Do you know this?

Now we have a new legislation called "Juvenile & Justice Act, 2015" replacing the JJ Act of 2000. In this new act, adoption has assumed a significant importance with an exclusive chapter. Subscribe and follow this blog for more information in the days to come.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Searching for birth relatives (Part 3)

Steps in the Search Process

Every search is unique in its unfolding, but there are a number of steps and resources common to most searches. This section of the factsheet addresses the steps in the search process, including:

Emotional preparation
Assembling known information
Researching relevant State laws
Registering with reunion registries
Obtaining missing documents
Filing court petitions

1. Emotional preparation. Both adopted persons and birth parents should expect to prepare emotionally for the search process. Such preparation may include reading about other adopted persons' or birth parents' search and reunion experiences and talking to others who are going through or have gone through the same process. Support groups for adopted persons or for birth parents who are searching can be extremely helpful, not only in providing emotional support, but also in sharing practical information. (For a State-by-State listing of support groups, see Information Gateway's National Adoption Directory.)

Gathering emotional support from family and friends also can be helpful. Adopted persons may be reluctant to share their decision to search with their adoptive parents for fear of hurting their feelings. However, in many cases adoptive parents can be an enormous source of support, as well as a source of information. Adoptive parents may take some comfort from knowing that an adopted person's decision to search usually has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the adoptive parents (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992).

The search process may trigger a number of different emotions at different stages for the searcher. At certain stages, some searchers may feel that they need more emotional or moral support than they are receiving from family, friends, and support groups. In these situations, they may want to talk to a professional counselor. Searchers who seek professional counseling will want to ensure that the counselor is familiar with adoption issues. (See Information Gateway's factsheet on selecting adoption therapists.) In addition, some State laws require a meeting with a counselor before a reunion takes place.

2. Assembling known information. Once a decision has been made to search, the first step involves gathering all known and easily obtainable information. For adopted persons, this may mean talking to adoptive parents to find out the name of the adoption agency, attorney, or facilitator involved in the adoption. It also means pulling together all readily available documents, such as the amended birth certificate, hospital records, and any other information, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, school, church, genealogy, health, military, DMV, and property records related to the birth kin all have potential usefulness for leading to a name and location of a birth parent or birth child. It may be helpful to organize and record all information in a central place for easy reference.

3. Researching relevant State laws. Searchers may want to become informed about State laws regarding adoption and records access in the State(s) in which they were born and adopted, keeping in mind that some State laws vary according to the applicable years.

4. Registering with reunion registries. A number of States, as well as private organizations, offer reunion registries that allow adopted persons and birth parents to register the fact that they are searching for each other. Most of these reunion registries are "passive," meaning that both parties (e.g., the adopted person and the birth mother) must independently register in order for a match to be made. When both parties register at the same passive registry and a match is made, registry officials share the mutual information and help to arrange for contact. Passive registries do not actively search for the other party.

The largest passive registry is the International Soundex Reunion Registry. This is open to all adopted adults over 18 years of age, all birth parents, and all adoptive parents of adopted children under 18 years of age.

There are also a number of "active" registries that charge fees to actually go out and search for the birth relative. Some of these are State registries that will initiate a search for a fee. Others are maintained by private search and support groups.

There are few reliable statistics on the success rate of these registries; however, as expected, passive registries tend to show a much lower match rate than active registries. One study of passive State registries found an average success rate of less than 5 percent in 1998, with only two States showing double-digit success rates (Mitchell, Nast, Busharis, & Hasegawa, 1999).

5. Obtaining missing documents. At this point, the searcher may want to attempt to acquire some of the missing documents that could help with the search. There are many types of documents that may lead to locating a birth parent or child or provide a breakthrough to this information. The following is a list of potentially helpful documents:

Adoption agency records-If the name of the adoption agency is known, the searcher can request nonidentifying information or even records. For instance, in her 1998 book, Search: A Handbook for Adoptees and Birthparents, Jayne Askin provides an extensive list of possible questions to be addressed to the agency, including questions about siblings, medical information, and consent to release information. Askin also recommends that the searcher supply a waiver of confidentiality to the agency, so that information about the searcher can be provided to the birth child or birth parent, if that individual also contacts the agency.
Hospital records-Hospital records, when they can be obtained, may provide information on the birth mother, birth father, attending physician, and incidental health information. Adopted persons generally need to know their birth name, as well as the hospital's name and location. If the searcher has difficulty obtaining these records, a request made by a doctor may have a better chance for success.

Birth records-Most adopted persons will not have their original birth certificate but will have, instead, an amended document listing their adoptive parents' names. However, there are a few States that allow adopted adults to have access to their original birth certificate. (See the Information Gateway information on access to family information by adopted persons.) In other States, the original birth certificate may be available if the adopted person petitions the court.
Court adoption file-The court adoption records consist of a number of documents, including the original, unaltered birth certificate; petition to adopt; finalization papers or final decree; consent to adopt from birth parent(s), relinquishment papers, or orders terminating parental rights; and any agency or attorney papers, including information about birth parents. Many of these documents may also be available elsewhere. For instance, adoptive parents should have copies of the court proceedings finalizing the adoption, although the final court order will not provide the names of the birth parents. If this is not available, an adopted person searching for birth parents may be able to contact the attorney or law firm that handled the adoption to obtain it. A request may also be made to the court. Often, identifying information will be blacked out of the court-supplied document; however, there may be some remaining clues that are helpful. The final adoption papers should provide the name of the attorney, judge, and agency involved in the proceedings. This information may lead to discovering other useful clues.

Other court records-While most or all of the court records may be officially sealed, in some cases a searcher may be able to view the court's Docket Appearance Book, a daily record of who appeared in court and why on a particular day, or even the Minute Book log, with the results of each court appearance (Culligan, 1996). Also, local newspapers from the time of the adoption may carry a notice of the filing of the Petition to Adopt in the classified section. This normally includes the name of the couple adopting, as well as the birth name of the child/infant and the name of the social worker assigned to the case (Culligan, 1996).

Other types of records-Other potentially useful records may include physician records, newspapers (for birth announcements), cemetery and mortuary records, probate records, Social Security information, records of military service, school records (including yearbooks), marriage licenses, divorce or annulment papers, DMV documents, and death certificates.

6. Filing a court petition. If none of the above have been successful, adopted persons may petition the court to have the sealed adoption records opened. Whether this is successful may depend on the State, the particular judge, the reason given for the request, and any number of other factors. Petitioning the court does not require an attorney's services, but a petitioner may choose to hire an attorney.

The judge may deny the petition completely or agree to release only nonidentifying information or a summary. In some States, the judge may appoint an intermediary, such as the original adoption agency or a professional searcher, to locate the birth parents and determine whether or not they want to release information or be reunited with the adopted person. In other cases, the petitioner may be able to request the appointment of a confidential intermediary, who will conduct a search (for a fee) and determine if the birth parents are willing to be contacted.

Following these steps may lead the searcher to enough identifying information that birth relatives can be located. In cases in which the search seems to be leading nowhere, the searcher may want to review information or begin to research such things as alternative spellings of names or places. In some cases, information may have been falsified, making it difficult or impossible to continue the search without new information.

No comments: