October 15, 2018

Introduction to Adoption Record Accessibility

It is the practice of most states to seal adoption records after an adoption is finalized. At the same time, most states have procedures wherein the parties to an adoption may access both non-identifying and identifying information.

adoption records

What is Non-identifying Information?

Non-identifying information is the information found in adoption records that includes details about an adoptee and the adoptee’s birth relatives. Information of this nature is usually provided to the adopting parents. The following are examples of non-identifying information:

  • Date and place of birth;
  • Age of birth parents;
  • A general physical description of the birth parents;
  • Race, ethnicity, religion of the birth parents;
  • Medical history of the birth parents;
  • Educational background of the birth parents and their occupations;
  • Reason the child was placed for adoption;
  • Information about any siblings the adoptee may have.

What is Identifying Information?

Identifying information is the information found in adoption records that may lead to the definitive identification of birth parents, relatives, or the adoptee. The following are examples of identifying information:

  • Current or past names;
  • Addresses;
  • Employment records.

Most states permit the release of identifying information so long as the person whose information is being sought has consented. If the proper consent has not been obtained, the information may not be released without a court order.

Who can attempt to access identifying information?

Adoptees, birth parents and even biological siblings may be able to access adoption records. Roughly 36 states allow siblings to search for identifying information.

Do different states have different regulations for the release of records?

Some states require adoptees to undergo counseling prior to accessing adoption records. These states include Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.

The sate of Connecticut does not allow the release of adoption records if it is determined that the information requested would be disruptive to the lives of any of the parties involved.

New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island require those seeking non-identifying information to register with the state.

Pennsylvania and Guam require that the court be petitioned before any portion of the adoption records is released.

Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Wyoming allow adoptive parents to request medical information from birth parents if necessary.

There are several “open record states.” This means that the state allows adult adoptees access to the original adoption records after an application process is completed. These “open record states” include: Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

All states and American Samoa allow the adoptive parent or guardian access to non-identifying information about birth relatives should the adoptee be a minor.

Almost all states allow adoptees over 18 years of age access to non-identifying information about birth relatives.

What is a mutual consent registry?

A mutual consent registry is a way for individual states to keep track of the willingness of those involved in adoptions to have their identifying information disclosed. At this time, around 30 states have established a mutual consent registry in some form. Mutual consent registries can vary from state to state. Most require the consent of a birth parent and an adoptee over 18 or 21. If the adoptee is a minor, the adoptive parents may be called upon for consent to release adoption records.

What if your state does not have a mutual consent registry?

Even if a state has not established a mutual consent registry, you may still be able to access adoption records.

Some states employ a search and consent procedure known as a “confidential intermediary system.” With this, an individual is court-certified to have access to sealed adoption records in order to obtain consent for contact.

Additionally, some states use an affidavit system through which biological family members can file their consent or refusal to release identifying information

How can you access an original birth certificate?

When an adoption is finalized, it is customary that a new birth certificate be issued and the original birth certificate kept confidential. In the past, most states have required a court order to access original birth certificates. Recently, laws have changed to allow easier access. Currently, those seeking original birth certificates may gain access through the following avenues:

  • A court order;
  • At the request of an adult adoptee, so long as the biological parent has not filed an affidavit denying the release of records;
  • Through a state’s adoption registry;
  • When biological parents consent to release identifying information.

Where can you locate more information about the rules of a certain state?

For more information about how a specific state treats adoption records, please visit: www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad

For more information about searching for a child or birth parents, please visit: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/search/

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