50 States. 1 Movement. Restore Adoptee Rights!

This was originally published in Adoption Today.

DAI is excited to announce our most recent program, OBC 2020. This project will center on providing research, tools, information and resources to states that are working hard to restore to adopted people the unrestricted right to possess their original birth certificate (OBC), a right that is disallowed in the majority of U.S. states today.

When a person is adopted, his/her original birth certificate (OBC) becomes sealed and a new, “amended” birth certificate is issued. The amended birth certificate alters essential facts of the adopted person’s birth and leaves the adopted person to live a legally sanctioned fiction. In most states today, the OBC continues to be sealed and adopted people are denied unrestricted access even when they reach adulthood. This is a human rights violation that creates inequality for an entire group of people. Everyone should have the right to know the truth of his or her birth. In fact, DAI believes that this is so fundamental, OBC 2020 will be the foundation of our work moving forward. It is impossible to live a healthy present when your very beginnings evolve from secrecy and shame.

The practice of sealing OBCs continues in contrast to current best practices in adoption. For many decades now adoption has been practiced in a spirit of openness. The reason for this change from the sealed and secret nature of adoptions from the past is the obvious-people thrive when they can live their truth. This basic idea has been supported by research for decades and outcomes of open adoptions have demonstrated that all members of the extended family of adoption benefit when they can know one another and participate in each other’s lives-most especially the child.

Although openness will never take away the losses inherent in adoption, it has been demonstrated as best practices and far preferable to the clandestine manner of adoptions from long ago. What remains problematic is that even within these changes to practice, certain critical aspects of adoption continue to be sealed forever. As we continue to evolve as individuals, families and as a society we must closely examine the very policies that aim to support the healthy identity development of those individuals, families and our collective society. In adoption, if we begin in a place of secrecy and falsehood, it is impossible to set individuals and families up for lifelong success.

Advocating for equality is never an easy task. It requires organization, commitment and passion. It also requires unity. When individuals come together as one over a shared belief in human rights, the power generated can be immense. There are countless examples in history where justice and equality prevailed due to tenacious advocates who were not daunted by the difficulty that often is a part of this work. In adoption, The Adoption Reform Movement predominantly focused on restoring to adopted people the fundamental right to hold a copy of their own original birth certificate. Although some states have updated their laws to allow an adopted person’s unrestricted access to this vital record, the majority continue to deny adopted people unencumbered access to their OBC.

A birth certificate is a vital document. It holds both practical and personal meaning, and when we deny any person the right to access this record, there are serious practical and personal consequences. A lack of accurate knowledge surrounding genetic history leaves people at a serious disadvantage medically. People may not know their true ethnicity. Moreover, this human rights violation denies adopted people the right to construct a complete identity. It leaves adopted people to constantly play catch up as they navigate the story of their lives without the undeniable benefit of a first chapter. The impact of this extends beyond the adopted person to the generations that will come after them as well.  This is not a helpful practice for parents either as it can create confusion and a lack of true understanding of the importance and validity of extended family connections.

The tangible negative consequences of denying adopted people their OBC are numerous and sobering. Yet the most severe outcome rests in the fact that a fundamental human right is being denied to an entire group of people. There is no other circumstance in which we forbid people the right to know the truth of their origins, except for those who were adopted after they were born.

Restoring this right to adopted people gives them the same rights as their non-adopted peers — the right to know all the parts that make them who they are. It also allows all members of the extended family of adoption to live their truth in a way that is transparent and authentic. Laws that continue to seal OBC’s in perpetuity reflect antiquated ideas that forced all members of the extended family of adoption to live in secrecy and shame. Undoing these laws is one critical way we can work to change perceptions and ensure that all members of the adoption community can live with the honesty and openness necessary for any family to truly thrive.

We must now renew our focus as a united community in supporting advocates throughout the country as they strive to restore adoptee rights. This requires us to collaborate in ensuring the tools necessary to create and sustain active and robust campaigns for unrestricted OBC access.

We are driven now to extend our work in the area of OBC access via our new program — OBC 2020. The overarching goal is to empower needed change and provide the resources and tools necessary to support local advocates in states working hard to gain unrestricted access to OBCs and ensure that all states without access have an active and robust OBC access campaign in place by 2020. Guided by a council of advisors with ample experience in advocacy work, DAI will work with members of the foster care and adoption community as well as with our national network of professionals and academics to provide educational platforms that focuses on this issue as a matter of human rights, augment existing reform efforts to support the community, and activate strategic partnerships with influential human rights, advocacy and family-focused organizations.

Learn more about the key goals of OBC 2020 and take our survey, which will help us as we create a centralized online hub that will serve as the touchstone of the OBC 2020 campaign. The online hub will act as a resource for a states-rights issue that makes the critical connection to a national movement. The hub, which will be launched in phases, will ultimately contain an interactive OBC map, virtual meeting space, and provide the latest national news, social conversations, research and tools for professionals, advocates and the adoption community.

The path to justice is never easy and rarely smooth; yet when we unite our efforts and work in collaboration towards our shared goals, the journey will culminate in justice and equality. We must come together in unity to ensures all adopted people have unrestricted access to their past in order to move forward into a clearer and brighter future. To make a contribution to this important effort please visit our website!

50 States. One Movement. Restore Adoptee Rights!


DAI posts news articles and commentary in areas relevant to adoption and foster care adoption as a way to aggregate information for members of our community. Links to the original article and publication source are included in each post. The views expressed in the articles posted on our News and Views section do not necessarily represent those of DAI, our staff, agents or affiliates. If you wish to read original commentary by DAI, check the blogs on our website as well as at The Huffington Post.