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HISTORY OF ADOPTION IN THE UNITED STATES


CONFIDENTIALITY AND SEALED RECORDS

The fact that adoption information has been both highly regulated and extremely controversial is one of the hallmarks of modern adoption. At first sketchy and incomplete, data contained in the adoption records of early twentieth-century courts and agencies was available to anyone curious enough to search it out. The same was true of uniform birth records, which were products of state efforts to standardize birth registration during the first third of the twentieth century.

In 1917, the Minnesota adoption law was revised to mandate confidential records, and between the world wars, most states in the country followed suit. Confidential records placed information off limits to nosy members of the public but kept it accessible to the children and adults directly involved in adoption, who were called the "parties in interest."

Confidentiality was advocated by professionals and policy-makers determined to establish minimum standards in adoption, decrease the stigma associated with illegitimacy, and make child welfare the governing rule in placement decisions. In practice, confidentiality placed a premium on adoptions arranged anonymously, without any identifying contact between natal and adoptive parents. Confidentiality also meant that when courts issued adoption decrees, states produced new birth certificates, listing adopters' names, and sealed away the originals, which contained the names of birth parents, or at least birth mothers.

Many adopters, especially those whose infertility made them long for exclusive parent-child ties, surely preferred anonymity as well. Confidentiality made it possible for some of these parents to avoid telling their children that they were adopted at all. The relatives of many unmarried birth mothers also favored confidentiality. Especially during the postwar baby boom, when more out-of-wedlock births occurred in middle-class families than had been the case earlier in the century, mortified parents argued that their daughters should have a second chance to lead normal, married lives. Maternity homes proliferated to shield non-marital pregnancies from public view and helped to make adoption a topic of embarrassment and shame.

 

From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With Permission.

 

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