Guidelines for Triad Members
by Barbara Free
and reunion are no longer secret, taboo issues for members of the adoption
triad. We see reunions take place on television programs; there is even a
cable channel with times devoted to reunions. Watching some of these makes
search seem relatively easy and reunions appear to be ecstatic. There is
rarely a follow-up on the process of reunion several months or years down
the road, and details of the search are not often given, for several reasons.
A person newly considering a search can get some distorted expectations from
watching these programs.
Some reunions are taking place as a result
of Internet exploration, without a trained or licensed search intermediary,
or even a live search-and-support group. As a result, quite a few support
groups have gone out of existence, or are struggling to attract attendees
Operation Identity has maintained a healthy
attendance and a good mix of new people and long-time members and supporters.
Out of these years of experience, weve come up with some helpful guidelines
for persons considering or already involved in a search, which might help
avoid some pitfalls and disappointment.
First, there are some real advantages to attending
a support group, no matter how many on-line bulletin boards, chat-rooms,
etc., you may find. Live people, with skin on them are in support
groups, to listen to your story and share theirs; to look you in the eye;
to encourage and comfort you (computers do not offer tissues, hugs, or laughter);
and to celebrate with you when appropriate.
For birth parents, being in a room with other
birth parents, maybe for the first time, is a wonderful experience. For adoptees,
finding others in search can really help in realizing that searching is a
normal, healthy pursuit. For adoptive parents, meeting and getting to know
people from all parts of the triad helps them know they are valued, and that
for their adoptees to search is not a negative reflection on their job as
parents. For new adoptive parents, hearing stories of the difficulty of search
and closed adoptions can help them in choosing open adoption if that is possible
in their situation.
A support group is a great place to make friends,
and people usually find out they have more in common than just their adoption
triad role. Each meeting brings news of progress in search or reunion, like
unfolding mystery stories.
Search and support groups can also help a person
find resources for their search, starting with learning laws and procedures
that apply to them in the state where they need to search, and in locating
a search intermediary if that is appropriate. Some persons will be able to
pretty much conduct their own search, while others may have complicated searches
requiring professional help. A support group can he helpful in determining
that, and in making connections. A support group which is part of a national
organization, such as the American Adoption Congress, of which O.I. is a
member, has access to a network in this way, as well as informal contacts.
At one time, searches were not legal or were
of questionable legality, in most states. That is rapidly changing with more
states opening their records, at least to adult adoptees, although it may
still be very difficult for birth parents to gain any access to records.
And obtaining an original birth certificate does not automatically locate
the person being searched for.
In some states, including New Mexico, neither
adoptee nor birth parent has to give any particular reason for searching
(in some states, one must have good cause, such as need for medical
history, in order to search), which makes a search entirely within the state
relatively easy, particularly if the searcher and the one sought have remained
in the state. However, that is often not the case, and so one must go beyond
the state-sanctioned intermediary in their search. The trained and licensed
searcher, however, can be the key to that, with their own network of connections.
They are also aware of what is legal and ethical in a search, and what is
There are lots of 800 numbers advertised, in
magazines, on TV, and on the Internet, who may offer to take your money and
promise you results they never produce, or may string you along, wanting
more and more money. Beware of these ads. Some offer no more than an on-line
telephone directory. Some searchers have been known to tap into sources to
which they did not have legal access in order to obtain records and identities.
Make it clear, no matter how desperate you feel, that you want your search
conducted in a legal and ethical manner.
What is legal in one state may not be in another.
For instance, in some states, it may be easy to obtain Motor Vehicle Department
information, while in other states, that information is very restricted.
Certain Social Security records are easily and legally obtainable, while
others are held in strict confidentiality. There are books available which
will list each states laws and regulations. Because these facts change
frequently, look for the most recent printing you can find. Again, a support
group and a local, professional searcher can help you with these details.
Some searchers ask for a certain amount of
money, a flat fee, no matter how easy or difficult the search may be. For
many, the fee is quite nominal considering the time and effort that may be
involved. Other searchers may charge according to the time and difficulty
of the search. Some, such as certain advertised 800 numbers, may charge quite
a large amount, either up front, or as the search progresses, or before releasing
to you the information you are seeking. Ask others in your group what their
experiences have been, what fees are reasonable, and what you can expect.
Persons who are searching for their family members are so vulnerable, and
easily taken advantage of, and there are people who prey on them. Ask questions,
be assertive, and dont be hesitant to insist on a written contract
with anyone to whom you are paying money. In this way, you are in charge
of your search, no matter how many channels you have to go through in order
to obtain your desired result.
You do have a human right to search, to find
out who you are, who your family is, where your offspring are. State laws
differ greatly in these matters, however. In some states, only a sibling
is allowed to search. The proposed Uniform Adoption Act would negate all
the open records laws and seal all records for 99 years, and make it a felony
to obtain, give out, or possess any information. It is important to become
informed about this. You probably do not wish to become a felon, and you
probably do not think your fellow support group members are felons (at least
not because theyve searched)!
While youre searching, and even after,
read all you can about search and reunion, about what its like for
people who have various roles in the adoption triad, and other aspects of
adoption. Many support groups, such as O.I., have lending libraries. Other
members may have personal favorite books they recommend, or will even lend
you themselves. New releases may be publicized through support groups and
newsletters. This is very important, because chain bookstores rarely have
much of a selection of adoption books, and most of what they do have is geared
toward prospective adoptive parents, not toward adult adoptees, birth parents,
or persons in search or in reunion.
Keep a journal while youre searching,
and keep copies of all correspondence and documents connected with your search.
No one else need see your journal; it is for your use. We talk of search
and reunion as being a journey, and journal is from the same root word, which
we associate with a day, a trip, an account. If at some point, you wish to
write an article for your newsletter, it will no doubt be welcomed, and will
help others in their own journey. Your thoughts, your experiences, and your
feelings are valid and valuable. Sharing with others is also a helpful reality
test, to find out if your hopes and expectations are realistic and
The more expectations you have, the more likely
you are to be disappointed or upset when they are not met, and the more
vulnerable you make yourself. We do not have cultural rules or guidelines
for search and reunion, nor for relationships with new-found family members
after reunion. A support group can be enormously helpful by sharing their
Searching for your family can be perilous,
exciting, and rewarding, and a deeply spiritual experience. Let your support
system, including your adoption support group, and your searcher, help you,
and remember that this is your search and your journey.
Excerpted from the April 2000
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2000 Operation Identity