Friday, April 26, 2013

Adoptee Rights Coalition Statement on Search, Reunion, and Social Media Trends

As U.S. adoption culture shifts to be more accepting and understanding of searching adoptees, the faces of those looking for lost family connections, are appearing in greater magnitude on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. This recent movement in the adoption community puts a very public face on the issue of search of reunion. We see the smiling faces of human beings trying to expand their social connections and family relationships, and our hearts are with them.

The recent social media trend involving adoptees posting pictures of themselves holding signs that contain their agency narrative has brought increased media attention to search issues. The media has always been fascinated by the mysteries that fuel the searches of many adoptees. Social media has provided a new angle for these stories to be reported on in news and other popular outlets. Journalists attempting to connect the individual issue of search and reunion to a broader policy context have turned to the Adoptee Rights Coalition (ARC) for answers.  Often times their articles will link to us, quote our board member's personal blogs, and display our logo without directly soliciting our opinion at all.

In an attempt to clarify this association of our organization and the adoptee rights movement, to search and reunion, ARC hopes to make a clear stance on this issue. As individuals, many of us support search and reunion. All of our board members have been through the search and reunion process. However, it is with this first-hand experience in both search and adoptee rights that we maintain that both causes as separate. While there may be some of the issues between the two movements might intersect, this is not cause to see them as one and the same.

Adoptee rights as defined by ARC is the restoring to all adult adoptees the same legal right to our factual birth certificates that is already afforded to all non-adopted adult citizens. Adoptee rights is about equal rights under law. What an adult adoptee may do, or not do, with the information contained on his or her original birth certificate (OBC) is a private, personal matter that does not need to involve state governments or the general public. Adult adoptees are the only class of people who are routinely denied the legal right to access their accurate birth certificates--simply because we were adopted as children. This means that we, as a class of adult citizens, are treated differently under law to all non-adopted adult citizens. Correcting this legal inequity is the core of ARC's mission and purpose. Personal decisions regarding search are a completely separate issue from restoring equal rights under law to adult adoptees regarding their own birth certificates. One is a legal matter dealing with discrimination and one is a matter of personal choice.

ARC believes that all adult adoptee citizens should be treated equally under law to non-adopted adult citizens. Search and/or reunion has nothing to do with this belief. And so we consider the issues separate and decline to comment as an organization on search and reunion matters.

One of the most concerning byproducts of the conflation of the two issues is the exclusion of diversity. Adoptee rights is not an issue that exclusively impacts individuals adopted at birth through private adoptions--which exclusive focus on the mystery of one's original family implies about this issue. Unequal access to original birth certificates impacts a number of groups.

It impacts First Nation's individuals adopted at all ages, who cannot have access to their tribe and tribal benefits because they cannot prove they were born to a tribe member.

It impacts fostered adults who may know their biological families if adopted at older ages, but still cannot have access to their birth records because of their decree of adoption.

It impacts internationally adopted persons whose rights to access their birth certificates are protected by the Hague but is overridden by the U.S. State they may have been adopted in.

It impacts individuals adopted by step-parents; this group makes up over 50% of adoptees. These individuals were raised by at least one biological parent and may know the family and history of the other parent.

We must not ignore that the OBC issue impacts every adoptee who was born in a state that does not have equal access laws on its books, not just adoptees who are searching and who are unaware of the identities of their biological families. This issue impacts reunited adoptees. It impacts adoptees whose biological parents' names were contained on their adoption documents. It impacts adoptees who never lost connection with their biological families at all.

In a study of Oregon adoptees*, born in a state that allows equal access, more than half of adoptees who used their OBCs to search did not find the family member they were looking for. Other states focused on the reunion aspect have made OBCs available but only upon the agreement of other parties. This does not address the Adoptee Rights Movement's quest for equality under the law. In other words, when seen as one in the same, the needs and rights of both movements are not acknowledged.

The Adoptee Rights Coalition extends their deepest empathy to those who are searching. Recently, our organization raised and donated $1,000 to the International Soundex Reunion Registry to support the separate, yet equally important, work it does as a separate entity. Because we hold the interests of both those who are searching and the adoptee rights movement in such high regard, it is our stance and our recommendation that these two issues be treated as separate issues.

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston
On behalf of the board of the Adoptee Rights Coalition

*Rhodes, Barfield, Kohn, Hedberg, & Schoendorf, Releasing Pre-Adoption Birth Records: A Survey of Oregon Adoptees, 2002