Ohio birth parents now can OK contact from child placed for adoption

First thing today, Janice Matteo plans to download a document that might change her life.

Matteo said she will fill out a Contact Preference Form, a new way for Ohio birth parents to state their wishes about being contacted by the child they placed for adoption.

The only record Matteo has now is an old Polaroid photo taken after she gave birth in 1988 to a healthy, 9-pound boy. He’d be nearly 26 now. Matteo has no idea where he is or whether he has tried to find her.

“I felt bad later, when I understood the law better, that I had chosen closed adoption,” she said. “That was a real awakening for me. How do I let him know?”

Matteo will check the box that says she would like to be “contacted directly by the adopted person or their lineal descendant” and hope that he will someday get in touch.

Other options for birth parents are to request contact through an intermediary or to ask not to be contacted at all.

The voluntary contact-preference forms available starting today are part of the 15-month implementation period for a new law that will grant thousands of Ohioans access to original birth certificates.

The “Birth Parent Information Packet” also contains medical-history and redaction forms. Birth parents who placed a child between 1964 and 1996 have a one-year period to request that their names be redacted from the birth-certificate information that would be released to the adult adoptee.

The second phase of the law takes effect one year from now. That’s when about 400,000 Ohio adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 will be able to receive copies of their original birth certificates.

That group — which includes the son whom Matteo placed for adoption — had been excluded under Ohio’s three-tiered law. Adoptees born before 1964 or after 1996 can obtain their original birth certificates, but those in the “sandwich period” could not.

“We’ve got people from all over the country waiting with bated breath for a year from now when they can get their records,” said Betsie Norris, the founder and executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, an education and advocacy organization.

Contact-preference forms, while not legally binding for the adoptee, are important, Norris said.

Before Norris contacted her birth mother, “I had no idea how she might feel, and she had no way to let me know,” she said. “Neither of us knew, until that phone call, what we were walking into.”

Where such forms are available in other states, the vast majority of birth parents say they would welcome contact, Norris said.

Matteo, a Cuyahoga County native who divides her time between Ohio and Georgia, said the contact decision was easy. Harder is finding the right words to put in the form’s optional comment section.

“It might just be something simple,” Matteo said. Something to let her son know that, whatever his feelings about future contact, he already has her love and understanding.

For information about the new law and links to the birth-parent forms, go to www.adoptionnetwork.org or www.odh.ohio.gov.