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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Noteworthy Comments by Friends and Foes on Adoptee Rights

In a recent blog post over at The Life of Von, Von pointed out in this analogy how misleading it is that adoptive parents seem to do most of the talking about the institution of adoption:

"If you wanted to know what it was like to work in a bank, you'd ask a bank teller, a bank manager, an account manager and a loans advisor, wouldn't you, to get a full picture?  You wouldn't just go to a customer."

In the world of adoption, adoptive parents currently do most of the public talking.  The executive directors of both the National Council for Adoption and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute are adoptive fathers.  In public forums, the voice of the adoptee or the original mother is rarely sought out.

In legislative hearings, the voices and fears of adoptive parents and the adoption industry resonate the loudest.  And those voices are often woefully ignorant about the realities of the adoption experience for all of those actually impacted by adoption practice.

Consider this statement by Deborah Jacobs, the executive director of ACLU-NJ for the past 13 years, and other members of the Coalition to Defend Privacy in Adoption:

 "In many cases, the right to confidentiality was at the crux of the (woman's) decision to choose adoption."  I would like to see the data supporting this assertion, since original mothers have told us again and again that they didn't choose confidentiality -- rather, it was forced upon them.

And then this troubling statement by Ms. Jacobs and other coalition members:  "More women may choose to keep babies that would be best cared for by an adoptive family."  Is the coalition saying here that confidentiality is the key that encourages women to relinquish their babies?  If so, the data screams otherwise.  And who are they to say that a child would be better served in an adoptive rather than in an original family? 

Before claiming that a confidential intermediary system is the answer to the adoptee rights dilemma, Ms. Jacobs in another advocacy letter makes one more deeply problematical statement:  "Our coalition members have statewide and national experience which shows that a non-confrontational approach is an essential element of successful reunions."

Here, Ms. Jacobs makes the leap that the Adoptee Rights Bill was all about reunions, even though it was a carefully-crafted civil rights bill that simply granted to adult adoptees the same right that every other American citizen enjoys -- the right to apply for and receive their original birth certificates for a nominal fee.  By using the word "non-confrontational," Ms. Jacobs seems to imply that those adoptees who search on their own will use confrontational methods.

This assumption is insulting and unfounded.  We adoptees have plenty of experience tip-toeing around other people's feelings, and in my experience, tend to be more sensitive than the average person.  Ms. Jacobs also seems to imply that coalition members are better suited to navigate the complexities of adoption than I myself am: a mother, grandmother and educated professional who has lived for 61 years as an adoptee.

Is it any wonder that adoptees become so disenchanted with the legislative arena?  Is it any wonder that they become disgusted as their viewpoints are discounted again and again?

In response to a recent post on my blog, one adoptee wrote this:  "You wrote in the comment section that we need more APs to speak out because their voices carry more weight.  While this is undoubtedly true, we also need to work on strengthening the power and respect of the adoptee voice.  APs should no longer be running the show or be the most important voice in the 'triad' when the adoptees are adults."

I agree completely with the sentiment expressed here.  We do need to increase "the power and respect of the adoptee voice."  But we want to be careful not to antagonize those adoptive parents who have the best interests of their children at heart.  And there are many more adoptive parents, I believe, who truly don't yet know the level of discrimination that adult adoptees face.  Consider this comment I recently received from an adoptive mother:

"Please don't paint all adoptive parents with the same brush.  My son was adopted through the child welfare system -- I located his birth family when he was 10 (he is now 13).  He chose to meet them (and they him) and he sees his maternal aunt (his birth mother's twin sister) at least once or more a year.  He also met and visited his maternal grandmother and brother.  I located a photocopy of his OBC and am in the process of petitioning the court for a court order to obtain that certificate in an "official" form from the state so that I can proceed with trying to reclaim his dual citizenship, which was his birthright through bloodline.  My husband and I have visited graveyards, newspaper archives, and his birth mother's high school yearbook photos so that we can begin to build a family history for him to know and feel proud of."

We adoptees can't forget that there are adoptive parents like this out there who really "get it" and who can help us in our efforts to reclaim our rights.

And who knows?  Maybe there is even hope for the ACLU-NJ.  Ms. Jacobs recently announced her intention to move on to another job opportunity, and new leadership, perhaps, might follow the lead of the Florida ACLU that reached this encouraging conclusion way back in 1987:

..."Careful scrutiny of adoption statutes and practices has indicated that legal changes are necessary, and that civil liberties of adopted adults are being violated in the absence of any state or national policy on this matter, and with the belief that adopted persons should be treated no differently than other citizens, the Southwest Florida Chapter Board has voted to endorse the following policy:

Numerous states have laws or procedures which impede the ability of adopted adults, their birthparents and other relatives to ascertain each others' identities.  The ACLU believes that as long as state and/or local governments choose to maintain birth records, such records must be maintained and accessible without discrimination by virtue of adopted or non-adopted status."

Equal rights and equal access for adult adoptees -- such a simple concept, and one that every critical thinker should be embracing without reservation.

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