, adoptive children and adult adoptees. While all of this experience has convinced me of the need for open records as a contribution to the mental well-being of adoptees, nothing has persuaded me more then the testimony of my own adopted children.
Although the original sealing of adoption records was perhaps understandable on the basis of an earlier lack of knowledge, what we have since learned makes the concept today truly inexcusable.
For a long time it was a rather generally held view that only the disturbed and/or unhappy person would want to seek out his biological parents. It was honestly believed adoption created a totally new life for a child and there was no need to seek out information about his biological heritage. Now we see this is simply not so. Every adopted child has to face what I have chosen to call the adoption dilemma. The essence of this dilemma is in the fact that every adopted child has two sets of parents. He must somehow come to know them both and to settle for himself what his relationship is to be with each. Although some of this may be beyond his control, he will try. Knowledge of his biological parents may be actual, it may be by way of information that is enough to satisfy him, or, if neither of these is possible, it will be imaginary. But know them he must if he is to resolve his dilemma and thus free himself to be all he is capable of doing.
All Humans, in order to grow and become mature adults, must resolve their relationship with their parents. By daily contact
they learn the reality of that relationship and
grow in their ability to move away and become independent
individuals. This task is complicated for the adopted child
who has two sets of parents. Some may tend to deny one set
or the other, but this is often accomplished at a very high
emotional cost. Let those of us who have some authority to
act not be responsible for further complicating this difficult
task by keeping adult adoptees information the rest of us accept
as a matter-of-course. Let us not force them to waste
valuable time, energy and emotional stamina better used for the
building of a creative, productive life. Spare them the
necessity of obtaining this vital information in an illegal,
frustrating and perhaps unsuccessful search.
The social work profession, undoubtedly composed of dedicated, sincere workers who certainly want what is best for all parties concerned, must now face the fact that the sealing of records has been responsible for much unnecessary heartache for everyone involved in adoption. Let us consider some of the reasons for this sealing.
Perhaps the most frequently given reason is the respect for confidentiality. This is based on the myth that parents who surrender their children do, indeed, want to be protected from them. The fact is that at the time of signing a surrender, parents have had to be convinced the only way they could provide a home for the child was to completely relinquish their right to any future knowledge of its existence. Many have written frequently to ask about the childs well-being. Others, believing they could not obtain any information, have agonized in silence. Most have generally acknowledged they cannot play the mother role, but they wanted t make their peace between themselves and their offspring - hardly a sinister motive. For those rare few who may be truly unable or unwilling to acknowledge their children, a statement to that effect might be made a part of their permanent record.
Another argument against open records has been the felt need to protect the adoptee from unpleasant information. There are, in truth no happy circumstances that lead to adoption. The very fact
that a child needs to be placed in an adoptive
home tells us something unpleasant has already happened to
him. He may have been born of unmarried parents who were
not prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for
him. He may have been the product of rape or incest or an
extra-marital affair. He may have been forcibly removed
from his parents by the courts because of neglect or abuse.
He may have been abandoned. To try to protect people from
such information is truly naive. The unknown frequently
holds far more horror than any truth. Both social workers
and adoptive parents have been guilty of fostering a vague,
meaningless explanation to all adopted children that
has, in effect, left all with the feeling there is no way to
learn why their placement was necessary. Your mother
gave you up because she loved you we told them all, as if
that made any sense whatsoever. She wanted what was
best for you so she gave you to an agency to make sure they found
the best possible home for you. And now adults who
were adopted as children are telling us that such answers will
not suffice. Their message is clear. They must work
out their dilemma...their own dilemma. This is a very
personal matter and can best be accomplished when the adoptee is
able to understand the reason for his placement.
All of this has led to societys continually treating the adult adoptee as if he were perpetually a child. It is certainly possible the adult adoptee who seeks out his past may encounter rejection and unpleasantness. This possibility - not probability - is in no way a justification for denying adults their right to know. The idea that some adults can decide for other adults what part of their own person they can be allowed to know is reprehensible. Every individual has a right to come to grips with his own past.
Finally, there is the objection that open records invades the rights of adoptive parents. Surely, while children are still minors, adoptive parents and children need to be protected from custody suits. This argument can no longer hold when those children become adults. The parent-child relationship which has
grown over the years need not be threatened because the
adoptee now seeks to explore that other part of his being.
The parents who understand the need for their children to work
out their dilemma will recognize it is in no way a repudiation of
Some adoptees argue they feel no need to seek out information about their biological background. That is their right. But hopefully this will not be a basis for denying equal rights to those who do.
The question arises, how to make information available. Some have suggested third party mediators. If adoptees have the right to grow and handle their own problems as mature human beings, free of the need for continual parenting and protection by all of society, we must accept the fact mature people can make their own arrangements without third party involvement. Indeed, one of the most tragic aspects of adoption as we know it rises from societys unwillingness to recognize we are not speaking as children.
In closing, I would like to share with you the words of my twelve year old son. When he learned I was coming to this hearing, Thomas said, Mommy, please make them understand. We dont want to run away. We just want to know.
Do you feel that the agency, when you adopted the child, gave you sufficient information and information of such a nature that you could help your child?
Yes and no, because at the time I did not realize what I was going to need. It is only as my children have grown and approached their teen years that I can recognize how much they do want to know.
Whatever information you got, was it oral or written?
Could you remember it the next day?
I think I remembered most of it, although I might have forgotten some of it.
Would it have helped to have a written record?
Yes, I think it would.
97. MS. CAROL
RETTIG, ADOPTEE Ms. Rettig:
I am an adoptee, a reunited adoptee, and also a family therapist in training at the Ackerman Family Training Institute in Manhattan.
They did give me the adoption petition with my mothers name on it, which was very, very helpful for me and something that I want to make very, very clear to the Commission. Its been a very meaningful relationship with all of them, and one of the important things that I am doing now is sending a letter to my extended family, my adopted family, those who know what I have found --- and those who dont know what I have found at all - something that is instrumental to me in tacking down my natural family. And I think its an important part that they share my lifes history as it really is, not only half of the history that Ive known all of my life.
I also, at some point in time, would like to have everyone, all four parents, meet each other. Certainly, emotionally, I know that Im not ready to do this now, nor any of the parents; but they do know that each person knows of the other, and thats something that I am looking forward to. I dont know that theres going to be any long-length relationship between any of them and myself, but certainly that really is an important part.
One of the things that I am certainly in favor of in terms of opening the records is that, though I have found my heritage, I still cannot get my birth certificate which is in the State Capitol of Illinois. Even though I am now in New York City and I am testifying here in the State of New York, I feel that its an impor-
tant issue, and I feel it is my constitutional right to have
my own birth certificate. I did write away for it with my
original name, my original mothers name, and was told that
I could not get my birth certificate because I wasnt
allowed to, although I knew all the information on the
I am, professionally, very much interested in the concerns of all parties. Myself, certainly, as an adoptee, the adoptive family, and the natural family. I think that in each case, as has been stated earlier today, that in each situation the fantasy goes on in the natural mother and fathers life, that this child does exist; although it is only in their minds. But it does exist. Even in the minds of my adoptive parents - one of the questions that they asked me once they had found out that I had found my mother was did I look like her and I said yes, I do; I do look like my mother. So, they have a curiosity as much as I do, though they have been very, very frightened to even talk about it because of the secrecy around the adoption.
An important issue is that my adoptive father went to the State Attorneys Office before he turned over the petition to me to ask if he had the right to do so and the States Attorney said its your decision, its your petition. But, again, I dont have the right to know, I dont have a petition, although the petition was about me.
DAVID MARTIN, ADOPTEE Mr. Martin:
Im speaking as an adult adoptee, who has located members of my biological family. My adoptive parents are in contact with members of my extended family. The five major points I had planned to discuss have already been covered.
First of all, it makes me feel very uncomfortable, as an adult, asking for permission of other adults that happen to not be in a classification that I happen to belong to. Specifically, it takes a person who is not adopted, who simply drops a letter in the mail with a check for $2.50 or whatever, send it to Albany and be mailed a copy of their original birth certificate.
I have spent about two thousand hours of my life, plus many dollars, and still dont have a copy of my original birth certificate. My understanding of the law is that treatments in the law should be such that there should be no impartiality shown. And yet I feel that I am being treated as an unequal member of society simply because of some circumstances that I had nothing to do with, and that happens to be the circumstances surrounding my own birth and adoption.
Secondly, I think that you people on the panel might feel a little bit uncomfortable about being asked by other adults to do something that seemingly should not be such a big thing, and that is to let them have some papers that should inherently be in their possession anyway. Because it also surprised me when I saw the word child mentioned so much, and I see that this is being sponsored by the State Commission on Child Welfare, and yet were
talking about adults. But that, of course,
has been covered before.
I feel that the rights of people should be protected. And I think that I shouldnt do anything that violates the rights of others, so when I need records of my birth, or if I have a need to know who my biological parent or parents are - I have to feel that I am not violating their rights either. And this issue of confidentiality, if requested, I think is an important one. I feel that there should be some mechanism in any open records proposal to allow for protection of a persons confidentiality without violating though the rights of the adult adoptee to know who his or her parents really are. I do not suggest that this be done through an intermediary, because then it would be up to the third party to decide whats in someone elses mind. However, I have never met a natural parent who did not want to be either contacted by the child, or wanted to know anything about their child.
I have met many natural parents who wanted the fact that they had a child out of wedlock kept a secret, kept from their families, or from neighbors and friends and associates, but they never wanted to remain a secret from their own child.
My own experience was that about ten years ago I started a very feeble search for my biological mother, in fact right here in the same area - over in the Troy area. I had the impression that I should feel guilty about what I was doing because it should mean that I had no love or respect for the parents who raised me. So, I sort of covered up this desire to find out more about my biological parents. About eight years later, though, when I first
was married, and especially after our first child was born, I
really wanted to know more about any hereditary traits that I
might be passing on to my children. I then started the
search again and really went into it about two years later, with
not only the assistance, but also the approval of my adoptive
parents. I was able to get quite far.
I had the feeling that my adoptive parents would feel that I was really closing the door on them if I let them know that I wanted to know more about my biological parents and heritage. The opposite was true. They felt good that I was being honest with them and telling them my true feelings. My own relationship with them grew a lot closer when I realized that they understood what my feelings were.
I wont go through all the details of how I located my biological family members. My mother, it turns out, died in 1963, ironically, only six months after I had started my original search. I am in contact with my mothers sisters and brother - my aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. We contact each other on a regular basis, we all live in the same city - Rochester. They are also in contact with my adoptive parents and we have had social functions together and everything. There is no apparent conflict. Each respects the other. My biological family recognizes my adoptive parents as the parents who raised me. My adoptive parents recognize my biological relatives as really extensions of a family. So, I really dont think that rights of other people are being violated if records are opened to the adult adoptee. Because I feel that just as in my case where things have been worked out on a very compatible basis, that this can be done throughout.
SHAD POLIER, ESQ. For the past
thirty years or so I have been Counsel to Louise Wise Services,
which is located in Manhattan, which was founded in 1916 and
which has long been regarded as one of the best adoption agencies
Louise Wise Services has not taken any position whatsoever on the question that is before you. It hasnt even been submitted to the Board and therefore I am speaking to you simply on the basis of my experience of thirty years in the field, and I am expressing my personal views and judgment for whatever, if anything, they are worth.
The problem is not a new one to me. I think it was not long after I became Counsel that I had this problem for the first time presented when the agency asked me how I could help them handle the situation where the natural parents were seeking to find a daughter who had been surrendered by the mother - the parents had not been married for some years afterwards. The girl had been surrendered for adoption and was now probably eighteen years old. And we had the question of what to tell. This was unusual because in all of these years, I may say, my thirty years of experience, there had been very, very few cases where the natural parents have come back for information. By and large, although you wouldnt believe it from the flood of testimony of today, it is also rather unusual for the adopted child to come and ask for his or her parent or parents.
I think these things in themselves are of some significance, because there was a leak in the system which I found and repaired, but before I found and repaired it we ran into a situation where
through a fluke or a leak two natural parents found the identity of their children. One had one child, and the other, several children. I know what havoc - to answer your question, Assemblyman Gottfried - the intrusion of this natural parent into the lives of those children and those adoptive parents - what havoc it wrought.
How old were the children at the time?
The children were all grown, in one case, and in the other case, ten or eleven years old. What will be the impact in these cases cannot be reckoned. We cant know that; it is unknowable. These brave statements that we can integrate the information no matter what it is, let us know the truth no matter how horrible - these are brave statements that I would venture, after working for thirty years with various psychiatric problems, that you are dealing with an unknown. And let me warn you, because it goes back to a question which youve asked again and again, which is, when do we begin this new rule if we make a new rule?
You are writing about a history. You are writing about a history in which, for one reason or another, there has been no doubt about it. That every adoptive parent who has come to an agency, has been told, and has known and has been assured that all the information which will ever be given is what they will give. That was before the law was changed a few years ago so that now the adoptive parent in an agency adoption doesnt even get the surname of the child. And its complete nonsense to hear a novelist suddenly put on the martial uniform of a constitutional lawyer and tell you the New York law on the subject today is vague. The New
York law today is perfectly clear, and in my
opinion, and Ive told their Counsel so, in so many words,
New York Foundling Hospital is violating the law, or the spirit
of the law, with its experiment of trying to find out whether
parents want to be brought together with their children.
You know, you have a right to live your own life. Our agency counsels and advised parents as to adoption if they want advice. Counsel advises adopted children if they have problems, and so on. But somebody even wants you to have the agency update the information so that, heaven forbid, if twenty years from now the mother develops a disease you should know it. So the child, twenty five years after birth, can find out about it. You are really computerizing life and yet youre talking about the right of privacy. This updating - they want the agency to keep advised as to whats happening to the mother. She has a right to have her own life.
You get to the point, here, where you are getting almost a mania for information. And I am really puzzled that a person whose voice and name reminds me that she arrived here only a few years before Hitler took over her homeland, could come here and say the child has the right to know the ethnic background. Well, that went out with the Nuremberg laws. What do you mean you have a right to know your ethnic background? Youre going to put down on the birth certificate Italian, Spanish, French, Jewish, Black, what? Youre going to have it somewhere so it can be found? If you have any reason to believe that the child may have some Black ancestry whatsoever, a sickle-cell anemia test is given automatically, its required. So that you know, so that the adoptive
parents know, so that everybody knows how to
deal with it. What is the theory to find out whether the
parent was truly Jewish because in one out of a million chances
the child may bear the disease associated with that
heritage? You know you can get to the point where you worry
about things so much that you move over into the area of
paranoia, And then, what is it? You had one Black
grandmother and one Jewish grandmother?
You Commission members are sitting here and are being overwhelmed by a phenomenon that has grown over the last five years. You dont find the natural mothers lobbying and you dont find the adoptive parents because they prize their privacy.
The law was changed a couple or three years ago, to require - this is in an agency adoption - that the agency furnish the court with the medical records of the child, and gives the court the discretion to give the medical records to the parents. Well, my agency has never followed that; it has always given the medical record to the parent as well as to the court, because we think they have a right to know, and if I had anything to do with it, I would remove the element of discretion and require that it be given because it is a basic thing. And it may well be, if you want to make a modest beginning in dealing with this problem, not of confidentiality, but of the need, you might very well make it an exception to the rule that upon a proper presentation, medical information will be furnished to the present adoptive parent who adopted before that law went into effect, or to the child after its grown. That area you can deal with as a separate, distance problem.
But let me say to you, I have been a student of law constitutional law for forty-nine years, and when I hear people who havent even a license to practice law give you these long lectures on con-
stitutional rights of children, I wonder.
Do they realize what adoption is, how it came about, what is its place in American law, not only in New York, but in the United States? Adoption is the creation of a relationship, by statute. Again and again the courts have said that you have to define it within the terms of the statute. And the relationship is created by statute and in the process of creating it the Legislature considered - it has a right to reconsider - it has a right to consider what is best for all concerned, or is the least risky way of dealing with the thing. But I would say to you, it would certainly be changing the rules of the game if you now said all the people who have predicated their decision to adopt a child and everything else upon assurances, that its going to be wiped out retroactively - it would be unthinkable. But, even prospectively, you have to weight.
There are three different sets of rights here. And none is superior to the other. Suddenly, these people have decided to quote the childs right. There is the natural mothers right and the adoptive parents right. There is a package of rights, all created by the act of adoption and you have to weigh and you have to see what risks you run if you open this thing up.
I am not very much impressed by the statistics that have been given here, because most troubled people, most people who are very much troubled over this, may very well end up in the therapists. But bear this in mind: what do you think will be the atmosphere you are going to create when the law in New York is such that when a child is eighteen, the child is going to be able to find out the last known name and address of his mother? And, how many hundreds of children - not the ones youve heard here today -
but for every one who came here today there are
hundreds and hundreds who will never get into that bag, so to
speak, because thats simply something that doesnt
happen under our system, and they dont have that great
drive to go about, ingenuously, illegally, in all kinds of
furtive ways, somehow, sometime, in a very small percentage of
the cases, to find out.
But youre now opening up the whole thing. Comes eighteen, you have your new American birthright in New York. You can now get what? Some of them want the case work records. I am surprised that you let them off so easily. Never mind about them telling you here - who must be very new in their field - that it is a hodgepodge. It is not - I have been reading these records for thirty years - and its the story of a tragedy. Its the story of a tragedy and can be told very sensitively. Its always a tragedy when a person, for whatever the reason, is unable to keep and rear their own child. There are all kinds of intimate things in the records - not only disgraceful things, there are all kinds of intimate things in there. They want to take it to its absurd conclusion. There is the adoption, you file the record in court, it is indexed, and at eighteen you press the button and you open it up.
Really, really its a spectacle so horrible that I dont think that people realize what they are saying.
Well, what are you going to have there? Are you going to have the name of the putative father? What if he denies the paternity? What if he is being accused? What if the woman says she doesnt even know who the father is? All of these things the child has to be able to absorb, with the particular help of some
of these therapists and journalists youve
heard today? This child is going to? All I can tell
you is that it goes contrary to my many years of experience of
dealing with the problems of troubled children.
Theres an old spiritual about the troubles Ive know. Well, its bad enough to live with the troubles Ive known; now they want to add to it, the troubles unknown.
Im asking you why? Do you really think you are going to solve the identity problem for this number of people without creating all kinds of other problems of vastly more people? And if you have the problem that you cant measure that, then how dare you pass a law? Dealing with subatomic particles, you can not measure them beyond a certain point, because when you measure them beyond that point, the measuring instrument itself changes the phenomenon, so you are not getting a true answer.
So, you can gallop madly into this thing, without realizing what chaos, what risks to the lives - emotional lives - you are creating. You have to wonder very clearly, as I said to you when you mentioned this subject to me when I was here a couple of weeks ago, I said to you, remember your Greek mythology and ask yourself whether you are opening Pandoras Box.
Its a very seductive thing the way its presented here. Very seductive. Its like being with the good and the true and for mother. And the arrogance of the agencys representative described as their adoption coordinator to say the problem is because agencies dont want their errors to be seen...well, I dont know what skeletons he has in the closets of his agency. Our records are seen regularly, they are seen by the State Board of
Social Welfare, and are reviewed by the
Citys Department of Social Services. Our workers are
reviewed by the Child Welfare League of America to decide whether
our affiliation will be continued. I may say to you that in
the area of the adopted child I have far less worry in agency
records, than I have in the review of the foster child, which is
something we dealt with in other cases.
Im not telling you this because I happen to be Counsel for an agency. I dont know what position my agencys will be. I know that in 1960 when the Adoption Law was being revised, the Director testified and said she thought all adoptions ought to be agency adoptions. And I said on the basis of my experience I regard that to be a disaster, and I still think that. I dont believe in monopolies of any kind, even in this field. And the experience in Connecticut has not commended itself to me, neither New Jersey.
But I say to you, when you live with this thing as I do, and probably one-third of my life has been involved in it, you begin to understand what human risks are involved. And all I can really do for you is to caution you because you have been flooded with fearful stories of what happens to children. And you must remember what may happen to children and what may happen to other people. One of the things you have have - certainly we are dealing with the rare child. Not to be racist, but the rare child available for adoption is the little blonde-haired girl. Ill tell you one thing that might well happen. Even fewer of them may go to agencies and may be pursuing the private adoption route. As a matter of fact, now, in the private adoption, the parent doesnt even get an order of adoption, they get a certificate of adoption,
which doesnt even show the name of the
child. Thats true not only in private adoptions, but
in agency adoptions. So, what you will be doing is creating
a bigger problem than we have today - bigger bootleg problem.
Its interesting to me here, the venom that is directed against agencies, as if the agencies not only stole the baby but were now trying to steal the soul, trying to steal the birthright.
Were not going to ask the natural parents, do you mind your child getting in touch with you? Because its not our business to involve ourselves into the life of that family. Twenty-five years ago, the adoption clerk of New York County called up and said I have a problem because there is an adoption here by a step-father. The child was adopted by the parents at your agency and they were divorced and now the step-father wants to adopt it and the father has consented. What are your views? I said, our views are very simple, its none of our business. Its their child. The fact that its an adopted child doesnt give me a right to stick my nose into the future of that family.
You have been told there are two classes of people here. But there are three classes of people here and there is nothing you can do to avoid the fact that there are three, unfortunately. There are the natural parent, or parents, and the adopted child and the adoptive parents. If the adoptive parents and the adopted child come to a view that maybe its all right to try and find the natural parents, theyre not going to be able to get very far today, because if its a recent adoption, the adoption order will not show, if its an agency adoption, anything about the identity of the child. When somebody has the effrontery to tell you that that
was just to protect the adoptive parents, it was
complete nonsense. It was to cut the cord as far as the
child and that natural parent was concerned. They left
undisturbed the absolute confidentiality or sealed character of
the records that existed before.
I dont know who Mrs. Mainzer is talking about. I can tell you that I have talked with the surrogates in New York and Nassau and I havent found one yet that told me that he ever opened up a record. And they said they couldnt imagine they ever would. I know its quite possible. I know one case, which was presented a little distortedly, in which, through the good offices of the surrogate, certain medical information was obtained, but she didnt have to go to court for that, she could have gotten it anyway.
Throughout the testimony, there were variations on a theme and you are not going to get the answers in this hearing. You are not even going to get an indication of the answer. All youre going to get is an idea of how much of a head of steam has been built up by those who feel a certain way. And its natural. If it really didnt exist before that it was important, everybody who read Erik Erikson either in hard cover or later in paperback, and now its a standard book in colleges, you know, he can not only be credited with discovering the identity crisis, but also creating it.
You may succeed in your legislation, by opening it up, in doing exactly what Eriksons book really has done - you may create a self-fulfilling promise. Open the doors, and what happens when the floods roll in? I can tell you that there is no such
condition of pathology in our society today that
it calls for such a radical operation as proposed by this
legislation of breaking the seal.
Sure, theyre unhappy people. I happen to know of an awful lot of unhappy children who had the misfortune to be born of natural parents. We all have many hangups. In the last thirty years the world is hung up in many ways. And almost a certain percentage of neuroses has become a part of the American theme as well as a part of the American dream. But remember what you may do in applying your scalpel here. Lets not deal with it in terms of privacy alone - it narrows the issue. Lets not deal with only terms of confidentiality. The question is whats going to happen? Whats going to happen? God knows. And nobody here who I have heard has indicated to me that we have such a condition that this Commission must rescue us from that condition.
One thing you certainly cant do, with any wisdom, is to try to roll back the seas of almost a hundred years of the law of adoption in New York. And you cant be impressed by the fact that there are five million people living who are adopted. Out of five million people, and we dont know how many parents of those who are living - we dont know how many siblings - I dont know what you are letting yourself in for. And you dont know it either. And I am warning you, that when you think hard about it and you get beneath the rhetoric, and rid the abstract, you begin to realize you have heard a lot of spirited stuff - but whats going to be the results of it.
In other words, to use the language of the statute, just say to yourselves, in this very delicate field, you must have an overwhelming case presented to you, that you have a tremendously
harmful, widespread, pathological condition that exists in our
society that requires this operation. If you reach that
judgment, then its your duty to do something about
it. But unless and until you reach that degree of moral
certainty, or intellectual certainty, then I would suggest to you
- and I am not a person who shrinks from taking bold action - I
would suggest to you to leave well enough alone. Dont
turn the clock back. It was moved forward; there was the
Governors message commending it when we added to the law
for the first time the possibility of cutting off any knowledge -
we went forward then. That was in 1967.
Ive seen nothing new here except more books are being written and this is a field where one book begets another. The reality is that 99% of the people are getting along and making out without these changes, and for their sakes I suggest that you let them get along.
I may be oversimplifying this, but youve indicated to me that you think we ought not to consider changing the law unless there is some overwhelming pathology that has been proven is society that needs addressing?
Thats right, and it hasnt.
Somewhat subscribing to the Holmes theory of the everchanging law, and there is in our society a new set of mores or attitudes towards this particular question - different in the mores and attitudes that existed at the time that prohibition, if you will, was
implicitly or explicitly contained in our laws - regardless - do you think that the Legislature has a duty to respond to this new set of mores and attitudes in society in this regard, without waiting for a pathology to develop? Perhaps it may be too late for those who are suffering.
To begin with, there is no doubt there is a very great change in our mores. There is no doubt that there is a change in our mores that you would be surprised to know. When Louise Wise Services was created in 1916, no Jewish child in New York had ever been adopted. But they were in the orphan asylums. And thats why Louise Wise Services was created, and it brought to the New York community and the Jewish community the idea of adoption. They had taken in children, relatives and strangers, but the idea of adoption was not a part of the Jewish law. So, it became acceptable.
In the last twenty years, we have gone through that with the Black community, where the idea of adoption has really come into into its own. So, we are dealing with changing mores in many ways. Weve developed a lot of this in the atmosphere in which people accepted the idea of adoption, because it meant, I am now the parent. Thats an enormous force. I dont know whats going to happen when the records are open to adoptees at age eighteen. And nobody knows. When Holmes spoke of the everchanging law, he meant that it developed to meet new needs. Now, the question is, which needs are greater now? I dont think that because you have a voluble fraction of 1% you are better. Thats a judgment - if you must make a valued judgment - that you have to make. If youre going to march to every noisy drum, Senator, youre
going to walk off the cliff. Unless you are satisfied that what you have got now creates a serious emotional pathology in children, and that the natural mother, and the adoptive parents - then you leave it alone. If you dont know where you are, put down your anchor and wait until the wind starts.
Do you feel as strongly about the situation where an adoptee is desirous of finding his or her sibling who was similarly adopted to locate that sister or brother?
They have the same problem. Let me explain it to you. I saw that disaster where the parent found the present whereabouts of five children. It would ordinarily not happen in a hundred million years. You have no idea what happened when five siblings were brought in - for some it was all right and for some it was a complete disaster. Its wonderful to find your brothers, but you must remember that to suddenly find that you have got a brother or sister who was this or that or the other thing - can be a very troubling thing.
First of all, I would like to know what your definition of disaster was in regard to the sibling finding the sibling.
They simply could not reconcile themselves; they wanted nothing to do with that person; felt that person was intruding in their personal lives, and the lives of their children, and that they
didnt belong there. They had also other adopted children who were their sibling and that was their consolation. They didnt become psychotic. But they found it enormously disturbing.
When you say, they, do you mean that one of the siblings...you are speaking of a case where the natural mother found the five children?
Yes, and, therefore, they found each other, she saw to that.
For the purpose of my hypothesis: a sibling finding another sibling who was adopted at the same time out of a common natural mother - out of one mother-
If there would be an impact - I dont know. I do not venture.
You see, a catastrophe in that type of right...do you see a catastrophe in that type of right?
I see anything is possible I dont know. I really dont know, and neither does anybody else. It depends on so many things. I can tell you the danger of it is not as great as establishing new parent-child relationships, thats very much more.
Do you believe, then, that the mere fact that we dont know what would occur - that we should then presuppose - or go on the supposition that the bringing together of siblings should not be done because it is in fact...
No, I dont believe that, at all. I say it to you quite differently - I say to you the present situation is not one where there is a serious pathological harm to the vast, overwhelming majority of adopted children, and I am quite certain that it will be a disaster to a great many others - mothers - and a great many adoptive parents. And what for? And I use the word disaster without any reservations. This is what you have to find: what for? What is the moving force?
Suppose we keep that parent hidden and still give the right to a sibling to find a sibling? His respective sibling?
How do you find that out? Whats the process, Senator?
Well, the process would be to go back to the source, to the adoption order.
And the adoption order will not indicate whether there is a sibling.
Well, then, the source would be one of the agencies.
So you want an agency to be compelled to tell whether there was a sibling?
Ill give you an example, of two sisters and a brother looking for a sister and a brother. At four and five years old, they were
taken from an orphan asylum and sent out for adoption. These three would like to see and meet their sister and brother.
I think that that presents a very separate and different problem, and I would find no difficulty in trying to carve out something that dealt with that or those kinds of things. When a child was adopted at such an age when he or she knew of and knew their siblings. Thats a different problem.
Well, the present law does not avail itself...
Yes, and Ill give you an example. Ill tell you, you cant just deal with the word sibling. I became aware of this ten years ago, where a married woman with two children of the marriage then gave birth to a third child which was not her husbands. And he signed a denial of paternity and a consent to the adoption. All I can tell you is that if you started back into the sibling situation there, ending up with one illegitimate child and two legitimate children - I dont know what youd find. You just dont know what youre opening up.
Do you think that we are, somehow, taking different positions in respect to the illegitimate child, just in the way our laws have changed? Perhaps, in fact, now the stigma of the illegitimate child is not as great?
Oh, yes. But we are talking about - not an illegitimate child, but a child born to a married woman whose husband did not father the child, which causes even additional problems in our society today.
Im glad youre asking these questions, because you are indicating how treacherous the terrain is that you are about to start marching on.
You, I am sure, are of the opinion that the surrogates and the courts when a adoption takes place function in one of the most responsible situations and takes on a tremendous burden in making a decision for adoption.
Yes. And in the case of an agency, you have to have a private or confidential investigation report.
And the agency also, should they be doing their job, would carry that responsibility very weightily; and that when the surrogate, in fact, after reading all of the evidence and the recommendation of the agency, then goes ahead and enters into the order that seals the situation. That responsibility, you agree, is the responsibility that they operate with some degree of ability and with some degree of sagacity?
All I can tell you is that I have not been able to find anything - under the law one thing is very clear and certain - you must bring your proceeding to open up a record - on notice - on notice to the agency and to the adoptive parents.
If you agree with me how important that adoption order is and how important the function of the surrogate in making that
decision, then why not, in legislation that can be considered, why not the question of (1) a sibling finding another sibling; (2) a sibling finding a natural parent; (3) a natural parent finding a sibling - leaving it to the discretion of the surrogate under proper...
Oh, no. There is no such thing as discretion there - what is the standard? Thats like saying the measure of inequity was the length of the chancellors foot, when the chancellor was the man who administered equity. When you say discretion, you have no discretion. Unless you mean, What are the grounds on which this should be done. Otherwise, its lawlessness. You have the power today - for good cause shown - on notice to the agency - and on notice to the adoptive parents. Here is the power - for good cause shown - to open up the records in whole or in part, and, in my instance, subject to being approved by the Appellate Division of the Court of Appeals. But he has that power right now; you dont have to give it to him; he has that power right now. What do you want to give him that is more? These people dont want that. They want to create a right to know and it goes this big and that big and unlimited. And then they call that a constitutional right; theres no such thing; its silly.
I say to those parents, when that surrogate witnesses your signature and my signature and signs the order of adoption, even before they get the new birth certificate, showing you are an adoptive parent, you are that childs parent, and to you it is as though that child were born to you. And you are to that child that way, too. Now, I am not a sentimental fool, but I tell you that that is what
it means to people when you adopt a child. We even
cleared up the inheritance law, trusts, everything else, so as to
make the child completely the child of the adoptive
parents. So that the whole trend in New York has been in
keeping it that way, in keeping as pure as God will permit the
relationship of the child and parent - between an adoptive parent
and an adopted child. In 95% of those cases we have
succeeded, because society has come to recognize that an adopted
child is not a strange thing. More and more people take it
as a matter of course. So, there has been a process, and it
just didnt happen, Senator. We have created something
that is pretty wonderful and beautiful.
There may be some few people here who are unhappy with that, but you are tampering with something that is the nearest thing to a work of God on earth, and that is the adoption of a child.
Do you have any information on what happened in Connecticut with the open adoption?
They have only agency adoptions in Connecticut.
Yes, but there was a regulation that anyone could go in and read their records, and then its recently been changed.
I never knew that it existed in that way. Back in New York until 1950, however, birth records in New York City had the word, adopted, on them and that was eliminated. We have removed these, so to speak, distinctions, as far as we can.
I have a deep concern about opening up a child welfare record
to anybody and I think it would be a disaster, also. I
can remember - and this is absolutely true - that over the years
in an agency you will find consistently the Governor of the State
being named as the putative father; very frequently, the
Commissioner of Welfare, etc. And the putative father seems
to come in waves - in certain styles. The boy who is in his
third year in school and they dont want to stop his
education, etc. Or, sometimes it will be a truck driver,
and you will find one right after the other. Why this
happens, I dont know. Thats one thing.
The other thing is that if people want information about adoption - to open a court record will not give them any information.
It will give them the identity; the name of the person. It wont even give them the address.
Right, theres nothing in that. So, the only other resource, then, is the agency record, and theres more to it...
Yes, and somebody wants a paraprofessional - whatever that means - to be the person to see that record. When I have a Jewish family that is adopting a child, do you want me to tell them the mother is Jewish?
I dont care whether you say the mother is Jewish, but cant you say the child is part-Jewish, part-German, part-Irish? Most of us have that in our background anyway. Youngsters like to say, Oh, Ive got six different nationalities.
Well, you know, its an interesting thing, because the adoption law now requires that the religion of the parent be stated, so far as known. And then it has the religion of the adoptive parents, and then it also asks for the religion of the child. But in the case of a child six years old or under, you put down as the religion of the adopted child the religion of the adoptive parents, because that is what you agreed to. Because its in the best interests of the child. Religion that you are born with has, in that sense, ended in 1959, I saw to that. You put down the religion of the adoptive parents, if the mother has agreed to the child being brought up in that religion.
What I am trying to say is that I think that I can see the wisdom of getting more information that is available in a written form as to the childs background.
What kind of information?
Well, your mother had a nice voice; your father was a carpenter, anything that a youngster can hold on to.
Im not a social worker, and I realize my limitations, but I would like to suggest something that you yourself should answer, and not me. You know, there are a lot of times when the less said, the better. Now, we start the Margaret Glass approach of laying out this, that and the other information. Then the word gets around that Margaret Glass is giving out this information. Then, in comes Child X. And suddenly, Margaret Glass doesnt want to put out
anything, then you raise all kinds of
problems. I dont think that real social work matters
is something that you must put down in writing; these things you
deal with on an individual basis. You place too much faith
in a written piece of paper. Much too much. And
Im telling you, you invite the comparison between that and
the next one where, for very good reasons, you dont go into
For example, a child is born with withdrawal symptoms. Thats part of the medical history. A child is born; the mother had been on drugs and the child had no effects whatsoever at birth or in the next six months. What purpose are you serving that the mother then, or at three months or a year later, or whatever, that she was once on drugs? What is that great revelation going to do for the child when he finds his identity? The law went very far, and Ill tell you why I was for it, so they would have the medical history so that if something went wrong with the child later on they couldnt come back and say, later on, Well, we didnt know this. Thats why I dont even leave it with the surrogate to tell them.
As a matter of fact, we ran into some problems thirty some years ago where a child was born at Pilgrim State Hospital. Want to know the truth? Well, the new birth certificate does not give Pilgrim State Hospital as the place of birth. It gives the town - not the village - but the town where its located. But I can tell you one thing, the adoptive parents know about it; and the court knows they know about it because they have signed an affidavit saying they know about it, etc. But we know that a woman who was a chronic schizophrenic had a child in a State Hospital, but that doesnt mean that childs going to be schizophrenic. But I dont know what good its going to do that child to learn that fact.
Either youre dealing with the most unsensitive kind of people finding out, or so mature that theyre not like us ordinary mortals.
What about an Indian child? If that Indian child becomes an adult, and he wants to go back and reassociate himself with Indians. Without knowledge of his tribe, he wont be accepted.
Im sorry, but you dont know how the Indians keep records. At one time, in one space of time, we placed about thirty wonderful Indian children. Three with one family. And we could have placed hundreds of them, but finally the Indians became able to take care of their own rights and so they set up their own system. And there are no Indian children available for adoption, so they are taking care of their own children. Ive got three Blue Dog children that I know about. They know what their birth records show and they wouldnt have the slightest difficulty in going back to the Reservation. But Indians are not a good case; Indians dont get lost, believe it or not.
I know they dont. But I was thinking of this boy who is eighteen years old. If her doesnt know whether to go back to the Senecas or to the Six Nations, or up to the Mohawks? How can he find and be accepted without tribal knowledge?
If you will look at the hospital where he was born, or on the Indian reservation, he would know very quickly what tribe he belongs to. Indians are not a problem, at least the Western ones are not.
MS. DANIELLE DEGOLIER, ADOPTEE Ms.
My testimony on April 28, 1976 at the hearing concerning Sealed Adoption Records and the Search For Identity Hearing is as follows: I, Danielle DeGolier presently residing in the State of New York, County of Niagara, Town of Porter, at 1575 Lake Road, Youngstown, do solemnly swear this testimony to be given at this hearing is the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.
I was legally adopted at 11 1/2 months of age by Daniel L. and Lucy C. Wilson who then resided and presently reside at 1559 Lake Road, Youngstown, New York.
My adoption was a private one, as a local doctor was the liaison between my adoptive parents and the biological mother. At a very young age, I was told of my adoption and was always made to feel very special and truly wanted. That feeling has carried through to the present. In addition, I was told also at a very young age, of a biological brother 2 years my junior who was also adopted (as I was to find out in 1975) by another local couple.
During the first 11 1/2 months of my life, I was raised by my maternal biological grandparents. My biological grandfather is still alive and presently lives in the city of Niagara Falls, New York.
My biological brother did at one time, live approximately three miles from me.
My biological mother presently resides in
Buffalo, New York.
In August, 1975, I was to find my biological brother whom I had been searching for over a period of about a month. He in turn, in October, 1975, decided on seeking out the biological mother. On November 20, 1975, after subtle coercion from my brother, I did in fact meet once with the biological mother. I was then to learn of a biological sister who is nine years my junior and is currently living in the State of Texas. I have not searched for her.
This experience has led to untold anguish and psychological pain for all members of my family, and especially myself. After meeting with the biological mother, on a first, last and only basis, I was harassed by her when, in fact, she had given me her word that she would never try to contact me again after our initial meeting, as that was my wish.
However, my position on the unsealing adoption records remain unchanged, with definite criteria established (reasonable cause shown) by an adopted adult.
I feel that a mandatory law should be established giving adopted adults the option to have their adoption records unsealed.
Good Cause however, must be established by the adopted person, not by New York State.
A person must be at least 21 years of age, have written proof that he/she is emotionally stable enough to handle any information that he/she may learn upon having his/her records unsealed. Whether or not the adopted adult
wishes to utilize this service is optional,
however, the service should be made accessible to any emotionally
stable adopted adult.
A competent psychologist after questioning the said person may corroborate with a judge and show written proof that the said person is in fact, in their opinion a competent, emotionally healthy adult, capable of handling any information whether it be good, bad, or indifferent regarding said adoptee.
He/she must also be aware of, and able to handle any possible ramifications encountered upon gaining and/or utilizing knowledge stemming from unsealing their private adoption records.
Good Cause is solely determined on an individual basis, as each adoption is totally unique, and an issue such as adoption can never be generalized or stereotyped. Each adopted adult has a very different story to tell, as well as very individual feelings regarding the entire fraternity of adoption and all that said issue entails.
As I understand it, as of 1972 or thereabouts, New York State has established a law that will provide medical history for any child legally adopted in New York State from 1972 on.
What happens to those of us (adoptees) who, unfortunately, were adopted before that time? We are being denied our constitutional rights five. Amendments 1, 13, 14, to our medical backgrounds.
All adopted adults should be given the right, not the privilege of knowledge of medical history and have it updated annually as well as being
given immediate proof of any medical, emotional,
psychological or mental problems or predispositions to any of the
above if they should occur at any time other than the annually
Some examples which I feel are valid to this hearing are:
1) Possible incestuous relationships with siblings of opposite sex, possibly producing defective children. (This could have easily happened to me).
2) Some pregnant women 15 or 20 years ago, ingested a substance (I believe it to be) D. E. S. to alleviate nausea in the first trimester of pregnancy and subsequently gave birth to infants - some of who were legally adopted. These female offsprings are now manifesting cervical cancer. If the adoptive parents are unaware that the biological mother did ingest said substance, consequently they will not seek preventative measures (specifically, monthly pap smears) when their adopted daughters reach puberty.
3) Predispositions to such terminal diseases as cancer. Hodgkins Disease usually does not manifest itself in a person until said person is in his/her 40s. Again, the issue of annually updating medical histories can be and sometimes is, of critical value to an adopted adult where such a disease may not occur in said adoptee until his/her biological parent is any where from 60 to 80 years of age or thereabout.
4) The possibility of the adopted adult passing on genetically inherited diseases, and/or predispositions to diseases or psychological, mental, physical or emotional dysfunctions to own off-spring because of unaccessibility to knowledge of medical records.
In addition, I am not diminishing nine
months of any womans life (i. e. carrying a child and
giving birth) however, I would like to establish in the State of
New York, the technical terminology for the woman who gives birth
to, and subsequently relinquishes said child to be termed the
birth or biological mother. Also,
this term to be used in reference to the man who impregnated a
woman under the condition that he does not keep the child
(Birth or Biological Father).
The term natural being used in reference to birth parents, somehow implies that the adoptive parents are in fact, unnatural. This is, I feel, an indisputable tragedy. An adopted persons Real parents are the parents who raised him/her.
Moreover, the terminology used in relationship to the birth-parents is sometimes termed by society Real Parents. Again, an indisputable tragedy. Just as stated, the persons who produce a child who is for whatever reason, legally relinquished for all time should only be termed birth or biological parents - nothing more.
Each adoption case, I will again emphasize, should be thoroughly checked in all areas and weighed with serious considerations for all parties (potentially) involved.
However, adopted adults should have the right to open records; it should not be a privilege, but a constitutional right.
If the adopted person wished to contact any biological relatives,
a sensitive liaison should intervene and great
discretion should be exercised for all parties concerned.
In summation, I sincerely hope that the testimony given here today has been food for thought for everyone concerned with this vital issue.
Again, my own experience, I did not have and do not have any desire for knowledge of my biological parentage, although I did, in fact, meet with my biological mother once. And mine was a tragedy, but I am here, and I think I am sane, and I lived through it. My brother couldnt wait to meet her. I didnt want anything to do with it and, again, there you are with the sibling thing. I only searched him out; he, in turn, searched her out, and then she saw my pictures and subsequently wanted to see me.
All right, but be prepared if you are searching for the worst, but hope for the best. Thats all I can tell you. Again, the word adoption - who are we protecting? If you break down the word adoption you are going to find in the word, option. Option to who, really? We have stressed today so much with this record business - the whole issue of protecting the biological parent. And, what about the adopted people that are now adult? What about our protection? What about our feelings? Do they matter at all? Should they matter? Of course they should, but do they?
We are so preoccupied with protecting the
biological parent, when, in fact, they relinquished the
child. And, now, we are dealing with the adoptees.
Another thing I feel that is to be considered and valid: if you are searching only for a sibling, be certain that the sibling has knowledge of his or her own adoption. That is one reason why I am not searching for my sister; I believe, in my own heart, that she does not know she was ever adopted. Explore your own motivations for your search; and I am not talking about idle curiosity - its a very real need. And, again, what you are going to involve with the possible encounter and the domino theory, so to speak, where you do not find one person, but you are going to involve God knows how many other people. Think of that too; that matter; its other peoples lives. But maintain that the records should still be open.
Mine was a private adoption, but I contacted the welfare agencies to see if they could tell me where my brother was. The reason why I knew where he was in 1953 was because his adoptive parents tried to blackmail my adoptive parents over a minimal $70 to expose my identity in our small-town community - a Peyton Place type of thing - which was a tragedy in itself. But thats how I knew where he was. Then I called the agency and told them, Look, I dont want anything, I just want my brother. They said, Im sorry, you have no right to that. And I said, You dont have any right to tell me I dont have a right. I said, Just tell me if you have his records on file. She did. And she came back to the telephone and said, Yes, theyre right in front of me. And I said, Could you tell me if he was legally adopted in the State of
New York, and she said, Yes, and
thats all Ill tell you.
Two months later in our local newspaper there was a small clipping. That exact agency was broken into and there was only one record stolen. Now, thats got to say something to all of you people here today. Somebody was desperate enough, in that community, when, probably, that same woman said the same thing to this person on the telephone, and that person broke in and got the record. So, there are legal loopholes. Youve got to open them.
The question of the searchee desiring to establish a relationship: I know of several biological mothers who would embrace the children, but would not try to intervene in their lives. And I can see their point, too. You must consider these things.
The question of heredity versus environment: my brother was the only one that was within the bounds of matrimony. From what I have learned, I just hope that environment plays a bigger role.
Also, you are totally at the mercy of a good judge, or if the judge has a good day at this point, which is unfair, I feel. Also, there is a present inconsistency of established laws. New Jersey, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Finland and Scotland all have open records. Why these States and these Countries and not the rest? In other words, if you are in these States and you want access to your medical history - okay. And if you are not in those States, youre just out of luck. that is inconsistent and therefore I feel its unfair.
In summation, in a letter that I wrote to the biological mother, asking her to please stop harrassing me and to leave me
alone, I would like to leave you with this thought, as an
adopted adult. One sentence in the letter was as follows:
You were responsible for giving me life. My mother, adoptive, is responsible for what that life has become. And I think that says it all.
Didnt your adoptive parents have a copy of the adoption order or certificate?
Yes, they had everything and they showed it to me. I know my given name. Ive known it all my life, and its never mattered, but it was to find my brother that I searched. My brother was found in a closet, abandoned by the woman who bore both of us. And my sister and my brother and myself all have different fathers. The agency intervened when the ASPCA stepped in, because a neighbor called who thought it was an animal in the closet. In other words, he was literally not the bastard, out of the three of us. The agency had no involvement in my adoption; I was private. But in the case of my brother, the agency intervened, and there was, of course, abandonment and cruelty, etc., and he almost died in the closet. And the third one is a different brother by a different father and is in Texas at this point.
MS. NAOMI J. ROEPE, NATURAL MOTHER, ADOPTEE
I reside in New York City, my age is 30 years and I am employed as an Office Manager on the sales staff of three major magazines. As both an adoptee and natural mother, my interests in opening sealed records are based upon the following: A) My inalienable and God given right to know the identity of my natural mother; B) My ability to translate to future generations of children their natural social and ethnic origins; C) My spiritual and psychological need.
One who bears a child does not just sign a surrender and give up her child for adoption. It is not quite so simple. A joint decision was made to relinquish the rights of raising my child. However, if it is in this childs best interests in later life to meet her natural mother -- the choice must be hers and not be made by the State or any adoption agencies. No law can contract away her natural, God given right to know all the facts of her heritage, origins and background. As a natural mother, the mere mechanics of signing a surrender does separate the child and mother physically, but in no way means necessarily, that we are separated emotionally. For myself, I have never surrendered my feelings of concern about my child. Each day I wonder about her welfare and her emotional plus physical development. Eventually when she is of age, I intend to become more active in locating her whereabouts.
It is quite unusual for a mother not to
have maternal feelings and an earnest desire to do anything
possible to facilitate her childs future happiness.
Information from agency records is often lacking; not because of
the mothers reluctance to cooperate but may be the result
of agency social workers neglecting to collect and store vital
As an adoptee, I share with my daughter the same questions which arise almost on a daily basis. Here are some of those questions: You have an interesting look about you, Naomi -- what is your background? Where do you come from? A simple question you say, but to the adoptee, quite a dilemma. Shall I lie and say Im German, as my adoptive parents or tell the truth -- if I know the truth?
In my case, after many reluctant social workers, I was finally told with great hesitance that I am of Japanese heritage. What a lovely thought, I say to myself.
A doctor asks: What type blood were your parents? This information is needed before a major operation. When questioning the agency, their response is twofold: first, why do you want this information? and secondly, the answer is a cold and simple, we do not know. Again, the adoptee (whose welfare and best interests was the agencys prime concern 30 years previous) is faced with reluctance, lack of concern and an overall feeling of suspiciousness.
My question is this: Why must my identity be
sealed away in the Archives of the State? The
adoption has served its purpose as I have been reared by adoptive
parents and my concern is now, the continuation of my own
In summary, people, mostly adolescents, go to the agencies each year for information about their origins. The adoptees quest for their origins is not a vindictive venture, but an attempt to understand themselves and their situation better. The contribution of the law and of adoption agencies towards such an objective can be of immense value to those who happen to feel in a limbo state. The self-perception of all of us is partly based on what our parents and ancestors have been, going back many generations. Adoptees, too, wish to base themselves not only on their adoptive parents, but also on what their original parents and forebears have been, going back many generations. It is the writers view, based on his findings, that no person should be cut off from his origins.
I recommend that the adoption agency or, where there is no agency, the local authority, should be named on the adoption order, so that an adopted person may himself later be in a position to approach the agency for information that the adopters are unable to provide with a complete willingness and understanding. Adoption agencies should [be] required to retain their records for seventy-five years. Furthermore, I also recommend, that an adopted person aged eighteen years or over should be entitled to a copy of his original birth certificate.
ESTHER GOLOVE, ADOPTEE Ms. Golove:
I speak to you as an adopted adult, I am not a child, I am well adjusted and I come from a very good home. And I was extremely wanted. I was also the result of a gray market adoption or gray market type of arrangement, so getting information through an agency is not anything that I would ever have access to. However, I have made my search. As of June 8th of last year I have made contact with my biological family. Unfortunately, I found my mother dead. I missed her by three years, but what I have found about her has satisfied me because knowing the truth is better than knowing nothing at all.
I had to go through very unethical means, because I had no agency to go back to. I went as far as forging signatures and doing many other unethical things, because records were just not open to me. It was a risk, but I was willing to take it and the results have been overwhelming. The search has been the highlight of my life and coping with the information, although it was not pleasant, has made my life very peaceful.
I found a brother in Denver, Colorado, who never knew about me, who is absolutely thrilled. At the present, I am trying to locate my father. I have a picture of him, however this has been so long ago that people are not able to identify his name. I have spent every single day searching out my family. I have taken many hours out of my familys life. I have become obsessed with this thing. And as much as I want to find my father, Im hoping that I dont have to go through these unethical means to find him. If my records were open to me, I could find his name in two seconds.
I hope it doesnt take another eleven months out of my
Now, we were talking about confidentiality before. I have located the people that my mother stayed with when she was pregnant with me. She came all the way from Colorado because it was such a deep, dark secret she didnt want anybody to know. As a result, after she surrendered me for adoption she went back to Colorado and never told a soul, so nobody ever knew about me. But I have contacted the people she lived with and they told me that the only other person she would ever talk to about me were these people she lived with. Every day, she wondered about me, Wheres my little girl; how is she? If only I could see her. What is she doing? She never forget me; she didnt want to be left out of my life; she wanted to be found, but she felt that she couldnt allow herself to come back into my life.
What I am trying to say is that I cannot believe that any mother, any natural mother, would want to stay completely out of their childs life. They want that know on the door sometime or other in their life.
The only thing I can say about open records is I related to a topic like abortion. Its available, its there. If people dont want to know, then they dont have to look, but dont stop people who want to look into their records to find out who they are from doing so. Its constitutional rights. And this is all I can say.
I just want to indicate that your testimony and the young ladys before you indicate that you were the products of a gray market adoption. There are two kinds of adoption in this State - legal and illegal. The illegal are illegal. If they were legal,
there are no shades of black or gray or blue; they are certainly legal. And I dont like to see a characterization of a legal adoption as anything other than legal, because what it does is indicate to some people that something is going on today that is a very proper thing, but it is something that is untoward shady, and thats not the case.
No, in my case, a large sum of money was paid, and then it was legalized through a lawyer.
Well, perhaps, then, it was a illegal adoption.
I think the term gray market may apply in some cases which, perhaps, are shortly on one side or another of legal, and if theyre on the side - the far side - of legal, theyre not so horrendous in their circumstances that we call them black market - so we call them gray market. Maybe it has to do with the price, I dont know.
It could either be an agency or a non-agency adoption. There are people who feel there should only be agency adoptions; that agency adoptions are pure and wholesome and all others are not pure and unwholesome and its an unfair characterization. Its self-serving, to say the least.
BEN BRUSO, ADOPTEE
I was raised in an orphanage from birth to thirteen years of age. My mother gave me up at birth (my biological mother), and at the time she felt, or when was given papers, she was told or assumed that she had signed a release for my being adopted. Thirteen years later the orphanage discovered that I still wasnt adopted, and they took steps to see that I was adopted.
What State is that?
New York. I was born in Manhattan.
You were living in an institution or in a foster home?
I was living in an institution, up in Ogdensburg.
And, was that run by the agency that you were placed with?
Yes, it was a Catholic agency. It started in Utica at an orphanage there for children. And from there I went to Ogdensburg, to another Catholic orphanage.
I would just suggest to you that that kind of thing will never happen in this State again because we have just passed a bill a couple of years ago that will obviate that.
I was just told that. Unfortunately, it happened too late for me. Two years after I was adopted, my adoptive father died and my adoptive mother remarried two years from that death. Since then,
I have found both my biological parents and from
them I have three half-sisters. My biological father did
not know of my existence. But its been a beautiful
relationship since I have found him. And the same could be
said of my three sisters. They couldn't have been
happier. They have always been looking for a brother, as I
was looking for a brother or a sister.
The few things I would like to say is, I was lucky when I started searching for my biological family. I found them in a telephone book. I just happened to be in the City, where I had two biological uncles. And as I told them my story of what I knew, they admitted the fact that I probably was their sisters son. They contacted the sister, and I have since been reunited with her. Since I was adopted at thirteen years of age, I must note that I did know my biological or original name, so it made it a lot easier.
When I had a child of my own, this is really when it struck me that I wanted to look for my biological family. My daughter is nine years old and very tall for her age. Prior to commencing my search, she asked, Why am I tall? If Mommy isnt, and none of her family is? At that point, I realized that not only was I suffering, but she was, because she could not compare with any of my family. Knowing my biological family has not changed my life. It has only fulfilled and enriched it. (Tape inaudible)...
...cannot understand why people are worried about adoptive parents losing their child by this adopted child finding his biological parents. She said to me, and I quote, Dont they know that the heart is capable of loving many people?
I believe in open records. The word child has been used so many times in this hearing, when, in fact, we are dealing with
adults and their yearning to be able to say, Im
tall, because... Therefore, I believe in open
Lastly, I want to say that my biological mother had been hoping and praying that I would find her. I can only reemphasize that I have been finally at peace to be able to look at my daughter and say, not only is she my blood relation, but I have others. I am redhaired because my mother is redhaired; I am blue-eyed because of that, also; and it was quite a sensation and one you can only relate to by experiencing it yourself.
MS. RUTH MITCHELL, NEW YORK COUNCIL ON
ADOPTABLE CHILDREN Ms. Mitchell:
I am Ruth Mitchell and Im here today representing three points of view: as an adopted person, as a mother of two adopted children, and as a staff member of New York Council On Adoptable Children (called COAC) which is primarily an organization of adoptive parents.
The controversy over sealed adoption records is medias child. Jean Paton, Florence Fisher and Betty Jean Lifton have written books and articles and have spoken loud and clear about unsealing records. The fact that they have brought the subject to our attention by rallying media does not make the subject merely a publicity piece or a market place for personal anguish. The February story called The Search in The New York Sunday Times speaks of no more than 2000 to 6000 adoptees actively searching for their biological parents. And considering the thousands of adoptions over the last 20 to 30 years thats not many. Still the point remains: do we or dont we let the sunshine in. At COAC we say that adoptees should have information on their biological, ethnic and/or social background if thats what the adoptee wants.
The adoptee should know as much about himself or herself as possible. We would like to see a standard information sheet on all biological parents who have surrendered their children for adoption and, if children are abandoned, a diligent search -- a familiar phrase -- be made to find out the answers to the kinds of questions that adoptees ask. There is an answer to what did my biological mother look like? or why did my parents give me up? We all know that medical information is of immense value to the adoptee. Some agencies give a great deal of information to pass on to their children; others, give some; and some give nothing. The reluctance to give nothing is usually based on information that is not easy to take. No, not the fact that the child is illegitimate because that is more acceptable in todays world. It is more like that of a 4 year old boy we heard about recently. He is the offspring of his mothers sexual relationship with his older brother -- both of them with some degree of retardation and without being judgmental, we cannot say whether or not when that 4 year old boy grows into maturity he would be better off knowing nothing rather than something about his biological parents. If he chooses to know, he should know.
Adoption today has changed dramatically, as Im certain you know. At COAC we dont hear about or are we concerned with the Patons and Fishers and Liftons, that is, the healthy white infant sought by the infertile couple. Some of the children we find homes for remember their biological families; some know they are adopted instantly because their adoptive parents are of a different race from their own. Fertile families who want more children without giving birth are adopting children with memories of their biological and foster families. Some children come into their new families with their biological names. For many of the children and families COAC works with the controversy over records is academic. It might not be academic for the biological parents. We understand this.
Professor Alan Westin in his book Privacy and Freedom defines privacy as ...the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others. With all sincerity we question what a person called private -- secret information -- years ago would still be considered as private and secret by the same persons today. In a California newspaper an ad in the personal column began Who am I? Adoptees Right To Know and adoptees were asked to write to a Box Number if they wanted to join The Search. Many of the persons answering that ad were biological parents who wanted to know about the children they gave birth to. They didnt want the privacy anymore that had been so important to them years ago. In Scotland any person over 17 can ask for and get not only his or her original birth certificate but the court record too. The number of adoptees requesting that information remains small. It increase when media draws attention to persons involved in The Search. After that its pretty quiet. In Scotland they think it is a good system and advise more countries to consider openness. It is certainly less complex.
I learned I was adopted the hard way. At seven years old. Accidentally. I saw a letter from a lady who wrote about my adoption. My Mother and Father never told me. I didnt confront my Mother until I was 17 and it was a painful experience for both of us. She didnt offer me any information about my adoption and I didnt ask for much, but when the truth was out we grew closer together. For a while we were very close. Then she died and when I was going through her things I came across the letter again. I was graduating from high school and on a whim I sent an invitation to the woman who wrote the letter. She responded -- even sent some money for a present -- and later we set a time to meet. She was my biological mothers aunt who answered some of my questions, I really didnt have many. I didnt need many. The identity crisis so strongly emphasized y those adoptees doing the search has never been a crisis for me. What I wanted to know was Why did my biological parents give me up? Same old question that I know my children will ask. The answer: I was illegitimate. The town was small. There would be too much talk and so my young biological mother was persuaded to give me up for adoption. I had her name, but it wasnt important to find her. Not for me. The most important question was answered. To me, my adoptive mother and father are my real parents. Thats where Im coming from. My children will probably want to know names and addresses and what they had for breakfast. As a parent Id like for them to have that information if they want it. But not until they are 18. Maybe 17 but no younger. The Search itself will be hard enough in this mobile society where we all come and go from one place to another. It takes a certain amount of maturity to trace persons missing from your life for so many years. A single adoptive parent who works as a volunteer for COAC is now adopting his 4th son. He himself is adopted. Hes told his sons that if they want to search out their biological families (and these
children came with their biological names because they were all over 8 years of age) thats fine, but hes not going to help. Its their thing, Roger says, not mine. I never felt the need, but if they do, they have my blessing.
So what am I saying? Not as much as Id like to say. We need to identify a mechanism to carry out the business of unsealing records. Whose responsibility will it be? Agency? Department of Public Health? Should there be an intermediary to assure the privacy promised to the biological parents or at least question whether or not they still want privacy or would they like to know the persons to whom they gave birth. We need to settle on the how and the where. We know the who and the why.
The following testimony was submitted on behalf of the Albany Home for Children:
PROVISIONS FOR OLDER CHILD ADOPTIONS
The Regional Adoption Program, a program of the Albany
Home for Children and sponsored as a demonstration project by the
State Department of Social Services and Welfare Research Inc.,
serves 24 agencies in a 17-county area surrounding Albany.
The purpose of the program is to increase the number of hard-to-place children in adoptive homes and to identify the special ingredients required in an adoption agency to place these children.
Several of the agencies in the Regional Adoption Program have requested that the Regional Adoption Team present the needs of these children to the Joint Committee as they relate to Sealed Adoption Records.
In many cases the older child may become part of an adoptive family but also needs to maintain a relationship with natural family ties such as siblings, grandparents and even, in specialized instances, with biological parents. Therefore, the need for secrecy is unwarranted in these adoptions.
Also with the growing body of knowledge among adoption workers regarding the value of intensive treatment with older adoptive children around their grief and past losses, there is realization that the case record is a necessary tool.
Since many of these children have had 4-12 different foster care, institutional and other types of placements, there is a great deal of material--developmental, social, family, school, psychological and psychiatric information--in the childs record. The process of helping the child to put the pieces of the puzzle of his life together requires the use of the full case record.
Supportive services are also needed by an adoptive family after the legal finalization of an adoption. Therefore, the agencies and their workers should have access to the material in the case record in order to provide these services without a court order.
For many of the children we serve, then sealing of his record is counter to our belief that maximum emotional growth occurs when their past is accessible. Johns situation illustrates this point.
Three years ago John was legally adopted. We and the adoptive family recognized that there were many things about Johns past that still needed to be worked on, but at that time John showed little interest in discussing these issues. We offered to be available at any time for the help we knew would be needed. One year later the boy increased his acting out and we received a request for help. At that time John seemed more interested in some of the issues of his past and since then has been dealing with his problems for the last two years. The material in the record was indispensable in helping John to put the confusion of his life together.
It should be mentioned that John was 13 when his adoption occurred. His life story of 13 years was certainly different from a one-month or ten-month old infant. Also, since John was surrendered by his parents at age 10 and the door had been left open at that time for continued visits, if necessary, there was no need to hide the whereabouts of his biological parents.
Therefore, for John as well as for other older adoptive children, we recommend that their agency records be available to the appropriate caseworker(s), psychiatrists and other professional under the supervision of the authorized agency without a court order.
New York States emphasis on permanency for children and its policy which supports older child adoptions has resulted in a growing number of older child adoptions. As agencies have become more involved in this field, they have become more aware of special services needed by these children and their adoptive families. Use of agency records is not only necessary to implement pre-placement service to children but equally as important in post-adoptive and continuing services to adoptive families and their adoptive children.
We ask that provision be made for this growing number of clients in state policy.
Thomas Regan, Director
Regional Adoption Program
The following testimony was submitted on behalf of Child and Family Services:
SUBJECT: Sealed Adoption Records and the Search for Identity
Although unable to attend the Joint Public Hearing on
April 28, 1976 on the subject of Sealed Adoption Records
and the Search for Identity, we wish to comment on this
It is probable that every natural parent, adoptee, adoptive parent and social worker responsible for adoption service has given more though to the question of open adoption records in the past few years than ever before. Treatment of this highly dramatic issue in the public media has heightened interest in the question and has forced the profession of social work to carefully examine the rationale for current policies and procedures.
To date, the solution to this question remains unclear as the problem is a complicated one and not likely to be solved by
simplistic answers. Therefore, any legislative proposal should be carefully and cautiously designed.
The fundamental questions that need to be answered were spelled out by Rita Dukette, Associate Professor, Loyola University School of Social Work, Chicago, in an article that appeared in Child Welfare, Journal of the Child Welfare League of America, in the September-October Issue, 1975, and we quote:
Basic questions should be considered, such as: Can education be undertaken to help adoptive parents after the placement of the child to deal with their feelings about adoptive status and to consider ways congenial to them to help their children with it? Can ways be established to gather more uniformly adequate information about social and medical backgrounds and to make it accessible to adopters and adoptees not only at placement, but at any later time, if requested? Can information be given within a context of social work understanding that provides opportunity to identify and talk about related concerns when a request for information itself veils another larger need? Must there always be a complete break between biological and adoptive parents, or are these variations in the form of the adoption that can accommodate themselves to the present trend to make records of all kinds available to the persons they concern in such ways that adequate background data are gathered and also that disturbing content about social background will be minimally traumatizing?
These are large questions, but it appears that adoption itself is now having an identity crisis and since crisis has potential for either growth or disaster, this may be a strategic time to modify this institution to make it more compatible with current life styles and values without losing any of its tremendous potential for providing satisfying family life. Recommendations for procedural changes without deliberations about these important underlying considerations are not likely to accomplish what is hoped for.
The hearings in Albany on the 28th are appropriate and timely. We look to them as the beginning of a process which will recommend legislation only after there has been complete study and real understanding of all the issues.
Richard F. Mastronarde
Child and Family Services
On behalf of myself I want to thank every one of you and those who have appeared today to testify on what I consider to be one of the most delicate questions I have ever had as a Legislator.
I want you to know that everything you have said will be very carefully considered. It will be scrutinized and we will think it through as carefully as we possibly can.
The Temporary Commission on Child Welfare is addressing itself to this problem - thats why we are here, and when the Temporary Commission has come to a resolution in its own mind, it will then report to the Legislature, and, of course, the Legislature controls its own destiny, and it will do, of course, what it feels best.
I want you to know that you have been very helpful to us, you have brought a lot of things to our attention that were, perhaps, not in the forefront of our minds, and you have performed a very valuable public service, and I thank you for it.
I want to join in what Senator Pisani said and just say that I have found the testimony here today extremely valuable and very persuasive on many points. I think I can perhaps probably speak for everyone here when I say that I found my own thinking on the issues here changing and responding on the basis of what has been said.
I just want to reiterate for those of you who have made the trip up here and who waited a long time to testify - I think it was well worth it. Thank you.
The hearing is closed; thank you.
The following pages are additions to the original, which are unique to the electronic edition of this text. 154. Bibliography
American Academy of Pedicatrics, Committee on Adoptions Identity Development in Adopted Children. Pediatrics. May 1971. 47:948-49.
Baran, Annette and Reuben Pannor and Arthur D. Sorosky. Adoptive Parents and the Sealed Record Controversy. Social Casework. November 1974. 55:531-36.
Baran, Annette and Reuben Pannor and Arthur D. Sorosky. Identity Conflicts in Adoptees. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Volume 45 (January 1975) pp 18-27.
Dukette, Rita. Perspectives for agency response to the adoption-record controversy. Child Welfare. September-October 1975. Volume 54. Pages 545-555.
Lewis, Albert B. Senate Bill 6288. 1975-1976.
Lifton, Betty Jean. TWICE BORN, Memoirs of An Adopted Daughter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.
Lifton, Betty Jean. The Search. New York Times Magazine. January 25, 1976 pp. 15-22.
Sorosky, Arthur D., Pannor, R., and Baran, A. The Psychological Effects of the Sealed Record on Adoptive Parents The World Journal of Psychosynthesis. November-December 1975. 7 (6): 13-18.
Report Concerning Disclosure of Adoption Records to an Adopted Child at Age 21, prepared by the Commission Staff of New York State Senator Joseph R. Pisani, Chairman, Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare, March 1976.
Westin, Alan. Privacy and Freedom. NY: Atheneum, 1967.
Haley v. Ohio, 332 US 596 (1948)
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963)
Kent v. United States, 383 US 541 (1966)
In re Gault, 387 US 1 (1967)
Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 US 254 (1970)
Perez v. Levine,
Mendoza v. Levine,
Stanley v. Illinois, 405 US 645 (1972)
Orsini v. Blasi, 423 US 1042
Child v. Beame, 412 F. Supp 593 (S.D.N.Y. 1976)
155. STATE OF NEW YORK
1975-1976 Regular Sessions
May 12, 1975
Introduced by Sen. LEWISread twice and
order printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee
on Social Services
to amend the social services law, in relation to an adopted
right to view information held by the adoption agency and courts
The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
1 Section 1. The Social services law is hereby amended
2 thereto a new section, to be section three hundred seventy-two-c, to
3 read as follows:
4 ß 372-c. Access to adoption information by adopted child.
5 Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an adopted child, upon
6 reaching the age of twenty-one years, shall have complete access to all
7 information concerning his adoption held by the adoption agency
8 and any court.
9 ß 2. This act shall take effect immediately.
EXPLANATIONMatter in italics is new; matter in brackets [ ] is old law to be omitted.
SEALED ADOPTION RECORDS
In New York State, it is general child care agency practice never to disclose the identity of a childs natural parent or parents either to the child or his adoptive parents at any time. These practices are reflected in the letter of State law, under which the identity of the natural parents may not be revealed except upon court order for good cause.
In recent years, many individuals and several organizations representing adult adoptees have strongly claimed a right of the adopted to know the details of their heritage as an aid to sound personal growth as well as to provide necessary information to assist in medical diagnosis.
Opposed to this view are positions emphasizing the right to privacy of the natural parent or parents who gave up a child for adoption. Others, including some adoptive parents and child care agencies, have opposed the unsealing of adoption records on the grounds that such action would adversely affect the dynamics of the adoption process as it now exists, so as to reduce the number of children placed for adoption. Disclosure, some assert, would wreak unnecessary and profound psychological harm on adopted children.
The Commission is cognizant of the complexities of this delicate and significant issue. To shed light on this difficult problem, the Commission, jointly with the Assembly Committee on Child Care, held a public hearing on April 28, 1976 in Albany. Present and testifying at the hearing were forceful advocates for the unsealing of records as well as those in opposition to changing the current law.
The Commission intends to continue its deliberations on this subject and to prepare recommendations.
In the meanwhile, the Commission notes that as a result of a recent decision by a Federal Court of Appeals sitting in Illinois, the constitutionality of state laws which provide for the witholding of records of adoptees is now before the Federal Courts.
Pisani, Joseph R. The Children of the State II. Annual Report, 1976, of the Temprorary State Commission on Child Welfare. Pages 39-40.
mentioned by Pisani directly above is Yesterday's Children v.
Kennedy, 569 F.2d 431 (7th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 437
U.S. 904, 98 S.Ct. 3090 (1978).
The Missing Report
Report Concerning Disclosure of Adoption Records to an Adopted Child at Age 21, prepared by the Commission Staff of New York State Senator Joseph R. Pisani, Chairman, Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare, March 1976.)
This report is referred to at: Hearings, Testimony of Clamar at 32, 53, Testimony of Mainzer at 59, 61, 65, Testimony of Lifton, at 78-79; Matter of Anthony, 113 Misc.2d 26, 29 n.4, n. 6, n. 8; E. WAYNE CARP, FAMILY MATTERS 177-178 (Harvard U. Press 1998) (citing ALMA SEARCHLIGHT (Summer 1976)); BETTY JEAN LIFTON, LOST & FOUND 311 (Perennial Library 1988).
The New York State Library does not have a copy, nor does the Legislative Library. In 1998 the author consulted the Child Welfare League of America, E. Wayne Carp, Aphrodite Clamar, Assemblyman Gottfried's office, Betty Jean Lifton, Gertrud Mainzer, as well a Senator Salands office, none of whom were able to provide a copy.