The Arkansas Department of Health announced Friday that birth parents of adopted children may now fill out a form on the ADH website if they wish to redact their name from an adoption file or update their contact information or medical information.
The health department is making the forms available in advance of a change to take place on August 1 that could be of huge consequence to some adoptees in Arkansas. A little-discussed law passed by the Arkansas legislature in 2017 will soon allow adoptees to request their adoption files from ADH once they turn 21. Currently, adult adoptees cannot access those records, which may include their original birth certificates and court documents related to the adoption proceedings.
Westley Ashley, a Little Rock attorney who was adopted as a child, wrote a powerful piece about this issue in the Arkansas Times’ child welfare-focused Big Idea issue in 2015. He noted that access to vital records was crucial for adoptees in part because of the importance of early identification of hereditary-related health problems — but also because they should simply have a right to know where they came from:
After months of discussing “the search” with my mother as a teenager, I was given the only documentation she had regarding my biological parents. Arkansas law requires an agency or person involved in adoption proceedings to compile this information. My adoptive mother’s records contained a narrative from my teenage biological mother explaining she was unaware she was pregnant until the last few days before she went into labor. It also explained her family’s composition — one military father, one stay-at-home mom, a little sister, all Catholic and white. The only information pertaining to my biological father is extremely limited — he wore glasses, he did not smoke or do drugs and he was described as “black/Hispanic.”
Growing up, I would often get lost in the mirror wondering where my brown eyes came from or whose ears also had that funny crimp in the corner. I have become comfortable with the label of “multiracial” only in recent years. My own lack of biological history has left me feeling untethered at times, and I’ve struggled with the concept of identity as an adult. I am uncomfortable around new people because I fear I will be asked the question I dread the most: “What are you?” This uneasiness is partly due to just how entitled strangers can feel and partly because I’m unable to answer my own questions about my origins.
“I believe this to be a human rights issue,” Ashley said at the time. He also acknowledged, though, the complex balancing of rights involved in opening those records. Some parents who surrendered children for adoption may not want those children contacting them decades later. Others, however, may want exactly that.
The ADH form made available Friday gives birth parents the means to redact their names from adoption records, if they so wish, or to simply add pertinent medical information. “They can also update their contact information, so that if they do want to be contacted, they can do that,” ADH spokesperson Meg Mirivel told the Arkansas Times.
She noted that the mother and father of the adoptee must contact ADH separately. “The birth parent can only fill it out for themselves. They can’t fill it out for the other birth parent,” Mirivel said.
There is a $100 fee to process an application for adoption files.
Here’s the full release from the Department of Health:
New state adoption file rules to affect birth parents, adoptees
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Starting Aug. 1, individuals who have been adopted (adoptees) may request their adoption file from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). Forms are now available online for birth parents who wish to redact their name from an adoption file, or update their contact or medical information.
An ADH adoption file usually includes an original birth certificate and adoption decree, although what is included in a file can vary depending on the adoption. Act 519, which became law in March 2017, gave adoptees the ability to request their files if they are at least 21 years old starting Aug.1.
The new law also allows birth parents to complete forms to redact their name from an adoption file as well as update their family history information and contact preference. They can request to be contacted by the adopted child directly, through a third party or not at all, although the ADH cannot guarantee that request will be followed.
To submit a redaction request, a birth parent must show proof of their identity, submit a notarized form and update their genetic or social history. A form cannot be submitted by one birth parent for another.
Written requests for adoption files will be accepted starting Wednesday, Aug. 1, by adoptees or, upon their death, a surviving spouse or a guardian of their child. That request must be notarized and include proof of their identity. There is a $100 fee to process an application for adoption files.
More information, as well as redaction forms to update an adoption file, may be found online at www.healthy.arkansas.gov or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-462-0599. Forms must be returned to the ADH Vital Records Department, State Registrar, 4815 West Markham St., Slot 44, Little Rock AR 72205.