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  • Nicole J. Burton

Moving Adoption into the 21st Century

Six authors and national leaders from all sides of the Adoption Triad signed this op-ed. Please help us get it published in your local media.

There's no better time to cast a discerning eye at adoption than during National Adoption Month in November. On November 20th, hundreds of courts and families will come together on National Adoption Day to finalize adoptions from the foster care system. These celebrations will rightfully honor all adoptive families and support the adoptive placement of some of the 114,500 children in foster care awaiting placement in permanent homes across the country.

When the public considers adoption, they often think about these waiting children and the families who open their hearts to them. They may not realize that in America six million adopted adults are systematically denied the right to information about their identities through archaic laws in 40 states. As a nation, we deny the challenges that adopted people face as they try to piece together their identities from ‘non-identifying information,’ which is the scant data they're given when they seek to know more about their origins.

The national dialogue about adoption doesn't reflect reality: the psychological challenges for all members of the adoption triad, the continuing controversies about transracial adoption, the trend towards increasing openness in which birth family members and adoptive families form relationships, or the legislative struggles in state after state to open up birth records.

The adoption community made up of public and private agencies, attorneys, counselors, and social workers relates to adoptive parents as their primary stakeholders. But alongside that community, in what often seems like a parallel universe, are the interests of adult adopted Americans. It is their voices that should also be heard this month, for surely it is they who should be considered the central stakeholders in adoption.

Adoption reform organizations, from the American Adoption Congress to grassroots state coalitions, support new laws that give adult adopted people access to their original birth certificates without restrictions or limitations. Who among us would want to have the most intimate knowledge about our origins withheld from us—for life? We need to examine the secrecy and misinformation that's existed over the past fifty years and recognize those adoption practices for what they are: outdated practices that infantilize adopted persons by keeping them in the dark about their origins, and in effect, prevent them from developing fully-integrated identities.

Knowing who you are and where you've come from is a basic human need and an essential civil right. As we celebrate adoption month, let's encourage a deeper national conversation that benefits all corners of the adoption triangle: the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and the adopted people themselves.

Nicole Burton, author of Swimming Up The Sun, A Memoir of Adoption

Micky Duxbury, author of Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption

Donnie Davis, AAC President, representing the American Adoption Congress

Mary Martin Mason, author of Out Of The Shadows: Birthfather’s Stories

Carol Schaefer, author of The Other Mother: A Woman's Love for the Child She Gave Up for Adoption

Susan Ito, editor of A Ghost at Heart's Edge: Stories and Poems of Adoption

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