Policy & Practice: Advocacy
Letter: March 2, 2010
To: Honorable Members of the New Jersey Senate Health and Human Services Committee
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank; it is the pre-eminent research, policy and education organization in its field. It conducts research and analysis on many issues in order to improve laws, policies and practices related to adoption and foster care. This correspondence – along with the attached written testimony regarding SB 6320 – is intended to explain the state of professional knowledge on one of those issues: the availability (or lack thereof) of original birth certificates to adopted persons once they reach the age of majority. The Adoption Institute has published the most extensive research-based report to date on this issue; I would be delighted to provide you with a copy.
I will keep this letter brief, as I'm sure you already have received a great amount of information from all sides. We can provide any additional data you might need or want, would be delighted to address any questions you encounter, and have also submitted research-based testimony (separate document).
In short, research consistently shows that sealed birth certificates are an anachronism born of society's desire to protect the reputations of adoptees and their birthparents at a time when unwed mothers were severely stigmatized and the children born to them were denigrated as "bastards." Indeed, birth certificates were often stamped with the word "illegitimate." Over time, the cultural rationale has shifted to maintaining the anonymity of birthmothers. However, nearly all available evidence indicates that these women – while sometimes wanting privacy in their families and not wanting their situations public – overwhelmingly desire some level of contact with or knowledge about the children they bore; that they favor adoptee access to their birth certificates (or, at least, do not oppose it); and, contrary to popular perception, that they were not legally assured of anonymity. Moreover, the vast majority of adult adoptees want the records for a variety of reasons, notably medical and genealogical.
Two additional, critical points: First, a number of states in recent years have enacted laws granting adult adoptees access to their records - with none of the negative consequences that critics had predicted. And, perhaps most important, the unambiguous conclusion from a growing body of research is that greater knowledge about their histories (biological and personal) yields better outcomes for adoptees and their families. That is the principal reason, in both professional practices and new statutes throughout our country in the last decade, the singular trend has been toward increased disclosure. A few adoption practitioners, and organizations representing them, still advocate for closure – sometimes by confusing "anonymity" and "privacy" or by using discredited data on a supposed "link" with abortion – but these practitioners represent a small and shrinking minority in the field.
I hope these comments are useful. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 617-332-8944 if you have questions or need more information. Thank you for your attention and for your important work.