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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adoption Legislation Primer (a must read!)

Special Guest Blog by Romany

Most sealed records legislation dates from the 1930s – 1950s.  At that time, birth certificates were public record, meaning that anyone could get a copy of anyone else’s birth certificate.  Court adoption documents were also public record.  Back then, adoption legislation allowed the state to seal original birth certificates once an amended birth certificate had been issued.  Court records of adoption were also sealed by state law.  In many states, the sealing did not initially prevent the parties to the adoption (parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee) from accessing records after they were sealed.  Eventually, however, even the parties to the adoption were prevented from accessing the records.

In many states, there have been ongoing attempts to restore access, some stretching back 20 to 30 years.  Most recently, access legislation that HAS passed has been through the efforts of a state senator or state assemblymember who is an adoptee.  This has happened in New Hampshire, Maine and Illinois.

The primary argument from the opposition is that relinquishing parents have an expectation of privacy that the state is morally (and/or legally) bound to protect.  The corollary argument is that without state-guaranteed protection of their privacy, some unknown number of women in a “crisis pregnancy” would choose to abort rather than place for adoption.
The opposition generally consists of some very strange bedfellows:
o        The National Council for Adoption (lobbying group for certain adoption agencies)
o        The Catholic Church (through each state’s Catholic Conferences of Bishops)
o        Some ACLU chapters
o        Some Planned Parenthood chapters
o        Some Right-To-Life organizations (RTL)
While RTL organizations tend to push the abortion angle, some Planned Parenthood chapters consider adoption a “reproductive choice” deserving of the same protection of anonymity as abortion.  ACLU chapters push the “expectation of privacy” with or without “reproductive choice”.

Plenty.  The original hue and cry was how “abortion rates will skyrocket” if access legislation is passed.  We now have up to ten years of history in states that have restored access.  Abortion statistics from those states have shown NO uptick in abortion rates. 
There is also a survey by the Guttmacher Institute (“Concern for Current and Future Children”) that indicates at least SOME women choose abortion over adoption BECAUSE sealed records would not allow them to know what happened to the child they relinquished.
The arguments from RTL are now centered on a woman’s ability to choose a closed adoption rather than visions of the wholesale slaughter of innocents.  Even in a diminished capacity, this argument still holds sway with pro-life legislators.  We are now being asked to effectively guarantee that no woman will ever have an abortion because of access legislation.

The gist of this is that some unknown number of parents were promised or BELIEVED that they were promised anonymity/confidentiality/privacy in that their identities would never ever be released to anyone.  For a long time, this myth was repeated in a vacuum.  The only real “evidence” anyone had was that a state law sealed records.  Everything else was based on the opposition telling legislators that they had received “a stack of anonymous letters” from parents.
On the other side are certain indisputable facts:
1.       Adoption records and OBCs do NOT seal upon relinquishment.  They seal upon ADOPTION.  They seal even in step-parent adoptions.
2.       Many women have been speaking out for years about how they never wanted anonymity from their own children.  They continue to be dismissed as “a tiny but vocal minority”.
3.       Adoption records may be opened by court order for “good cause shown”.  Even though it is presumably the parents’ identities at stake, there is no provision for the parents to voice their opposition to disclosure.  In most states, even waivers from those parents do not guarantee that the records will be unsealed.
4.       Information from confidential intermediaries has shown that the vast majority of parents contacted welcome the opportunity to reconnect with their children.
5.       Contact preference forms filed in Oregon and other states are overwhelmingly in favor of contact.
6.       The overwhelming majority of recent domestic adoptions have been OPEN adoptions because the vast majority of relinquishing parents are insisting upon open adoptions.
The opposition counters this with the “if only one…” argument.  They have convinced legislators that it is better to stick with the status quo of denying equal rights to millions of adoptees than to allow anyone’s life to be “ruined” by disclosure.
Recently however, certain documents have been making an impact among legislators.  First and foremost are actual surrender documents which have been collected by Prof. Elizabeth Samuels.  You would think that if anonymity/confidentiality/privacy was promised to a relinquishing parent, that promise would find its way into the primary document signed by that parent.  These surrender documents have been very enlightening, to say the least.  Promises are being made, but it is the parent who is doing the promising.  General provisions:
-          The parent is terminating ALL rights (parental and otherwise) with respect to the child and is, in turn, being released from all obligations with respect to said child.
-          The parent has no right to be notified if and when the child has been adopted, and by whom.
-          The parent promises not to search for or contact the child or the child’s adoptive family WHILE THE CHILD IS A MINOR.  This time limit was a big surprise to many people.
The second set of documents making an impact are contemporaneous notes, letters, policies and testimony from when the various legislatures were first considering passing laws to seal adoption records.  As stated before, the original legislative intent was to prevent the general public, and only the general public, from accessing the records.  We need to do more research in this area as each state’s legislative history is unique.

Many of those in the lobbying trenches have been stymied by the reality that power is concentrated in the hands of a few long-term politicians.  This does not just affect our legislation, of course.  One would THINK that when half of the Assemblymembers have signed on as SPONSORS of a bill (New York), then that bill would have long ago been released to the floor for an up-or-down-vote.  One would be very very mistaken.
We (adoptee rights advocates) have seen well-supported bills languish in committee for decades.  We have seen public hearings scheduled, re-scheduled or cancelled at the last minute with no explanation.  We have seen bills rewritten without the input of the adoptee rights lobby group who proposed the legislation in the first place.  We have seen bills containing access provisions completely gutted of those provisions prior to passage.  We have seen the outright railroading of attempts to schedule bills for a floor vote.
Much work needs to be done.  We need champions (preferably adoptees) in the various state legislatures.  We need more research into the original legislative intent.  This can take various forms, including contemporaneous newspaper articles extolling the virtues of sealed records.  We also need first parents to write letters to be included in lobby packets and we need them to request their surrender documents.  Together, we can be a force to be reckoned with in the 44 states (and DC) that do not allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to the single sheet of paper that recorded their births.

Our deepest gratitude to Romany. She will post more on this topic in the very near future. If we educate ourselves, we can change the world!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My recent book tour (October 2010)

I had a blast!
By Trace L. Hentz (formerly DeMeyer) 

 Sometimes it takes me awhile to process what just happened. In other words, I had to recover from my recent mini-book tour/road trip to Wisconsin.
 Driving is my therapy. I think best while driving. This time I used the 30+ hours to pray and ask “what should I read?”  Great Spirit answered loud and clear. Four times I read from One Small Sacrifice and each time was different!
The first time I visited the Menominee tribe in 2001, it was to attend the Wiping the Tears ceremony, led by the most sacred holy men Chief Arvol Looking Horse and Elder Chris Leith. Here I was, nine years later, back there with my own story. That ceremony for adoptees was the first one ever and the miracle I attended was not lost on me. My writing about Lost Birds feels like ceremony.
On Sept. 27, I met my friend Jackie in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer and she shared recent updates about Ben-Ani, who is an adoptee currently incarcerated. I’ve known Jackie a few years and we talked about “abduction trauma,” while others may refer to this as “being adopted by non-Indians.”  Ben is Anishinabe-Menominee and he’s agreed to tell his story in my second book, Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects..
Monday night Jackie and I drove to the Menominee rez and stayed at their casino (their new guestrooms are even fancier than casino hotel rooms out East).  Tuesday for breakfast, we met up with Colleen, a Lost Bird from the Menominee tribe, who went full circle – from a stranger adoption in Pennsylvania to a reunion with her tribal family and is back home living on her rez in Wisconsin. Colleen is my relative now and always will be. It was Colleen who graciously arranged for me to read at the tribe’s high school and then at their tribal college.
Tuesday: One of the saddest moments for me was when I asked the high school students how many of their parents had attended boarding school and practically all their hands shot up. Their parents had been sent as far away as Texas and California. Stranger (not traditional kinship) adoptions and traumatic boarding school experiences permeate every American Indian experience, one way or the other. I think of this as “generational trauma.”
Next stop: the audience at the Menominee Tribal College was perhaps keenest and most sensitive to the Lost Bird/adoptee experience. Colleen was sitting up front with me and told of her own experience to the surprised group. The hour-long talk was taped. I answered all their questions and they asked if my talk could be used later in their classrooms. Of course I said YES! (News from Indian Country will later post this video on their internet TV channel. I’ll post a link on my blog when it airs.)
Late Tuesday afternoon I drove north. I was going home. I’d see cousins, old friends and even friend’s parents who remembered me but lost contact when I moved away after college. This was going to be the real test, sharing my personal life. Writing at 4 a.m., I would often think about my friends and relatives and what I never told them about my childhood being raised by an alcoholic who molested me. If they read the memoir, they’ll know every single gory embarrassing detail. Even writing it, I felt nauseous.
My grade school classmate Julie helped me to process this by letting me talk. I stayed with her and her husband Mike in Billings Park. By the time I read at the Superior Public Library, I was truly calm. (Thanks Julie!) Former mayor of Duluth and Superior, my awesome SSHS classmate Herb Bergson, was there to introduce me. Herb promoted my Twin Ports readings with emails and an update on Howie’s blog:
Wednesday morning, I was interviewed by the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate at the University of Wisconsin in Superior: that interview was broadcast on National Native News later! Even my friends John and Sara heard me in Tuba City, Arizona. This was fantastic!
On Wednesday night at the Public Library, I read a few chapters about my younger days in Superior as a rock musician and even had 'em laughing. I also showed them the shawl my adoptee friend Kim Peterson gifted me for high school graduation. Across the street from the library was the apartment building where Kim was murdered. I’ll never forget Kim, I told them, and her photo is where I can see her every single day. Kim is who I credit for surviving my troubled teens, and why I dedicated my book to her.
That hour went by so fast at the library, I barely remember details. There were a few tears. I did survive emotionally, I told them. What irony I was reading on the birthdays of my favorite uncle, Chet McIntyre, and my own birthmother, Helen Thrall. Neither of them lived long enough to see this homecoming or know I wrote about them in my memoir.
 On Friday, the reading at Jitters in Duluth felt so good, it didn’t seem like a book reading. I caught up with new friends from Facebook and met classmates from high school. Gary, the awesome Jitters coffeehouse owner, made Julie and me his famous Mocha Malt. I have to admit, if every reading went this smooth, I’d never stay home.
 That week I had dinner with my first cousins Scott and Mary Margaret and had lunch with a family friend, Faye from Allouez. They gave me the greatest gift of all – their memories. They shared stories that made me so full and happy, I felt a profound peace. I do hope they realize this “troubled kid” can see her parents as people now. That gift, peace of mind, I wish I could give to every adoptee I know.
 I didn’t catch the bug going around during my week in Wisconsin but my sore throat was a sign it was time to head home to western Massachusetts.
To wrap up my talk, I shared this story with the high school students on the Menominee rez:  “The old story goes there was a farmer who found a wounded eagle and placed him in a chicken coop to recover. The eagle started to act like a chicken, he bobbed his head like a chicken, he ate like a chicken, and otherwise thought he was a chicken. Until one day an Indian came along and asked what the eagle was doing with the chickens. The farmer told him the story, and the Indian asked if he could remove the eagle. The Farmer gave his permission to do so. So the Indian took the eagle to the mountain and said, “You have to know who you are and what you stand for...” The eagle started to flex his wings. His keen eyesight started to return, and the strength in him started to come back. The eagle flew and soared and everything came back to him, who he was and that he wasn’t a chicken. He gained everything back he lost because of where he was placed.”
I told the students Lost Birds are that eagle and every adoptee raised away from their tribe and traditions needs to return home.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the readings of One Small Sacrifice a success: Colleen, Dale K and the Menominee Tribal Nation, Janet and Maggie at the Superior Public Library, Gary at Jitters, Mike Savage and Kalisha at UWS, the honorable Herb Bergson, Faye and her Allouez Book Club, my friends Julie, Mike, Jackie, and JRey, my cousins who I love so much, and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who showed up!

Wilfred Buck Tells The Story Of Mista Muskwa

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They Took Us Away
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You are not alone

To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

Diane Tells His Name

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60s Scoop Survivors Legal Support


Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines

Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines
click to read and listen about Trace, Diane, Julie and Suzie


As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.


Original Birth Certificate Map in the USA

Why tribes do not recommend the DNA swab

Rebecca Tallbear entitled: “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”, bearing out what I only inferred:

Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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