It is possible
to see in these meeting minutes how one group of agency professionals
responded to the search and
reunion movement among adoptees in the mid-1970s, a moment of
pivotal transition in the debate about confidentiality
and sealed records. Adult adoptees who demanded that agencies
help them identify and locate their birth
parents challenged standards of practice that most professionals
had not only enforced, but championed as necessary to the protection
of child welfare. As of
January 1, 1977, Louise Wise Services, located in New York, reversed
its earlier policy. The agency began offering adoptees information
and facilitating reunions whenever adoptive parents and birth parents
This is a most controversial subject. There is
a group of adoptees who feel they have a right to find their biological
parents. The number of articles would make it appear that a very
large group are seeking the right to have their records opened to
them. Mrs. Kreech said that the number is actually quite small when
related to the large number of adopted people in the United States.
People who are hunting their biological parents have a great need
and we cannot minimize what this means to them. Some of our staff
have been in conflict about this, and feel that people who are determined
to search will do so with or without the help of agencies. Might
it be better for agencies to have a role in this? On the other hand,
staff is aware that any change in our procedures would necessitate
changes in the law and could stir up a tremendous amount of anxiety
and hurt for people who did not have this interest. We have to keep
in mind the very large number who would be affected—biological
parents and adoptive parents, as well as the adoptees. . . .
In conformity with the law, our agency in talking
with grown adopted children who turn to us in their quest for information
about their origins, makes clear that we cannot give them identifying
information. Some of these people are satisfied and go no further;
others feel strongly that they have a right to specific and identifying
In the past four or five years, a good deal of
publicity has been generated by an organization of adopted people
called ALMA or Adoptees Liberty Movement Association. Their goal
is to change the laws in all the states that seal adoption records
since they believe that they have a right to know who they are,
including the right to meet their original parents. (Arizona, Alabama,
Connecticut and Kansas do not seal records.) ALMA’s ability
to secure publicity is surprising in the light of its size. Our
information is that it has around 1,800 members of whom about one-third
are mothers who surrendered children.
In the light of this controversy we were interested
in reading two papers published by The Association of British Adoption
Agencies reporting on the experience in Scotland and Finland. In
these countries adopted people can obtain information about their
original families from official records. . . .
In the [Scottish] group studied those who wanted
to meet their original parents were those whose relationship with
their adoptive parents had been disappointing and unsatisfying.
Their hope was to develop a relationship, especially with the original
mother, that would make up for what they had missed. Many in the
group learned of their adoption in adolescence or later and resented
having facts about their original family, and about why they were
adopted, withheld by their adoptive parents.
The report from Finland has a different quality
in that follow-up with adoptive families and parents who surrender
is handled by the agency which is now responsible for arranging
almost 50% of the adoptions in the country. Very few mothers return
for information or meeting with their children. It has been found
that when they do, it is at a time of crisis, and often they can
be helped to recognize that the request in relation to the child
is inappropriate or irrelevant to their problem. Similarly requests
from adopted children are fully discussed and often withdrawn. Meetings
between mother and child can be arranged if the child is 20 or older
and if both child and mother wish it. The paper stresses with great
sensitivity the need for the caseworker to prepare both very carefully
if the meeting is to be at all meaningful. In the agency’s
experience permanent ties are seldom established.
Mrs. Asch stated that she read many articles and
studies regarding a number of adopted adolescents and young adults
who have been struggling with identity problems and a need to find
out more about their geneological background. Some adults as well
are requesting information and are in the process of searching out
clues and facts that might lead to a meeting with their birth parents. . . .
Florence Fisher in her book, “The Search
for Anna Fisher,” her TV and radio appearances and in her
interviews with the press, has attracted the most attention. She
is now on a promotional tour on behalf of ALMA and her book and
to tell people that “secrecy is evil.”
A research project on Sealed Records has been
completed in California by Arthur Sorosky, M.D., Annette Baran,
M.S.W., and Reuben Pannor, M.S.W. They have lectured, authored many
of the articles in professional journals and have written extensively
in lay periodicals. Their findings are that adoption agencies must
begin to reevaluate their position in regard to the sealed record.
In addition they feel that open access to information would create
a more wholesome environment for parent and child. These and other
findings are being prepared by them for a book to be published in
late 1975. The list of current articles show that most of them are
written by one of the members of this team. This would or could
lead people to believe that this whole topic is more wide spread
than it is in reality. . . .
The literature that Mrs. Asch reviewed, with the
exception of very few articles, want the law to be changed and they
want the child care agencies to review their thinking about Sealed
Records. . . .
Mrs. Asch feels that if one of the original purposes
of the Sealed Record was to protect the child from an illegitimate
status, then the lack of stigma attached in today’s society
accounts for much of the current change in the attitude of some
people. However, it is important to consider the Pandora’s
Box that could be opened by unsealing the records. This could have
adverse effects on millions of lives of adoptees, adoptive parents
and the natural parents. . . .
Mrs. Miller said that she had seen most of the
people who came back to the agency in the past 10 years. In 1973
Mrs. Miller saw 30 people who returned asking about themselves.
The youngest was 15 and the oldest 60 years of age. In 1974 there
were 45 such people. LWS has placed over 7,000 children in the history
of the agency; therefore 75 people in a two-year period is a very
small number. Mrs. Miller does not have figures on the number of
unmarried mothers returning for information about their children
but she believes this was even a considerably smaller number. There
is a common theme in many of these requests. . . .
Many of them [their problems] are not related to being adopted;
many will accept Mrs. Miller’s suggestion for referral for
help outside of the agency. In spite of the agency’s efforts
to help adoptive parents to discuss adoption with their children,
some of these young people were not told they were adopted; they
found an Adoption Order and became curious about the secrecy maintained
in the family. What these young people seem to be looking for is
not their identity. There is enormous relief when they are told
that their natural parents could not do for them what they wanted
to and that they were not just abandoned. There is great yearning
to know who they look like. The stigma of being born out of wedlock
is gone for most of these young people. They are helped to realize
that some young people are not prepared to be parents. . . .
After the presentation Judge Polier asked Dr.
Bernard for her comments. Dr. Bernard said that she feels we should
have an open mind and not be rigid in our position. . . .