Frequently Asked Questions
(Q) What exactly does unrestricted access to birth and adoption records mean and to whom?
(A) Unrestricted access to birth and adoption records means that an adult, who was adopted as a child, (adoptee) can upon application receive a copy of their Court records and a copy of their Original Birth Certificate (OBC) and other documents housed at the California Department of Public Health. The OBC is the original record of the adoptee's birth. Access to these documents is limited to the adult adoptee ONLY. It is NOT open for public access.
(Q) Don't adoptees have a birth certificate like everyone else?
(A) No. At the time an adoption is finalized, an 'Amended' Birth Certificate (ABC) is issued. This document lists the adoptive parents as the mother and father and may change the actual place of birth to the adoptive parents' residence. The ABC is the only birth certificate to which the adoptee has access, without a court order. Much of the information provided on an OBC is subsequently left out when the ABC is issued.
(Q) You mean an adoptee can't have access to their own birth records?
(A) Right. Adoption records in California were closed and sealed in 1935. Since then, an adoptee can only seek access to their birth and adoption records, including their OBC, through a court order.
(Q) Why would an adoptee want access to their OBC, birth, and adoption records?
(A) For the same reason a non-adopted person would.
(a) The OBC and other documents give the adoptee specific details of their birth and is the only record and link to their true heritage. To deny an adoptee their heritage also denies their offspring and every generation thereafter.
(b) In some cases, there have been problems with adoptees obtaining passports and high security clearance jobs, because the ABC looks fake. In many cases, the ABC doesn't look like the birth certificates that everyone else has. The US State Department regularly denies passports to adoptee's whose amended birth certificates are issued more than a year after birth, citing it is not adequate proof of US Citizenship!
(c) Most importantly, adoptees feel that since the adult non-adopted person can access this information, they should have equal access to the same information concerning their own birth. To do otherwise is discriminatory.
(Q) Are adoption records sealed when the child is relinquished for adoption?
(A) No. The records are not sealed until the child is placed in an adoptive home and the courts FINALIZE the adoption. If the child reaches the age of 18 while in a foster or guardianship situation and never adopted, their records remain open to them, just as they are to any other non-adopted person. Birth parents are not notified if their child's adoption is ever, or never, finalized.
(Q) When an adoption is not finalized, are the records sealed forever?
(A) No. If an adoption is not finalized, the records are not sealed.
(a) If, for example, the adoption is annulled, the adoption file and OBC are immediately unsealed and restored. Birth parents are not notified that the OBC has been restored.
(b) Courts have opened adoption records to adult adoptees for "good cause". What constitutes "good cause" varies widely from judge to judge. Some judges have been known not to open these records even for dire medical needs.
(Q) Do other states already give unrestricted OBC access to adult adoptees?
(A) Yes. Kansas never sealed and closed the record to adoptees. Alaska opened in the late 1970s. Alabama opened their Vital Statistics records in 2000. The voters of Oregon passed Measure 58 in 1998, which allowed adult adoptees access to their OBC. New Hampshire passed SB 335 in 2004, which granted unrestricted access to the original birth certificate to adult adoptees. Most recently, Maine passed LD 1084/PL 409, which reopened access in 2009, without restriction.
(Q) Will opening adoption records to adult adoptees make the abortion rates go up?
(A) No. Kansas (12.7 abortion rate / 48.4 adoption rate) and Alaska (19.4 abortion rate / 53.5 adoption rate), are two states that have had open records for decades, enjoy higher rates of adoption and lower abortion rates than their neighboring states. The rates of abortion in these states are lower than the national average (25.8 abortion rate / 31.2 adoption rate). Alabama's abortion rate has dropped, since opening records to adult adoptees in 2000. Other countries that have open records also have lower abortion rates than most U.S. states, such as Australia (16.6), New Zealand (14.0), and England (15.2).*
*Sources: Flango and Flango, How many Children Were Adopted in 1992 (Child Welfare 1995);
(Q) Do the majority of adoption formed families support OBC access?
(A) Yes. In 1958, 1968, and 1978 Paul Sachdev researched adoptive parent, adoptee, and birth parent attitudes toward open adoption records in Unlocking the Adoption Files (1989). Sachdev, whose work is highly respected worldwide, found that 69.7% of all adoptive parents surveyed, as compared with 88.5% of birth mothers and 81.8% of adoptees, said that adult adoptees should be able to receive identifying information. Adoption professionals and adoption groups, in the majority, support adoptee access to the original birth certificate. The book, In Whose Best Interests? Ethics in American Adoption (Greenwood In print-1998), L. Anne Babb, Ph.D. reports results of a 1994 study, conducted of the country's 50 state licensors of adoption agencies and 23 professional, adoption-relate or child welfare associations. The findings showed that the majority (62%) said that adult adoptees should be given access to their original birth certificates, supporting the idea that the professional ethics of confidentiality and client self-determination can be observed without conflict in adoption practice.
(Q) There can't be that many adoptees in California. Just how many people are we talking about this bill affecting?
(A) Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain because formal statistics have not been kept on adoptions in California for every year. Depending upon which national study you read, it is estimated that there are between 6 and 8 million adoptees nationwide.* When you consider those touched by adoption too (adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and their immediate families), the numbers jump to between 80 and 100 million people affected! That's about 30% of the population nationwide and thus a correlating percentage of Californians would be served with the passage of open records legislation... over 3 million California born adoptees.
* Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute [Conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates],
Pertinent links:Oregon's M58 timeline and information
Alabama's open records law
New Hampshire's open records law
Maine's open records law
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in full (Doe v. Sundquist)
© 2011 California Open