In nearly all States, adoption records are sealed and withheld from public inspection after an adoption is finalized. Most States have instituted procedures by which parties to an adoption may obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while still protecting the interests of all parties.
Non-identifying information generally is limited to descriptive details about an adopted person and the adopted person’s birth relatives. This type of information is generally provided to the adopting parents at the time of the adoption. Non-identifying information may include the following:
· Date and place of the adopted person’s birth
· Age of the birth parents and general physical description, such as eye and hair color
· Race, ethnicity, religion, and medical history of the birth parents
· Educational level of the birth parents and their occupations at the time of the adoption
· Reason for placing the child for adoption
· Existence of other children born to each birth parent
All States and American Samoa have provisions in statute that allow access to non-identifying information by an adoptive parent or a guardian of an adopted person who is still a minor. Nearly all States allow the adopted person to access non-identifying information about birth relatives, generally upon written request.
Usually, the adopted person must be at least age 18 before he or she may access this information.
Approximately 27 States allow birth parents access to non-identifying information, generally to the health and social history of the child. In addition, 15 States give such access to adult birth siblings. Policies on what information is collected and how that information is maintained and disclosed vary from State to State.
Restrictions on Release of Non-Identifying Information
Some jurisdictions are more restrictive about the release of information from adoption records. New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island require the person seeking non-identifying information to register with the State adoption registry. In Pennsylvania, non-identifying information is available through a registry or the court or agency that handled the adoption. Guam requires a party to petition the court before any information can be released.
Non-identifying information generally includes medical and health information about the child and the child’s birth family at the time of the adoptive placement. Alabama, Illinois, Kansas,
Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Wyoming statutes allow adoptive parents to request that the State adoption registry contact birth parents when additional health information is medically necessary. In Georgia, any medical information about the birth family that is received by the department or childplacing agency must be provided to the adoptive parents or adult adopted person.
Identifying information is information from the disclosure of adoption records or elsewhere that may lead to the positive identification of birth parents, the adopted person, or other birth relatives. Identifying information may include current or past names of the person, addresses, employment, or other similar records or information. Statutes in nearly all States permit the release of identifying information when the person whose information is sought has consented to the release.
If consent is not on file with the appropriate entity, the information may not be released without a court order documenting good cause to release the information. A person seeking a court order must be able to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that there is a compelling reason for disclosure that outweighs maintaining the confidentiality of a party to an adoption.
Access to information is not always restricted to birth parents and adopted persons. Approximately 37 States allow biological siblings of the adopted person to seek and release identifying information upon mutual consent. Some States have imposed limitations on the release of identifying information. Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas require the adopted person to undergo counseling about the possible consequences of search and contact with his or her birth family before any information is disclosed. In Connecticut, release of identifying information is prohibited if the department or child-placing agency that possesses the information determines that the requested information would be seriously disruptive to any of the parties involved.
Mutual Consent Registries
A mutual consent registry is one method many States use to arrange the consents that are required for release of identifying information. A mutual consent registry is a means for individuals directly involved in adoptions to indicate their willingness or unwillingness to have their identifying information disclosed. Approximately 31 States have established some form of a mutual consent registry.
Procedures for mutual consent registries vary significantly from State to State. Most registries require consent of at least one birth parent and an adopted person over the age of 18 or 21, or of adoptive parents if the adopted person is a minor, in order to release identifying information. Most States that have registries require the parties seeking to exchange information to file affidavits consenting to the release of their personal information. However, eight States will release information from the registry upon request unless the affected party has filed an affidavit requesting nondisclosure.
Other Methods of Obtaining Consent
States that have not established registries may use alternative methods for disclosing identifying information. Search and consent procedures authorize a public or private agency to assist a party in locating birth family members to determine if they consent to the release of information. Some States have a search and consent procedure called a confidential intermediary system.
With this system, an individual called a confidential intermediary is certified by the court to have access to sealed adoption records for the purpose of conducting a search for birth family members to obtain their consent for contact. Other States use an affidavit system through which birth family members can file either their consent to the release of identifying information or to register their refusal to be contacted or to release identifying information. The written permission may be referred to as a consent, waiver, or authorization form.
Original Birth Certificate
When an adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate for the child is customarily issued to the adoptive parents. The original birth certificate is then sealed and kept confidential by the State registrar of vital records. In the past, nearly all States required adopted persons to obtain a court order to gain access to their original birth certificates. In approximately 25 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico, a court order is still required.11 However, in many States, the laws are changing to allow easier access to these records. Some of those laws allow information access:
· Through a court order when all parties have consented
· At the request of the adult adopted person
· At the request of the adopted person unless the birth parent has filed an affidavit denying release of confidential records
· When eligibility to receive identifying information has been established with a State adoption registry
· When consents from the birth parents to release identifying information are on file
What information can be located:
To find contact information for a State agency or department that assists in accessing adoption records, go to Child Welfare Information Gateway’s National Foster Care and Adoption Directory and search under Accessing Adoption Records:http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad See the Adoption Search and Reunion section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway website at http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/search/ for more information on searching for birth relatives, including a link to the International Soundex Reunion, a free mutual consent reunion registry for people seeking birth relatives:http://www.isrr.net/
This publication is a product of the State Statutes Series prepared by Child Welfare Information Gateway. While every attempt has been made to be complete, additional information on these topics may be in other sections of a State’s code as well as agency regulations, case law, and informal practices and procedures.
Suggested Citation: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Access to adoption records. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available online athttp://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/infoaccess…