A Tool for Adoption Activism: Model Open Records Legislation

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This page contains an example of open records legislation that can be used by open records action groups to propose legislative change. It is non-discriminatory in that it open records to both adoptees and natural parents, and also recognizes that family includes siblings and grandparents who may also wish to search.  It recognizes that — yes, adoptees have rights to know their original identities — but also that recognizes people do request records, at least here in Canada, because it is the only way to be able to find your lost family member unless they have registered with a search registry.  Search and reunion is recognized in these type of open records campaigns, frankly addressed, and hence anti-open-records lobbyists cannot bring up the topic of reunion as a “cheap shot,” using it as scare-mongering.

Both Canadian and U.S. adoption laws are handled on the provincial/state level, and all of these laws are based on the same original law (Massachusetts 1951), legal principles, and social pressures (e.g. records closing to “protect” adoptive families from the natural parents).   In Canada, each piece of existing provincial law has a name and collectively they are usually referred to as the acts and regulations, the laws and regulations, or the statutes of each province (with the exception of the  Quebec civil code).   In the U.S., the compiled laws are known as state codes and each code has a title, chapter, and section.  As examples, here are links to see  Ontario statutes and regulations and the California State Code.

To see the laws or your state or province, google “state code” or “provincial law” for your jurisdiction.

This model legislation provided below is based on B.C.’s current open records legislation (Sections 63 to 67 of British Columbia’s Adoption Act), but eliminating the appalling disclosure and contact veto provisions and instead including a contact preference provision from Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

British Columbia was the first province in Canada to open its records, which it did in 1995 with the  Adoption Act (Bill 51).  Alberta obtained open records in 2003 via Section 74 of the  Child Welfare Amendment Act (Bill 9) , which modified the old Child Welfare Act.

This model legislation, below, is also the type of legislation that does not change existing flawed legislation by “nickel-and-diming” it to death.  Instead, it is meant to be passed as a bill to replace old legislation (as was done in B.C.) and any bill would begin with a clause to repeal the old legislation.   Sometimes you need a fresh start.   

In the following example, replace the phrase “Director of Vital Statistics” with the name of the office or official in your state or province who takes care of maintaining all state/provincial birth, death, marriage, and adoption registrations.  Replace the phrase “Vital Statistics Act” with the name of the statute, legislation, code, etc. which authorizes your state or provincial government to collect and maintain this information. 

Sample Open Records Legislation:

Section 1 – Disclosure to adopted person 18 or over:

(1) An adopted person 18 years of age or over may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for copies of the following:

(a)  the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.

(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records.

Section 2 – Disclosure to natural parent or natural family member when adopted person is 18 or over

(1) If an adopted person is 18 years of age or over, a natural parent named on the adopted person’s original birth registration may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for a copy of one or more of the following:

(a)  the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.

(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records

(3) Before giving the applicant a copy of the requested record, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must delete the adoptive parents’ identifying information.

(4) Other natural family members (grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, etc.) may also apply upon presentation of the death certificate of the natural parent

Section 3 – Applicant must comply with [Vital Statistics Act]

A person who applies to the [Director of Vital Statistics] under this Part must:

(a) supply any proof of identity required by that director, and
(b) if the application is for a copy of a record, pay the required fee.

Section 4 – Contact Preference

(1) An adopted person, a natural parent or any other person whose personal information may be in orders, certificates or documents may register a contact preference with the [Director of Vital Statistics] that indicates the person’s preferences concerning contact with a person who makes a request under Sections 1 or 2.

(2) The [Director of Vital Statistics] shall advise a person making a request under Sections 1 or 2 of any contact preference registered with respect to the requested information.

Recent Related Blog posts from Other Natural Mothers:

“Unsealed with a K.I.S.S.”
http://musing-mother.blogspot.com/2010/10/unsealed-with-kiss.html

“Hey Wait a Minute…”
http://unsignedmasterpiece.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/hey-wait-a-minute/

“What Does Adoption Reform Activism Look Like?”
http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2010/12/what-does-adoption-reform-activism-look.html

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3 thoughts on “A Tool for Adoption Activism: Model Open Records Legislation

    unicorn said:
    December 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Just one other issue – we should be allowed to restore missing information.

    The Ontario government has just refused my request to restore my son’s father’s name on the original birth certificate, despite the fact that all parties gave their permission.

    When the Ontario government opened the records, they also passed a law forbidding any changes, restoration or updates on the original birth certificates of adoptees. I shall be making a complaint to the UN about this in the New Year.

    Thanks a bunch Mr. McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, for ruining my Christmas 😦

    My son isn’t too impressed either. He called it “absurd”.

      Adoption Critic responded:
      December 21, 2010 at 11:44 pm

      Cathy, if you were going to amend this model legislation to include restoring information, how would you insert it? What wording, clause number, etc? Let me know and i can add it in .

    Andria Jenkins said:
    April 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I am both an adoptee & a natural mother of a child I lost to adoption. So I can see it from both sides. And I ABSOLUTELY believe we ALL should have the choice of knowing who we are & where we came from. Its an integral part of every human soul to have that knowledge. Why isnt it the “legal” right for those of us who were adopted or have a child that was adopted? Our blood is our blood. And if we choose to find each other, we need to have that option available to us. Its a basic human right. Screw legalities.

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