Testimony of Madelyn Freundlich
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Human Resources
Concerning Adoption Registries
June 11, 1998
Chairman Shaw and Members of the Subcommittee on Human Resources:
My name is Madelyn Freundlich and I am the executive director of The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. The Adoption Institute is an independent, not-for-profit, national organization based in New York City with a mission of improving the quality of information about adoption, enhancing the understanding of adoption, and improving adoption policy and practice. As a nonpartisan and progressive voice in the adoption field, the Adoption Institute initiates research; collects, synthesizes and disseminates research and practice-based information on adoption; and prepares policy analyses based on reliable research and proven best practices.
Today, you will consider The National Voluntary Reunion Registry, a bill that would provide a nationwide system for the voluntary, mutually requested exchange of identifying information that has been mutually consented to by an adult adoptee and his or her birth parent or adult sibling. This Registry is designed to facilitate contact between birth parents and adult adoptees.
Some have argued that birth parents and adult adoptees do not need to have contact facilitated because they do not wish to find one another. With a voluntary reunion registry, it is obvious that 100% of the individuals who register wish to be found . The research, however, is clear that even outside of voluntary reunion registries, birth parents and adopted adults do wish to be found by one another.
In a comprehensive study of the issues involved in adoption, The Maine Department of Human Resources Task Force on Adoption found in 1989 that adoptees and birth parents wish to be found in overwhelming percentages. Noting that the Task Force was "startled . . . to learn . . . how few people did not wish to be found," the group reported that every birth parent who was surveyed [130 birth parents] wanted to be found by the child/adult they had placed for adoption and ninety-five percent of the adoptees [164 adoptees] who were surveyed expressed a desire to be found by their birth parents. Similarly, Paul Sachdev's study in 1991 found that a substantial majority of birth mothers (85.5%) and adoptees (81.1%) supported access by adult adoptees to identifying information on their birth parents.
Our practice-based knowledge further validates that birth parents and adoptees want to be found by one another. Contrary to the rhetoric that characterizes birth parents as moving on with their lives and fearing that the children they relinquished for adoption will intrude upon their lives, research and the work with birth parents undertaken by Becker (1989), Demick and Wapner (1988) and Baran, Pannor and Sorosky (1976) uniformly finds that birth parents do not forget the children they relinquished for adoption and express strong desires to be found by them. Birth parents, as each of these studies find, report that they often think about their children; wonder whether they are alive and healthy; and find that the grief they experienced in having relinquished their children for adoption was intensified by the secrecy surrounding adoption and the walls the adoption system has erected against any contact.
Some also maintain that adoptive parents oppose the voluntary, mutually requested exchange of identifying information between their adult adopted children and birth parents and birth siblings. Again, the research clearly refutes this notion - showing that adoptive parents support the exchange of information and contact between their adult adopted children and the adults' birth families.
Rosemary Avery's 1996 research on the attitudes of adoptive parents in New York regarding access to identifying information found that 84% of the adoptive mothers and 73% of the adoptive fathers agreed or strongly agreed that an adult adoptee should be able to obtain identifying information on his birth parents. This research reflects higher levels of support than that found in Feigleman and Silverman's 1986 research on the attitudes of adoptive parents. That study -- more than ten years old -- nevertheless found that 55% of adopted parents of American-born children supported legislation easing restrictions on their children learning about their birth families and 66% of adopted parents of internationally-adopted children expressed this support. The Maine Department of Human Resources Task Force on Adoption found an even higher percentage of adoptive family support that did Avery. In their 1989 study, the Task Force found that ninety-eight percent of the adoptive parents supported reunions between their adopted children and members of the adoptee's birth family. The findings of Avery, the Maine Task Force on Adoption, and Feigleman and Silverman are consistent with the literature that consistently reports that many adoptive parents feel frustration and a sense of helplessness because of their inability to help their adopted children connect with their biological origins. See, for example, Gritter (1989) and Chapman, Dorner, Silber & Winterberg (1987).
The research makes clear that birth parents and adult adoptees want access to identifying information and that adoptive families, rather than feeling threatened by their children's needs and interests in their birth families, support that access. Other research, including that done by McRoy and Grotevant (1994), demonstrates that benefits flow to all members of the triad when information is more freely shared and there is greater openness in relationships. Policies that facilitate connections between birth families and adopted adults and access to information have strong empirical and practice support.
Avery, R. (1996). Information disclosure and openness in adoption: state policy and empirical evidence. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Baran, A., Pannor, R. & Sorosky, A.D. (1976). Open adoption. Social Work, 21: 97-100.
Becker, M.E. (1989). The rights of unwed parents: Feminist approaches. Social Service Review, 63: 496-517.
Chapman, C., Dorner, P., Silber, K., & Winterberg, T.S. (1987). Meeting the needs of the adoption triangle through open adoption: The adoptive parent. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 4: 3-12.
Demick, J. & Wapner, S. (1988). Open and closed adoption: a developmental conceptualization. Family Process, 27: 229-249.
Feigleman, W. & Silverman, A.R. (1986). Adoptive parents, adoptees, and the sealed record controversy. Social Casework, 67: 219-226.
Gritter, J.L. (Editor). (1989). Adoption without fear. San Antonio, TX: Corona Press.
Maine Department of Human Resources, Task Force on Adoption. (1989). Adoption: A life long process. Portland, ME: Author.
McRoy, R.G., Grotevant, H.D., & Ayers-Lopez, S. (1994). Changing practices in adoption. Austin, TX: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Sachdev, P. (1991). Achieving openness in adoption: Some critical issues in policy formulation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 61 (2): 241-249.
POLICY AND PRACTICE
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