300 birth parents in NJ don’t want adopted kids to know who they are
Birth parents of as many as 300,000 children who were surrendered for adoption in New Jersey between 1940 and 2015 have just a few more days to tell the state if they’d like to prevent their identities from being revealed when records are unsealed Jan. 1.
Under a law signed in 2014 by Gov. Chris Christie, the records – which have long been inaccessible, without a court order – become available to adoptees and some of their immediate family members. Already, 821 requests for the records have been filed.
A compromise in the bill gave birth parents time to opt out of potential disclosure, if they inform the state Department of Health by Dec. 31 that they want their personal identifying information redacted. Once 2017 begins, no further redaction requests will be accepted.
So far, 287 redaction requests have been filed, with four days remaining.
Considering there are around 170,000 sealed adoption files in state cabinets, with some containing information about more than one child, that’s a fairly low percentage, said Pam Hasegawa, New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education spokeswoman.
It’s equal to around one of every 592 records.
“I think given the total number of adoptees, of people who’ve been adopted and whose birth certificates have been sealed, this is not a staggering number of people,” Hasegawa said.
Hasegawa said she expected more adoptees would have requested their birth certificates in advance, to receive them as quickly as possible once the state starts processing applications next week. The 821 to date amounts to less than one-half of 1 percent, or 1 of every 207 adoptees.
“I’m surprised that’s as low as it is,” Hasegawa said. “I think that number will grow significantly once the law is actually allowing adoptees to get a copy of their original birth certificates and the word gets spread more widely.”
Requests to obtain records cost $25 and can continue to be filed after Dec. 31. That’s only the deadline for birth parents’ redaction requests.
Some birth parents have filed paperwork with the state directing that they’d prefer to be contacted through an intermediary, not directly, if an adoptee pursues his or her records and wants to meet. The intermediaries could include adoption agencies, lawyers, ministers or relatives.
For children relinquished after July 2015, personal information is no longer redacted from birth certificates in New Jersey.
That information also was available before November 1940, when state law was changed. The records remained sealed for about 75, until Christie signed a compromise measure in 2014 that opened them – after a delay designed to allow birth parents who want to maintain anonymity to file to do so.
Adult adoptees will be able to access birth records without a court order starting in January. Requests can also be filed by their direct descendants, siblings and spouses, as well as by adoptive parents or legal guardians. The records aren’t open to the general public.
Hasegawa said she hopes parents who opt out of having their identities disclosed take the time to complete an accurate family medical history form. The law requires them to fill the form, which also includes cultural and social history information, and update it regularly.
“It’ll be a blow to any adoptee who receives a redacted birth certificate, but if there is a form filled out for family history, that will be a huge gift and relief to the adoptee to have some of that information, if not all of it,” Hasegawa said.
The records are contained in 30, 6-foot tall filing cabinets, so processing the requests won’t be instantaneous. The health department hopes to be able to mail out the birth certificates requested in advance by the end of January.
All requests will be mailed, not picked up in person.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org