Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pennsylvania, the Birthplace of Liberty

In 1969 an infant girl was placed for adoption. I do not know her, nor do I know the circumstances of her surrender. I do not know the opinions or feelings of her maternal grandparents at the time of her adoption.

But I do know this: thirty years later, those maternal grandparents went looking for her. They were performing estate planning, and wanted this adopted granddaughter included in their wills. They wanted to meet her.

They hired a lawyer and petitioned the court. Their request was denied.

Several months later, under the same lawyer, they petitioned the court a second time. They were very clear that they wished to provide lifetime gifts from a trust, and to provide for her in their wills. They requested the appointment of a confidential intermediary to perform this search and make contact.

Their request was denied a second time without review, based on Pennsylvania’s confidentiality laws.

These two didn’t give up. They filed a formal complaint and appeal against the court, stating the confidentiality laws apply only to the natural parents. Also, they claimed, as they were seeking contact though a confidential intermediary, even the proposed anonymity of the adult woman would be protected.

They were denied a third time.

In 1994, a 36 year old woman petitioned the court for her non-identifying information. Following state law, her records were reviewed by the presiding judge under videotape. The judge released to her the ages and religions of her parents and nothing more. Knowing full well the amount of information required at the time of her adoption, this woman appealed her case to Pennsylvania Superior court, stating all of the nonidentifying information she was entitled to under state law was not released to her. The Superior court, again reviewing her adoption records, agreed. And also noted that the minimal information provided to her by the judge…. was incorrect.

In 2003, an adult male brought case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia seeking his birth records. His case was denied. In the court records, he was referred to as “Plaintiff is an adopted child”

I believe at the time of his case, this adopted child was 52 years old.

Pennsylvania, in my opinion, is also the birthplace of wasted legal fees. How much money do you think these three cases netted in attorney fees? How many more Pennsylvania adoptees have hired lawyers who have been able to do nothing?

How much longer is this nonsense going to go on?

If I made you mad, here's an image for you to invoke some laughs. Under Pennsylvania state law, when an adoptee petitions the court for their non-identifying information, the judge who reviews the records is required to do so under videotape. Is there some state video library somplace that has hours and hours of footage of judges sitting at tables looking at files? Is there at least a musical soundtrack to them? Does anyone look at them? I don't know why, just the idea of movies of judges looking at file folders made me giggle.

14 complaints from ingrates:

Unknown April 3, 2007 at 4:39 PM  

penneselvania law is sooo stoopid!

i wonder how many adoptees faced agonizing and troublesome or even life threatening health problems because of this.

i know where i live, an adoptee sued the government because she came close to death after the same type of denials for her records. she won several million and got the information.

it took 10 years of active fighting, and probably more then that to get our records open. i have to believe that eventually laws will change and this will spread. as more places open up, there is more examples to use in the fight - to stop those myths.

sometimes i think they close the records simply to keep the adoption industry happy. it's wrong on so many levels

Anonymous,  April 3, 2007 at 4:52 PM  

Roflmao. Ahhh the frustration of being a forever child of the state or adoptive family whoever you choose

abebech April 3, 2007 at 7:23 PM  

This is outrageous. I cannot imagine who they are making happy by keeping adults' information from them.

Third Mom April 3, 2007 at 8:49 PM  

Pure stupidity. What really bugs me is that these judges HAVE to see lots of these cases, and by now even they have to know how stupid these laws are. When is someone with the power to make change going to open their mouth?

It's so frustrating.

Lizard April 4, 2007 at 3:04 AM  

In my head, I am hearing Sting's "De do do do de da da da" as I picture the adoptee watching the video of the judge looking at her records.

Holy crap. These horror stories are never-ending. YES I AM ANGRY!!! How DARE they!!?? Who do these people think they are and WHAT must they think we are (certainly not "who")!


Poets priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission
'Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do de da da da
Their innocence will pull me through
De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do de da da da
They're meaningless and all that's true

Doughnut April 4, 2007 at 7:33 AM  

What do these laws tell us about society? Who wanted closed records in the first place? Not adoptees. Not birth mothers/fathers. Hmmm adoptive parents? The prevailing logic would have to be adoptive parents in order to keep "meddling" birth parents out of their hair in raising their children. Sounds crazy!

The confidentiality laws governing adoptions could be struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because if argued, they could violate the civil rights of the adoptee. It would take an adoptee who has a lot of backing to take something like this all the way...but it would be a landmark case if ruled in favor of the adoptee or birth parent.

I certainly don't get the video taping of the judge. That is so outdated. If he/she is doing it in open court, the court reporter and clerk can testify that it was reviewed. Usually a Judge as to go on record stating what he reviewed and will release so the video tape is meaningless. No one ever views them unless there is some challenge of being biased. They should trash that law along with the confidentiality one in my opinion.

abebech April 4, 2007 at 9:02 AM  

"Not birth mothers/fathers. Hmmm adoptive parents"
Leroy, our first agency informed us that many of the expectant parents believe they want a closed adoption (we know that this was the case for one situation we were presented with). And sometimes mothers, for whatever reason, will not name the father even after reunion.
I would not immediately assume that this secrecy is because adoptive parents fear natural parents. It was impressed upon us (open to open) that we would need to respect the n.mother's and n.father's privacy (secrecy). It is possible that records continue to be sealed out of a misguided notion of keeping (legal and binding) promises of privacy made thirty, forty years ago.
Rather than targetting afamilies, we need to target the infantilization of adopted people. For my part, I'm trying to change afamily perspectives from getting "a baby" to stewarding to adulthood a person with the same rights as both sets of parents right from the start. Hopefully kids of this new generation won't be searching because they'll already know. And in the meantime we need to speak to the importance of unsealing these records.

Doughnut April 4, 2007 at 9:20 AM  

Thanks abebech...that is another possibility that I hadn't thought of when I wrote my comment. I assumed that the majority of natural/birth/first parents would want their child to know who they were and that may not be the case....as also told by adoptees trying to contact their mothers and running into silence...although I often wonder if that is a minority of cases. Not sure if there has been a study to determine the numbers because of the confidentiality laws. Would be interesting to find out.

I appreciate your feedback. I am sure others will weigh in on this.

Unknown April 4, 2007 at 11:43 AM  

When records opened up here in ontario, they used the very same myths. it was fear mongering at its best. again, the government and Industry spoke for us and said birth parents were promised privacy and confidentiality.they even made a splashy sensational headline in the paper that said a birth mother might even commit suicide if her "secret" got out.
the backlash from those headlines spoke volumes.alot of us first mothers wrote into the newspapers and media and told them that for about the last 30 years most adoptions had no such promise attached.it was just another excuse to try to keep records closed.i tend to get a bit frustrated when statements like this are made.not only do first families have no voice, but when it comes time to make a much needed change,someone speaks on our behalf rather inaccurately.the sealing of records began sometime in 1927 and it was to promise a-parents that the child would really be theirs without any interference.they took away the right to know your own identity and heritage, not to mention caused a lot of medical problems too.when it comes time to allow access, all of sudden the politicians want to "help" me keep my confidentiality. its a load of crap.the whole point of non identifying information is to give adoptees information without having to reunite if the person doesnt want to. there is no good reason why Theresa isnt allowed whats legally hers.

suz April 4, 2007 at 11:43 AM  

to the comments made by leroy and abebech....agencies lie. point blank. they take advantage of natural parents and also advantage of the adoptive parents deperation and money.

the agency that sold my daughter has told many adoptive parents that the natural parents want closed adoptions. when the moms are found (and I have found many) the adoptive parents learn the moms asked for open and was told the families wanted closed.

who sets up this dynamic of natural and adoptive parent fear and angst?

the agencies if many, if not all, cases.

Ungrateful Little Bastard April 4, 2007 at 12:39 PM  

Wow, really awesome comments.. everyone. Thank you so much.

Now I got that song stuck in my head all day. It's so fitting, isn't it?

abebech April 4, 2007 at 5:16 PM  

Erika I was NOT intending to speak on your behalf, and am saddened that it seemed so. I was trying to say (badly, I see now) that we need to address myths and misguided notions, but this does include considering that sealed records of adult adoptees are not (just) about current paparent fears.

All, please know I'm not at all trying to further those myths.

But I DO believe that the myth of a first mothers' desire for confidentiality is a powerful myth and that combined with the misguided notions that set these laws and offices in place they are more of a hinderance in preventing access to these records than is contemporary aparent fear of openness, and your story bears that out. That a paper would run such a statement indicates that it is indeed a powerful fiction.

Suz, I do take your point about agency perpetuation of myths, but we were not naive. Our agency didn't lie about the situation desiring a closed adoption -- it would have been to their disadvantage to do so in our case, and the other situations were open. I can't speak for her, but no one else can either. In any case it wasn't something we were comfortable with, yet is not a fiction in every case (this does not mean that I support that desire for confidentiality ad infinitum).

My point was that obstruction of adult adoptees' access to their vital information cannot be blamed entirely on aparents or aparent fears, particularly contemporary paparent fears.

A particular adoptee is not denied her information as an adult because of present paparent fears but because of ill-conceived laws and people who feel constrained by them (whether those promises were supposedly to nfamilies, whether mothers or others, or to afamilies, they are old, old promises and shouldn't have been made even then) and a mistake in who birth certs "belong" to.

I believe in shifting thinking from this information as a privilege to this information as a right of the people to whom those records pertain, following a long history of denial of those rights. And that's where adoptive parents (this current generation) can and should come in,

but it's clear that nmoms' voices must be heard on the issue.

*In the situation I describe, in the uproar about preventing the opening of records, I still do wonder about fathers. They seem left out of the equation.

Sorry again for all offense.

Ungrateful Little Bastard April 4, 2007 at 6:16 PM  

abebech your voice is very much appreciated and wanted.

The lies, the coercion, the myths, all of these are, in my small opinion, part of a much large evil of preying on the vulnerable, the scared, the poor - then eviler of all making a profit off pain. Some of my adoption views I held as a 20 year old I still hold today. A true hatred of women runs throughout the secrecy and lies.

I view those platitudes of protecting mother's privacy, of increased abortions or of the ever popular babies in dumpster bit to be just all this BS wrapped up under the guise of caring. But I can still sense hatred and fear under it all, no matter how pretty the package.

As far as the fathers, well, (really getting ready to be hated on here), they're left out of the equation, in my grandiose opinion, because too many of them are cowards.

What exactly is the dad % in CUB membership as compared to mom %? How many blogging first dads do we have out there? I know of one - COUNT 'EM - ONE. I realize there is the Saskatoon Dad case and he I hope the best for, but for me I'm more focused on the Baby Scoop Era closed adoption type dads. We know men in their 50's and 60's are out there on the interent. Some of them are secret dads.

Show me a baby scoop era dad who is out there blogging, who says,

"Yes, I fathered this child. I was a young, dumb, scared kid. I apologize for letting my girlfriend down. I didn't know what to do. But I'm here to say, this is my child. "

That, in my opinion, would be a dad I'd be proud of.

Or even:

"I fathered a child. I have told no one. This blog is my attempt to work through my feelings under an assumed screen name."

Even that i would respect.

But so far all I hear from Baby Scoop Era dads is the sound of silence.

So far, I have yet to find one. I hope someone can provde me wrong. Nothing would make me happier.

Ungrateful Little Bastard April 7, 2007 at 6:18 AM  

as an addendum to the above, i've been made happier.

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