The Adoption Institute is Up to the Task

Last week, The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched the initial phase of a new project called OBC 2020. This is a multi-phase project that has an overarching goal of supporting states without campaigns in developing active, OBC access campaigns by 2020. To reach that end, DAI is seeking to work in collaboration with adopted people and their allies in creating an online space that can provide, among other areas, resource development, advocacy tutorials, fundraising capabilities, current news and research, virtual meeting capabilities and other technological tools with one main goal in mind: creating greater unity throughout the United States as a means of supporting state-led campaigns for unrestricted access to OBCs (original birth certificates).

Since we released an initial overview of OBC 2020, we have received numerous comments via email, social media and signups. Close to 100 people have taken our online survey in less than a week. We are buoyed by the conversations that have commenced, and welcome all perspectives, including from those who have questions about our background, motives, perspectives and ideas.

We encourage this dialogue about OBC 2020 and are always happy to have conversations surrounding DAI’s work. DAI is committed to ensuring our communications are public; our plan for OBC 2020 has been to release a series of updates about the various phases of this comprehensive project and would be doing so as different aspects are completed and ready for launch. However, in order to answer some of the questions from our community that have arisen so quickly, we are happy to provide some more details at this juncture.

Who We Are

Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute has worked to improve the lives of children and families across the country through research, education and advocacy. Unencumbered by facilitating adoption placements, DAI has investigated the issues of greatest concern to birth families, adopted people, adoptive families, the people who love them and the professionals who serve them.  DAI’s pioneering work has ranged from access to original birth certificates for adopted people and how to eliminate barriers to adoptions from foster care, to the impact of the Internet on adoption, and also perceptions and policies surrounding expectant and birth parents.

To be clear, DAI is an independent think tank that aims to educate and use what we know to inform policies and practices surrounding adoption and foster care adoption, champion what works and do everything we can to offer innovative solutions for what doesn’t. Our motivation is the well-being of children, the adults they become, and the strength of the extended family of adoption. That includes families of origin, families of experience and professionals who may become like family. Our leadership includes adopted people, our board members represent all members of the extended family of adoption, and our advisory councils are also comprised of individuals with both personal and professional ties to adoption.

Who We Serve

DAI has always been a multi-focused organization committed to serving all members of the extended family of adoption, including birth parents, adopted people, adoptive parents, extended family members and allied professionals. We have been clear that we believe family preservation is optimal. We do though respond to the reality that adoption occurs and so there are many people who live this experience and need support and resources. Ignorance to that reality does not negate its existence. We do not deny the complex societal issues at the root of all of this and we are well aware that there are not simplistic or one dimensional solutions to these intricate realties. Our goal is to ensure that research, policies and practices all serve the health and well-being of adopted people, birth and adoptive parents, extended families, foster youth and alum, foster families and the professionals who work with or alongside these individuals.

What We Do


For far too long, adoption was treated as a one-time transaction which has caused harm in many ways for many people who live most closely to this experience. DAI has a long history of providing educational resources that ideally will provide professionals and family members with information and tools surrounding the need for ethics, transparency and honesty in all areas of adoption and inspires an understanding of adoption that focuses on this experience as a lifelong journey.


DAI is not new to work in the advocacy arena — a fact that is easily uncovered by even a cursory peruse of our website. Because we are a multi-focused organization, this work has extended throughout states as well as at the federal level in a variety of areas that focus on ethics, equitable practices, equality, safety and other key areas related to the well-being of children and family. Among other areas, we were lead amici on a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage equality; we also provided information to the U.S. Government Accountability Office to inform better regulations and practices in response to the crisis of unregulated child custody transfers (aka “rehoming”).

We have released whitepapers that clearly demonstrate our position that unrestricted access to original birth certificates is the needed solution to the problem of adopted people being denied this information. Because DAI cannot be everywhere at once, and because we firmly believe that advocates in their own states know their contexts best, we perceive our role as providing needed support to those doing the work on the ground. We provide this support by issuing research-backed statements that support unrestricted access to OBCs, which includes at times enlightening states about the harm of developing bills with solutions that are not supported by research or best practices.


For those who take the time to explore our numerous research articles, our positions on a variety of key areas central to the adoption experience and practice are easily discernible. We have released studies surrounding the transracial adoption experience, openness, best practice in serving expectant parents, identity, developing better practices for serving waiting children in foster care, access to original birth certificates, the need for greater controls and regulation of the Internet and much more. The central message of these papers and studies always contains themes of the need for greater transparency, stronger regulations, rigorous ethics, and enhanced standards in areas relevant to foster care and adoption.

The overwhelming majority of the work we conduct is offered free to those who wish to download it and use it to inform their practice, advocacy work or to enhance their understanding of the complexities of the adoption experience.

OBC 2020

DAI’s interest in supporting advocacy for access to OBCs is that we believe this is the foundation of ethics and transparency in adoption. If the adoption experience is begun in such a way that vital records can be altered from reflecting the truth, and that truth is then subsequently withheld in perpetuity from adopted people, we are beginning at a place of dishonesty. This has numerous negative implications in a variety of realms and fundamentally places adopted people in an unequal class.

OBC 2020 is in its initial stages of development. Our goal in releasing a preliminary announcement last week was to begin generating the momentum needed to move what will ultimately be a comprehensive project forward. The initial overarching goal of OBC 2020 is to work with states who do not have an active advocacy campaign to develop one while also supporting states who are still working on the issue of advocating for unrestricted access to original birth certificates. Our materials and guidance will always focus on the solution of unrestricted access to original birth certificates. We agree that equality cannot exist on a continuum and that human rights are something you either have or do not have. We appreciate the feedback that our reference to a “gold standard” could be perceived as suggesting lesser solutions uphold a human rights perspective. We agree that they don’t.

DAI prides itself on working with adopted people and their allies on this issue. We will never turn our backs on advocates who strive to reach the goal of unrestricted access to OBCs yet are stymied by a variety of contextual factors that have made this challenging in many ways. We choose not to be ignorant to the complications that exist, respond with support, and seek to work in encouraging ways with our brothers and sisters in adoption to provide tools that can aid advocates in reaching the goal of unrestricted access. There is enough bullying going on in the world these days; the adoption community need not participate as this only further complicates the work that we all so deeply believe in.

Development of OBC 2020 has been in the works since early Fall 2016. Each month, DAI receives dozens and dozens of emails and inquiries from individuals who want information about OBC access, how to advocate for it, and the need for supports in doing so. We also have received numerous feedback both in our 2015 public opinion research as well as from our recent OBC survey. People have been clear with us that they desire greater unity and a collaborative spirit as a way to generate momentum in this work. Although this issue is one that is about the adopted person and must be adoptee led, like-minded allies from the extended family of adoption and myriad professionals have and can augment our work. OBC 2020 will also have an advisory council of adopted people with knowledge of this area of work as well as other individuals who have knowledge and experience in equality-based advocacy. We not only plan to release these names but are excited and proud to do so. We are in the process of finalizing our council, and once completed, an announcement will occur. We anticipate this within the next few weeks.

The OBC 2020 project also reflects on the need for upgrades in the advocacy space surrounding this issue. More innovation, better use of technology, and aggregating resources and supports to be able to reach a wider audience of advocates are all elements that we believe can enhance this work. Similarly, given that our research has demonstrated significant lack of societal awareness about key issues impacting the adoption community, including lack of access to OBCs, it is important to introduce various branding materials as one way to educate and increase much needed awareness.

Many individuals have come to DAI asking for more leadership from us in using our resources to partner on this issue. We recognize that not everyone will wish to join this space or collaborate alongside us and others. Yet, we still want to respond to the needs expressed to us by so many to provide resources that can help support this difficult work. Our plan will continue to be to do this work in collaboration with the community. This is why our social media platforms are open to the public; we only block users that post comments that are racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise discriminatory. When we receive commentary, we respond and welcome further conversation. Unfortunately, many times our harshest critics disregard our outreach for further discussion.

We believe that we are better as a community if we can stand together in unity about the issues that matter most to us. Disagreement is a normal part of human exchanges and there is value in spirited debate. Even if we don’t necessarily agree, DAI always learns something from our interactions and it helps us as we move forward with our work.

What is the OBC 2020 campaign NOT about? It’s not about DAI riding into the sunset on our “Unicorn” as the hero that single-handedly releases sealed OBCs from the dusty cabinets of vital records offices throughout our country within a few scant years. This is a complicated issue. We are realistic about the challenges before us and we view our role as using our resources to provide leadership and augment the work of advocates on the ground who desire to collaborate with us.

We believe that with solidarity, unity, organization, pooling of knowledge and resources, healthy dialogue, and the creation of a free, technologically advanced online hub, we can support and enhance the work of advocates throughout the country. We believe that by 2020 we can create the momentum needed so that all states without access have active and robust campaigns that seek unrestricted access to OBCs while also supporting states that have tirelessly advocated for many years.

If this positive energy means we’re perceived as riding along on the unicorn, well, we’re happy then to saddle up! DAI prefers to engage in a work with a positive view for what we believe is possible and we have the motivation, spirit and professionalism to do so. We welcome all people joining us in this effort. We believe in you and we believe that together, we have the ability to rally the energy needed to take OBC access campaigns to the next level.

Join Us.

50 States. 1 Movement. Restore Adoptee Rights!


Take Our OBC 2020 Survey Learn More About OBC 2020 Subscribe to Our OBC 2020 Email Updates

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *