If the President’s Birth Certificate is So Important, When do Adopted People Get to See Theirs?

April 28, 2011

I was interviewed today by CNN Senior Producer Jay Kemis for his blog.  We discussed President Obama’s birth certificate, along with other adoption issues. To read the interview on CNN’s site, go to: http://tinyurl.com/CNNblogOBC.

Answering today’s six OFF-SET questions is Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the  Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national nonprofit that is the pre-eminent research, policy and education organization in its field.

Pertman – a former Pulitzer-nominated journalist – is also Associate Editor of Adoption Quarterly, a research journal dealing with adoption and foster care. He is the author of the just-published book, “Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming Our Families – and America.”

The White House released President Barack Obama’s original long-form birth certificate Wednesday, seeking to put an end to persistent rumors that he was not born in the United States. What does the release of the certificate mean to those of you who work in the adoption community?

The most pointed message was for adopted people, who are the only group in America who are legally prohibited from accessing their own original birth certificates.

If that document is so hugely important – to quote my tweet on the subject – when do they get to see theirs? I hope one ray of sunshine that emanates from this bizarre birther controversy is that it shines a light on the access issue. Adoptees shouldn’t be punished simply because of how they entered their families.

There’s a U.S. Government web site on which the Surgeon General urges all Americans to create family health histories. What special challenges does this initiative pose to families who adopt?

Adopted people are the only group in America who cannot get their basic information (i.e., original birth certificates) as a matter of course. It’s not a level playing field for them – morally, legally or medically. The laws governing this are dinosaurs, relics of a time when adoption was shrouded in secrecy, stigma and shame. Let’s get rid of the dinosaurs and the special challenges – how to gain access to one’s own information – will get far easier. Then everyone will have the opportunity to get healthier, physically and psychologically.

If you could change any legislation dealing with adoption today, what would you change?

Well, if I’m dreaming, I’d come up with a bill that’s broad and sweeping, so that all the kids who need homes will get them, all the families that are struggling will get the support they need to succeed, all the teachers and doctors and mental-health professionals who are dealing with adoption without training finally receive it, and all the tens of millions of people who are affected by adoption daily will get better lives. Can we please file that legislation today?After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, thousands of children became orphans and the adoption situation became complicated and controversial. There were reports of children who were brought to the U.S. who may still have had families in Haiti. There are also reports of orphans who are still in federal custody here, awaiting adoption.

Do you have an idea of how many Haitian children have been adopted in the U.S. since the quake, if there are kids who still need adopting–and what American adults should do if they think they want to adopt?

Just over 1,000 children from Haiti have been adopted in this time frame. It was a messy situation after the quake, with lots of good intentions and ill-informed practices. Moving kids in the middle of being traumatized is not necessarily good timing, and good intentions don’t necessarily amount to best practices. Today, it’s getting better; best thing to do is contact a reputable adoption agency.

Japan seems like a different situation–that Japanese authorities want to keep orphaned children in their communities if possible. Is that right?

Out-of-family placement of children isn’t part of many national cultures – including that of Japan. There’s no reason to think that, just because there’s a disaster, the affected children need to be adopted by people in other countries. It’s absolutely a solution for some, but we need to be sure the kids really don’t have relatives close to home and we must take the country’s specific circumstances into account.

Are there current figures on the number of American children who need adoption? This question may be highly-emotional, politically-charged or just ignorant–especially because any child in need is a child in need–but is it easier to adopt a child from overseas than it is to adopt a child born in the U.S.?

About one-fifth of the half-million children in foster care in our country are legally free for adoption – and, yes, they need permanent and loving families.

Good news: people are stepping up in unprecedented numbers and so adoption from foster care is now the largest type of adoption in the U.S.

Easier to adopt from abroad? It depends on too many factors; people should be able to form their families however they decide is best for them. And, as you say, every child in need is a child in need – and there’s no good purpose served in making them compete with each other. Let’s shape policies that help them all.

You have said that “The Internet and adoption is like the Wild West.” Who is paying attention to possible Internet abuses? What should parents considering adoption be aware of when the visit a web site?

Another important, big question. No one is really monitoring the internet for abuses, best practices or impact on vulnerable people – that’s true in adoption as in other realms. There are unethical, unscrupulous or simply uneducated people doing adoption practices that are, shall we say, less than the best?

And there are people searching for birth relatives (generally a good thing) without counseling or good information or even without telling their parents – i.e., young children finding biological family members.

The Adoption Institute that I head has just started the first-ever, research-based project in an effort to better inform us all and shape best practices. This needs to get done vitally or the Wild West – which also will have beneficiaries for sure – will also have too many victims.


One thought on “If the President’s Birth Certificate is So Important, When do Adopted People Get to See Theirs?

  1. Jimm Mandenberg

    Had President Obama been adopted, he would be ineligible to become President because his official birth certificate, issued by the State of Illinois, would not fulfill the requirements of identity.
    Most other states also refuse to issue adopted persons a birth certificate which will suffice. The U.S. government does nothing to intervene, illustrating it’s approval of six million patriotic, law-abiding and natural-born citizens being denied an opportunity every other natural-born citizen enjoys due to criteria beyond their control. “…All men are created equal…” – mere words of a hopeful optimist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *