Adoption Beat

May 27, 2008

It’s not about search, it’s about identity

Reference: “The Gift of Adoption,” Washington Times, May 19, 2008

This guest op-ed is in keeping with the political position that the Washington Times has consistently taken on adoption reforms that allow an adult adoptee to know his/her origins – it’s a bad idea that can do more harm than good.

Thomas Atwood, the chief mouthpiece for the National Committee For Adoption (NCFA) uses this venue to present his lopsided view of adoption and whose rights matter.

The adoption agencies who fund his organization and whose operations, reformers maintain, depend on secrecy. They continue to maintain that unsealing birth records could have on parents who choose to put their child up for adoption privately – as opposed to an “open” adoption.

Atwood says that there are “about 1 million children in the United States who live with adoptive parents” – 69 percent of which he acknowledges are open adoptions. (Note: Open adoption is rarely enforceable by the birth parents – the adoptive parents call the shots.)

But there are some 6 million adopted persons in the USA, roughly 5 million or 83.3 percent of whom, are ADULTS, not children. Most are well past the age of 21. The legal reforms he objects to so strenuously pertain to the 83 percent who are adults, and probably do NOT live with their parents.

No one is suggesting that adopted children, minors living at home with their parents, be allowed to obtain their original birth certificate or adoption records on demand, although if they are in an open adoption, this is moot. Atwood’s position is that the rights of 5.73 million adoptees must be sacrificed to shield the identities of the natural parents of 270,000 adoptees when studies show that 95 percent of those parents do not want anonymity anyway.

The facts are that when a child is adopted, adults make all the decisions and the child has no say. Other legal arrangements – such as management of financial assets for a minor – are subject to the individual’s review when s/he reaches adulthood. I suppose Atwood’s is a perfectly reasonable position for a lobbyist whose firm is dependent on adoption remaining profitable – and this is apparently dependent on sealing original birth certificates (OBC). How much more reasonable is it to expect a life-altering decision that makes one the scion of a family that did not give him birth be subject to review, at some point, by the person whose life was irrevocably altered? What are these people afraid of?

Atwood says that a Search Institute study found a majority of American adopted adolescents simply wanted to know what their parents “looked like” (94 percent) or “why” they were adopted (72 percent) – as though biology and circumstances are unimportant. But they are not!

Not only are there as many reasons to desire to know the facts of one’s origins as there are adoptees but, by alluding to this particular source, he equates information with search.

Not all adoptees want to search but MOST wish to know their origins.

At one time, adoption workers believed that nurture was preeminent and nature insignificant, so much so that they discounted such things as medical histories. But even while adoption workers advocated sealed records in the 1930s and 1940s, they continued to preserve social histories for adoptees that would one day wish to know. Records were not sealed to protect “birth” mothers, but to protect adoptive families from unwanted incursions by the family of origin who, they presumed, would want continued contact with the adoptee.

Atwood’s concern for the privacy of mothers who surrendered a child and then went on to start new families is disingenuous. Relinquishment agreements DO NOT promise confidentiality – or what proponents of closed records have redefined as anonymity. Giving the adult adoptee a copy of his original birth certificate with the names of his/her natural parents does not subject these adults to societal censure since unwed parenthood is quite common in our society. “A contact preference form is sufficient to allow the natural parents to make their wishes known; adult adoptees are as capable as anyone else of respecting those wishes.

For adoptees that do wish to search for and make contact with their family of origin there is a sure-fire way to prevent the disaster scenario that he attributes to (a business based on adoption promotion). He cites cases where adoptees have contacted someone in error that they thought to be their parent, child or sibling. There’s a simple solution to that potential problem:

Adoptees who have an OBC don’t have to make educated guesses based on non-identifying information – they don’t have to search!

Although Atwood and administrators of adoption agencies run by Catholic Charities (most of which are NCA member agencies) insist on the “red herring argument” that unwed mothers choose adoption or abortion, statistics do not bear this out. In Kansas, where birth records have never been sealed, abortion rates are lower than in surrounding states. In Alabama, abortion rates have declined since adult adoptees’ rights were restored in 2000.

There are many famous adoptive parents who postponed child bearing to achieve professional or financial success and then found themselves unable to reproduce the old-fashioned way. Others suffer from life-threatening diseases that they don’t want to risk passing on. Yet they still want offspring, so they adopt. I hope they are good parents to these children but that in no way proves that these children have no right to information.

Adoptees are weary of hearing about “grateful” adoptees who appreciate the loving homes they grew up in because it is one of the stereotypes that Atwood and his ilk perpetuate, along with “angry,” “ungrateful” adoptees and “birth” mothers. One of his examples, Victoria Rowell’s adoption does NOT mirror the sealed infant adoptions he’s talking about; she was adopted from foster care when she was old enough to appreciate what that meant. As we have learned, when foster children are adopted, their original birth certificates are sealed in most states, but even a child of three or four is almost certain to remember his/her own name before adoption and, probably, the names of his/her natural parents.

Atwood writes: “just as charitable organizations rely on private ‘gifts’ from anonymous donors, parents who give the gift of adoption also have a reasonable right to remain anonymous. It’s not up to the recipient to find the donor.” There is something very wrong with this analogy! The recipient: that would be the adoptive parents, right? And the gift: the adoptee?

But a human child is not a gift from one human to another. A child is a gift from God with rights that, while inconvenient for adoption agencies and their lobbyist, are incontrovertible.



  1. In that comment at the end, I would think that perhaps Atwood meant that adoptees were receiving the gift of adoption. That’s still arguable but doesn’t have the connotation of giving a person.

    Also, while I have certainly heard comments about “grateful” adoptees, I’ve also heard non-adoptees express gratitude for having had good parents. I would say that anyone who grew up in a loving home could feel grateful for that, no matter how they came to be in that home. There should not be an onus on adoptees to feel any more grateful for this than anyone else or indeed to feel grateful at all unless that’s how they happen to feel.

    Comment by Laurel — May 27, 2008 @ 4:40 am | Reply

  2. I truely believe that two consenting adults that want to find another should have the ways and the means available for them . Its long overdue the arbitratic hurdles birthparents and adoptees have to face in searching. Confidentiality is a myth, period. It was never promised to me or any other birthmother Ive come to know and respect in the many years of my own search and finally reunion .
    The common practices are prehistoric at best , and its about time we bring into light what is long overdue and modernize post adoption practices and laws.

    Comment by Jacqueline Horan — May 30, 2008 @ 2:35 am | Reply

  3. Brava, Ann! It’ always good to find an articulate going over of NCFA!

    Comment by Bastardette — June 3, 2008 @ 4:20 am | Reply

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