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Adopted Children Revisiting Their Pasts

For adopted children, the desire to know about their past is a common, if not inherent trait. Yet, laws prevented many from finding out about their origins and medical histories. Confidentiality prevented them from getting the answers they wanted and needed.

In 1935, then New York Gov. Herbert Lehman – an adoptive father – signed a law permanently sealing adoptees’ birth certificates. The decision came during a time when a child born out of wedlock or parents’ unable to provide care carried a stigma.

Times have changed. Today, options exist to find family via DNA tracking services and private detectives. New York legislators – some who are adoptees – decided to take it a step further by changing the state’s adoption law. In June, they passed a pair of bills that transformed what many see as a “stone age” tradition while creating a new dynamic for adopted children and birth parents.

The first piece of legislation provides adoptees over 18 access to their long-form birth certificates. Those documents detail full names and addresses of their biological parents.

The second bill would designate the decision-maker in cases where biological mothers and fathers who lost their parental rights, resulting in children placed in foster care. Judges would have the power to determine if those children are allowed to contact their birth parents.

Studies on this legally and emotionally complex issue vary. Some find that contact with birth parents does more harm than good. Others see it as a way for children to find closure and identify any medical issues that may arise in their lives.

As with any aspect of family law, the best interests of children come first, regardless of their age.

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