Category Archives: Legislation

From grief … a gift

I’m in the midst of losing my grandmother. Losing her to a wicked disease that has transformed her body into a prison from which she cannot escape. Not being able to turn a key became not being able to hold a fork, which became not being able to walk. Now, she cannot speak. But I look into her eyes, a color of brown that Maeve’s crayon palette would deem Burnt Sienna, and I see a world of things she wants to say but cannot. I see a life of experiences she can no longer share with those around her. Recipes and rituals once rote to her are now outside her reach, and outside of ours for posterity. Her body has turned on her.

I watch all this play out before me like a car accident, tires screeching with urgency, yet seemingly in slow motion.

I am not unique, I imagine, in having the childhood memory of riding in the front seat of the family car when a parental arm suddenly flings out, steady and firm against the child’s chest, as the car brakes to avoid an accident.

Today, dear mirror on the wall, I see that I am my parents after all. My arm now instinctively reaches to Maeve, as if I can somehow protect her from the tragic scene unfolding before us. Yet I know that as the matriarch of the family slips away, I must loosen that grip and expose my daughter to certain pain.

As little as two weeks ago, Maeve could run into her grandparents’ home to greet her great-grandmother like countless times before. She’d sit near my grandmother’s chair and they would chat, Maeve bringing to life my grandmother’s pale blue plastic statues of the Virgin Mary in skits of domesticity or glamorous theater like only a young girl can.

Those rituals are no longer; my grandmother has slipped further away from us. My grandmother was there the day we arrived home from our three-day stint in a hotel as new parents. She has since attended her dance recitals, kid-centric birthday parties, and even watched from the front row as a cap-and-gown clad Maeve graduated preschool.

Her presence over the years has taught Maeve to be gentle with her touch, to recognize when someone might need extra help. Like “helping” Gram-Gram to the electric lift chair along the stairs that Maeve not-so-secretly wishes was her own plaything, installed not to give mobility to an ailing parent but rather as a grand gesture purely for a granddaughter and her visits! Or the birthday candles Maeve proudly “helps” Gram-Gram blow out on her birthday cake — this despite my grandmother’s germ-concerned pet peeve about the whole candle-blowing ritual to begin with.

While their lives have overlapped just a handful of years, the two generations are now forever linked by these memories, these threads that when woven together create a tapestry of family history and heritage.

The grief in eventually losing Gram-Gram will eventually be outweighed by the gift of them knowing one another. Each flavored one another’s existence in some unchangeable way that is unique to them — all the while without a shred of shared DNA.

So exactly why is it that so many seek to keep others — with actual genetic proprietary rights! — from living so authentically?

Sealed birth records take what is splintered and force a fracture. As manila files replete with long-sought answers sit in dark, dusty storage units, life outside moves on, time takes its toll and key characters in each story can be lost forever.

Blacking out identifying information weakens the thread of family heritage, to be sure; but such black-lining cannot erase a story that’s already begun. There is no ink dark enough.

Now, I have no pie-in-the-sky notion that every birth mother, birth father and child will link arms, sing Kumbaya and skip into a forever full only of familial bliss. (Do you know any family like this?) Still, we each deserve the opportunity to write our own stories with its full cast of characters. No one should have their story written for them, missing chapters be damned.

Yes, Maeve will hurt when she loses her great-grandmother. Yes, my parental arms will instinctively reach for my daughter, trying to lessen the sting for us both. Yes, I will seek solace in knowing it stings because we were lucky enough to know her, to love her, and to share life with her.

Not everyone gets that chance.

The Adoptee’s Birthright Bill permits access to original birth certificates. A-1406 awaits a posting before, and vote by, the full New Jersey Assembly. Encourage your legislator to support access to original birth certificates. Call 800-792-8630 for your legislators’ names and contact information, or log on to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us for contact information and a full text of the bill.

This is my latest column from Adoption From The Heart’s Adoption News.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Closed Adoption, Death, Latest AFTH column, Legislation, Making a difference

Vote set on Paid Family Leave in NJ

The full New Jersey Assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow on A-873 — its version of Senate bill S-786 approved last week — which would guarantee workers six weeks of paid leave for, among other things, caring for a newly adopted child. Click the Paid Family Leave tab above for past posts chronicling the bills, amendments and committee votes.

If approved by the heavily Democratic Assembly, the bill would then need Senate ratification — seemingly a formality after last week’s stamp of approval on its own measure. Since Democrats generally favor the family leave plan, it seems a nod of approval tomorrow isn’t a long shot — quite a change from years past.

Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corszine has said he will sign the bill.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption leave, Family Leave, Legislation, Paid Adoption Leave

NJ advances open records, family leave legislation!

It’s been quite a busy week here in New Jersey for legislators and those with a stake in adoption-related laws.

Two bills — which for many years have floundered at various stages of the legislative process — have each made a substantial leap forward, and hold more hope than ever for adoptees seeking open access to their birth records, and new adoptive parents seeking paid time off to care for and bond with their new family member.

The state Senate approved S-611, a bill that would allow adoptees to obtain their original birth records — and therefore their medical histories and heritage — which currently are sealed under New Jersey law.

Adoptees at least 18 years old or the adoptive parents of a child would be able to petition the state registrar for an original birth certificate listing the biological parents’ names.

Birth parents would have one year after the bill takes effect to request their name and address remain confidential. Those seeking to do that, however, would be required to provide a health and cultural history every 10 years until they turn 40, and every five years after that.

Despite the bill’s decades-long battle, the Senate voted 31-7 to approve it without any discussion! The Assembly version of the bill is before its Human Services Committee.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote, “Through this legislation, we’ve taken pains to balance the needs of adopted individuals to know with the needs of certain birth parents to maintain anonymity. For New Jersey’s adopted residents, this bill is about fairness, giving them the same opportunity to know where they come from as non-adopted people.”

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Paid family leave in New Jersey — which includes those having just adopted a child — is now also considerably closer to reality than ever before. The bill, S-786 — which has had its share of tweaking over the last few months, beginning as a 12-week plan, later reduced to a 10-week program, and stands now as six weeks’ leave — was approved 22-16 by the state Senate.

The full Assembly will consider the bill in the coming weeks and, considering it’s a bill generally favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, it should do well in the heavily Democratic Assembly. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill.

This would make New Jersey the third state to allow workers to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or a newly adopted child. Since 2004, California has allowed workers up to six weeks paid leave, and as of October 2009, Washington will allow workers five weeks’ paid leave.

New Jersey’s program would be funded through an estimated $33 a year per employee, taken through payroll deductions. Those taking the leave would receive two-thirds of their salary, up to $502 weekly.

The video of all the proceedings is here — click the March 3 session — about 90 minutes of debate and then the vote on the paid family leave legislation, and then a very fast vote (less than one minute!) on the open records bill.

Hoo-rah!

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Adoption leave, Birth parents, Family Leave, Legislation, Making a difference, Paid Adoption Leave

Survey for first parents

Received a heads-up about this very important survey from an adoptive mom friend of mine.

It’s actually for first parents, and the letter accompanying the survey link is written by Roberta MacDonald, chairwoman of the North Carolina Coalition for Adoption Reform and the state’s representive on the American Adoption Congress.

She explains the goal of receiving input in the Surrender Survey Project from at least 600 birth parents by the end of 2008. 

According to the study preface, the aim is for the project to become “the most comprehensive study of parents whose parental rights have been relinquished or terminated resulting in their children being adopted or remaining in foster care.”

It notes that the collection of “accurate data regarding attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and practices affecting parents in these situations is vital in formulating legislation in areas of family preservation, foster care and adoption.”

An opportunity to get one’s voice heard, indeed.

The survey is here.

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NJ’s adoption leave bill lives!

Rally your troops. Circle your wagons. Write a legislator.

It’s been a year since S-2249, New Jersey’s paid family leave bill, was introduced and it still has a pulse, folks.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, the measure will face its next test as it comes up for a vote by the state’s Assembly Labor Committee. This summer Gov. Jon Corzine pledged he would sign a family-leave bill into law before the end of this year. You look at a calendar and do the math.

The bone of contention at this point seems to be the number of paid weeks off afforded to workers — it’s already been decreased from 12 to 10, and that number may fall yet again as the state’s powerful business association claims such leave is simply too large a burden for small business to bear.

Thing is — and this is most important — the paid leave program would not be financed on the backs of businesses. I detailed how it would be funded right here some time ago.

And who, exactly, would be covered? Everyone, even those of us employed by a company with fewer than 50 employees (Me! Me! Me! That’s me frantically jumping up and down and waving my arms!) — companies otherwise exempt from current state law affording 12 unpaid weeks of leave and job protection.

Here’s the thing: All newly created or expanded families — no matter how they are formed — deserve invaluable adjustment and bonding time without fearing severe financial detriment. Caring for or financially supporting one’s family shouldn’t be an either-or situation.

You don’t have to be an adoptive parent to care about this. You could know one or love one or … better yet, you could just be … a member of a family. That’s right. This bill affects you, should you ever need time off from work to care for a beloved family member. You’ll care about it then, I can assure you. Thing is, it might be too late by then. So show your support now. How? Read on.

(Not up on the issue? Doesn’t mean you can’t jump in now and show your support. Just take a gander at my previous essays in the Adoption Leave tab above for the history of this bill and you’re good to go.)

If this legislation passes, New Jersey would be the third state in the nation (California leads the pack) to offer such relief to new adoptive parents, as well as those needing to care for an ailing family member.

Find the legislators here (click Labor in the right margin for the actual committee considering the bill), and write these folks to voice your support of paid leave for families.

And if you’re not a Jerseyan, don’t think your voice doesn’t need to be heard. Write these NJ legislators and let them know what this means to families like yours, and then copy it to your own lawmakers.

We’re all in this together, one state at a time.

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Today’s NPR program on open records

If you can, tune in to NPR today at 3 pm (Eastern time) for its “Talk of the Nation” program which promises to be a lively discussion about access to birth and adoption records.

Panelists are Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Tom Atwood of the National Council for Adoption as well as a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The call-in number is 800-989-8255 if you’re so inclined.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Legislation, Making a difference, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders

Opening adoption records

With all the hubbub today after the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released its white paper, “For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees” — which recommends every state provide adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates — and news organizations picked up the report, thought I’d offer up the link to the full white paper here.

I’m also including excerpts of the report’s highlights below.

(But first I have to ask, Why on earth is this still such a big issue?)

  • Adopted persons are the only individuals in the United States who, as a class, are not permitted to routinely obtain their original birth certificates. This … raises significant civil rights concerns, particularly given the growing understanding of the need to know one’s history, heritage, medical and genealogical data.
  • Denying adult adopted persons access to information related to their births and adoptions has potentially serious, negative consequences with regard to their physical and mental health. As recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office in its Family History Initiative, biological family medical history is vital to prevention, early diagnosis and treatment … [of] heart disease, cancer and certain mental health conditions.
  • As states have amended their laws to provide adult adopted persons with access to their birth and/or adoption information, there has been no evidence of the sorts of negative consequences predicted by opponents of changing these laws, including intrusive behavior such as stalking by adopted persons who receive their personal information.
  • Similarly, there has been no evidence that the lives of birthmothers have been damaged as a result of the release of information to the children (now adults) whom they relinquished for adoption. … Few birthmothers have expressed the desire to keep records sealed or the wish not to be contacted; indeed, in the vast majority of cases, the converse appears to be true.
  • Another assertion by critics of changing these laws — that abortion rates rise as a result of such access — is not supported by the experiences of states that have re-opened records (or have never closed them); in fact, the data indicate that reopening records may reduce abortion rates and may increase adoption rates.
  • For many adopted persons, the desire to obtain their records is entirely separate from any desire to search for their birthmothers or other relatives; they simply believe — as a human and civil right — that they are entitled to the same basic information about themselves that people raised in their birth families receive as a matter of course. Indeed, many who do get their birth certificates or other documents never search, while others successfully search (a growing phenomenon because of the internet) without any of their documents.
  • Research shows that knowledge of what happened to the children they relinquished for adoption plays a powerful role in the resolution of birthmothers’ grief, thereby suggesting that providing access to birth and/or adoption information can have other positive consequences.
  • There has been scant evidence that birthmothers were explicitly promised anonymity from the children they relinquished for adoption. Relinquishment documents provided to courts that have heard challenges to states’ new “open records” laws do not contain any such promises. To the extent that adoption professionals might have verbally made such statements, courts have found that they were contrary to state law and cannot be considered legally binding.

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