The Missing Birth Parent or Birth Child
It's not unusual for people to look for a child they placed for adoption. Neither is it unusual for a child who has been adopted to search for birth parents. This type of investigation is the most challenging, except, perhaps, for abandoned infant cases. Complicating the fact that years have passed between the adoption and the search is that one party may not want contact with the other. Further complications can include lost or misplaced records when departments relocate; records destroyed by fire, water damage, or even mold or mildew from sitting in a damp basement; and attorneys who have moved or died. Records may have been placed on microfilm or microfiche and moved to libraries or storage facilities.
Again, go to people. Ask around to find out who worked in the records office during the time of the adoption. Many people will help if you're pleasant and respectful. Although some states have enacted laws enabling adoption information to be accessed, most have not. Furthermore, adoptions aren't handled the same way in every state — and the process is different depending on whether the adoption was private or processed through an agency. Therefore, the first step should be to research the state's adoption process and laws. The most common types are:
Open adoption: adoption is arranged between the birth mother and the adoptive parents
Agency adoption: performed by an adoption agency, a state or local governmental agency, a religious organization, or some other non-profit entity
Private adoption: arranged by an attorney or another individual, and the only monies allowed to change hands are to cover medical and certain related expenses; not all states allow private adoptions
Black market adoption: basically the buying and selling of babies, illegal in every state; it's one of the most difficult investigations to crack, but it's not totally impossible
Adoption of the abandoned child: the most difficult of all; it's not impossible, but don't raise your client's hopes too high as the odds are against finding the child's origins
Laws protecting adoptions originated years ago, when the stigma of unwed mothers was great. States that have changed adoption information laws to allow access to records reflect the lessening of that stigma in U.S. society, and give hope that more states will follow suit. Several documents begin an adopted child's paper trail. Some of them follow:
Original birth certificate issued by the hospital where the baby was born (if born in a hospital)
Record of birth filed (along with birth certificate) with the health department and state office of vital statistics or records
Amended birth certificate issued by the court when a baby is adopted (original is sealed)
Docket appearance or log book recording the adoption procedure, court appearances, etc. (if adoption is legal); usually performed in the courthouse of the county where the adoptive parents reside
In some states, courts require social worker home visits and reports detailing the fitness of the adoptive parents
Hospital records (if hospital is known)
If private adoption, information from the attorney or individual who facilitated it (if known or found)
Notice of petition for adoption may be printed in local newspaper(s); sometimes these notices provide names of some of the people involved
Many times, adoptive parents know the birth mother's name, but more often than not — especially in agency adoptions — they don't. In this case, finding the child's original name can be the biggest hurdle to overcome. However, over the years, many adoption registry sites have emerged on the Internet. Make your client aware that adding his information to as many registries as possible may help locate the missing birth relative. If that person is also looking and registers on the same site, they may find each other. See Chapter 6 for information on finding birth names and locating registry sites.
After the adoption is final, the child's original birth certificate is sealed. In states that don't allow access to records, a judge can rule that they be opened. This is rare and usually contingent upon a serious issue such as a medical problem or an equally weighty need. Gaining access to records is still difficult in most states.
After the birth relative is located, it's never a good idea for one party to contact the other without permission. Even when the other has also been searching, his feelings, privacy, and schedule must be respected. Some states have passed laws requiring that a third party meet with both birth relatives before introducing them to each other.