About S611, A752, S799 (Now A3280)
This bill would allow adoptees in the State of New Jersey access to their original birth certificates and other related information at age 18. Read NJ Bill A3280.
Related Bills: A1406 (Permits adoptees and certain others access to adoptee’s original birth certificate and other related information); S1399 (Allows adoptees access to nonidentifying family medical history information)
FAFS’ Postion on Open Records in regards to S611, A752, S799 (Now A3280)
In 2007, FAFS conducted a survey of licensed resource families and adoptive families throughout New Jersey. A vast majority of those who responded supported the right of children adopted from the child welfare system to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate at some point in their lives. However, often citing the difficult information a young adult may receive and the need for maturity to handle some of the information, a large portion of those surveyed also felt that birth parent identifying information and the DYFS summary of why children were placed in foster care should not be obtainable by the adopted youth until age 21. Read More
Children adopted from the foster care system often have difficult histories. The stories of heart-warming reunification of adoptees and their birth parents who gave them up at a time when unwed pregnancy was frowned upon are not our children’s stories. There is often difficult information involving drugs, jail, violence, neglect, and even death of a sibling in our children’s pasts. Parental rights are not terminated lightly or for small infractions in parenting skills. Adoption summaries are given to the adoptive parents prior to the adoption consent. However, they are not written with the focus on helping the child to process and deal with this information. We question who will write the DYFS summaries for the child? Will they be sensitive in their wording to the needs of these young adults? Learning difficult information or reaching out to birthparents who may still be dealing with many of the same issues that caused the state to terminate their parental rights may prove emotionally devastating to some of our children. Foster parents adopting children from foster care usually have this information prior to the adoption consent. It is their role as parents to determine how and when to best share this information with their child. As the state is already recognizing, many of our children are not ready for the full responsibilities of adulthood at age 18. For instance, you cannot drink alcohol legally in New Jersey until the age of 21. The trend in recent years has been to offer many services beyond the age of 18, until age 21, to children in foster care. At the age of 21, a young adult may be more prepared emotionally to deal with difficult information and decisions surrounding searching.
FAFS believes that the most important priority for a child is to have a forever home. In the 2007 FAFS survey, a majority of resource parents indicated that if post-adoption contact with birth families were mandated, it would have had a negative impact on their willingness to adopt through the Child Welfare system. Our children in foster care need permanency. FAFS is concerned that opening of records may serve as a barrier to children awaiting a forever family. There are currently hundreds of children legally free for adoption in New Jersey, but nobody willing to adopt them. The effect Open Records legislation could have on those contemplating adoption through foster care should be considered when evaluating any proposed change to the current law.
Although the intent of the laws sealing birth records were not to guarantee anonymity to the birth families, in actual practice and perception, this has been the effect. An Open Records bill should provide enough time to notify birth parents regarding the change in the law, enough money to advertise the change, and enough time to respond for those who request nondisclosure. Birth parents need to be made aware of the change in the law and given an adequate opportunity to opt out should they wish to remain anonymous.
The opening of birth records can also be problematic because it means deciding whose rights are paramount, the biological parents, the adoptive parents, or the adoptees? Historically, FAFS supported the promotion of the existing mutual consent registry and education of adoptive parents as to the importance of sharing information as a compromise in the question of whose rights are paramount. Because of our constituent’s support of an adoptee’s right to identifying information, FAFS has dropped our push towards expansion of the mutual registry.
FAFS believes that an open records bill that allowed access to the original birth certificate and/or a DYFS summary at the age of 21 and that allocated enough time and money to the notification of birthparents as to their right to request non-disclosure would reflect the needs of all members of the adoption triad.
FAFS came to its position on S611, A752, S799 (now A3280) by listening to our families so we could truly be their voice.
Take a Stand
To help you take your own position on S611, A752, S799 (now A3280), here is a collection of news articles and editorials with various opinions on this important issue.
Christie Conditionally Vetoes Adoptee Open Records Bill, The Record, June 24, 2011
Christie Sides with Adoption Anonymity, The Trenton Times, June 24, 2011
Priority Must Be the Rights of Adoptees, The Courier-Post, July 1, 2011
Smart Deal on Adoption, The Star Ledger Newark, June 27, 2011
Adoption Rights: Veto Misses Mark, Asbury Park Press, June 28, 2011
Contact your elected officials and let them know your position on Open Adoption Records in New Jersey.