Friday, February 29, 2008

UNITED STATES:/MAINE: Adopted Main Senator Finds Birth Parents, February 29, 2008

Also links to poll and high-traffic forum on adoptee rights.


February 29, 2008

Adopted Maine Senator Finds Birth Parents: Sen. Paula Benoit Says Unsealing Her Birth Records Changed her Life

By Gigi Stone

Paula Benoit lives a full life, balancing motherhood with a career as a state senator in Maine. Yet ever since she can remember, there was something gnawing inside her, something she wanted to know.

"I really had always wondered about my identity, who I looked like, my medical history," Benoit said.

Benoit was adopted as an infant. At age 52, she decided it was finally time to find out the identity of her natural parents. She went to court to obtain her birth certificate.

Her request was denied. In Maine, as in most states, adoption records are sealed.

Do you think adult adoptees should be able to obtain their birth records? VOTE HERE.

Are you an adoptee considering reaching out to a birth parent? Is your family considering adoption? Click here for adoption-related Web resources.

"I want that piece of paper," said Benoit. "What right does that judge have to sit there with my records?"

So she began working on legislation to unseal records for all adoptees in her home state. When the state legislature passed this bill last year, Maine became the eighth state to give adoptees full access to their birth records, including their parents' names.

Other states that have unsealed birth certificates include Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Massachusetts. Kansas and Alaska were never sealed them. Right now, bills are pending to unseal adoption records in New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Minnesota.

But the bills are facing some strong opposition.

Members of some Catholic groups worry that passage of these bills might lead more women to have abortions. Groups like the National Council for Adoption, which argues for the rights of mothers who gave up their babies, said that if birth mothers or adopted children really want to find each other, they can list their names in registries set up by states.

There are no laws that promise birth mothers anonymity, but many women who gave up their children for adoption did so after agencies reassured them and social workers that the records would remain sealed.

"Marie," who refused to be identified, put her baby up for adoption nearly 20 years ago. She fears that if her husband and children find out about her secret all these years later, it will tear her family apart.

"To just rip open people's lives when you really don't know what their experiences have been that have caused that decision in the first place is something to me that is, I mean it's almost cruel," said "Marie."

But Paula Benoit believes it was cruel to keep her identity a secret. And she finally learned the names of her birth parents. She also discovered something else she never could have imagined. Two of her colleagues in the Maine legislature, State Sen. Bruce Bryant and State Rep. Mark Bryant, are her nephews.

"I just sat in the chair and thought, 'Oh, my gosh,'" said Benoit.

"The major shock is that she's serving in the Senate," said Bryant. "I'm serving in the Senate, and we're in the same building."

Paula Benoit said unsealing her birth records has changed her life. She wants that experience for all adoptees. Despite the promises made to mothers made in the past, she believes today that people like her have the right to know.

Link to article

Thursday, February 28, 2008

ARGENTINA: Argentina Relives Scandal of Babies Stolen from Political Prisoners, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008

Argentina Relieves Scandal of Babies Stolen from Political Prisoners
By Paul Scheltus in Buenos Aires

The 9-millimetre gun and the letter found next to the lifeless body of Lt-Col Paul Alberto Ravone seemed to indicate suicide. Argentine human rights groups, however, suspect foul play as he is not the first key witness in a baby-theft trial to turn up dead.

In a series of cases gripping Argentina, men and women are on trial for stealing newborn babies from political prisoners during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Couples faithful to the regime illegally adopted the babies, supposedly raising them free of "subversive doctrines". Meanwhile, their mothers were "disappeared," in many cases thrown from planes into the sea, in what was known as the "Dirty War".

Ravone, 65 and retired, was due to testify on 3 March in a case involving the theft of twins born to a political dissident in a military hospital in 1976. Shortly before, the twins' parents had been arrested and joined the ranks of the 30,000 desaparecidos or disappeared.

Although the police suspect suicide, the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo expressed their doubts after Ravone's body was found on Monday. Estela de Carlotto, the leader of the group searching for their abducted grandchildren, claims that witnesses are being "eliminated."

On 10 December a key witness in a similar trial, Hector Febres, was found dead in his cell. The autopsy revealed cyanide poisoning as the cause of death. The Justice minister, Anibal Fernandez, says he has no doubt that Febres was murdered. The Dirty War is still being fought.

The discovery of Ravone's body follows two other incidents linked to the baby- theft trials, pushing the issue to the front pages of newspapers here. The first was a police raid on the home of Evelyn Vazquez, 30, who is possibly the daughter of disappeared parents. The police came looking for articles that might contain DNA.

The action followed Ms Vazquez's refusal to have a blood test. She says she will do nothing to implicate the couple that raised her – even if they do know about the possible fate of her biological parents and are accomplices to her alleged kidnapping. "I'll not be used as a weapon against my adoptive parents" she said.

Nine years ago her alleged biological grandparents started an investigation to find out if Ms Vasquez was the child stolen from their daughter. But Ms Vasquez feels no desire to see her adoptive parents jailed. "My parents have been my parents for the past 30 years and nothing will change that," she said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

DNA recovered during the raid will be used to determine her identity. If she is who the Grandmothers think she is, prosecutors will want to question her adoptive parents about how they came by a stolen baby.

The second case, that of Maria Eugenia Sampallo, could not be more different. Ms Sampallo is pressing charges against the couple who raised her. She always doubted her identity and submitted herself to a DNA test in 2000. The results produced a grandmother and an elder brother who had been looking for her all her life. Her parents, she found out, were union delegates, arrested in October 1977 and never seen again.

She accuses her adoptive parents of kidnap, deceit and falsifying her birth certificate. The slow wheels of justice in Argentina have delayed the trial until now.

Last week Ms Sampallo testified about her childhood. "At first they told me my parents had died in a car crash," she said. "Later they changed their story... Gomez [the wife] refused to tell me who I was. That was the deal. If they said nothing they could keep me." Apart from the couple – Cristina Gomez and Osvaldo Rivas – there is a third accused. Enrique Berthier, a former soldier, is suspected of giving the baby to Mrs Gomez. He claims to have no knowledge of Ms Sampallo's background. All three could spend up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

According to the Grandmothers organisation at least 500 children were taken from their jailed mothers. Thanks to a DNA databank, 88 young people now know their biological mothers were tortured and killed and that the people they thought were their parents had lied to them. Cases like Ms Vazquez's are rare: most have cut all ties with their adoptive parents.

Link to article

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

VERMONT: Adoptee, 79, Ventures Online to Find Blood Relatives, February 27,2008

February 27, 2008

Adoptee, 79, ventures online to find blood relatives
PARK CITY - Micki Dietsch is so prolific with her paintbrush that she bought a computer to sell her paintings on eBay. The Park City woman still hasn't listed her landscapes, but her laptop has helped her discover five half-siblings from a mother she never knew.

At 79, Dietsch is not your typical adoptee searching for biological family. She's one that never gave up.

"That's a lot of years not to know," she said. "I just want to let people know not to give up hope."

As the decades passed, Dietsch presumed that her biological parents had passed away. But she still wanted to know if she had any siblings. All of her life, she has envied families with lots of children. And she always dreamed of having a sister.

A few months ago, she learned that she had not just one, but three half-sisters and a half-brother. A fourth half-sister had passed away only weeks before Dietsch unlocked her family connection.

From the time Dietsch was a child, she knew she was adopted. Born in 1928 to an unwed mother in Vermont, she was "picked out special" by Russell and Helena Howard, a childless couple.

The Howards raised Dietsch as their own. But when her adoptive mother passed away, Dietsch, then 19, decided to look for her biological parents.

Armed only with her mother's maiden name and a few vague clues, she began her search at the place of her birth, Vermont's Elizabeth Lund Home. In 1947, the staff there was surprised by her visit. It was not uncommon for mothers to return, seeking information about the children they had put up for adoption, they told her.

"But they said I was the first one who had ever come back asking for information on my parents," she said.

Unfortunately Dietsch - then Marilyn Howard - hit a dead end at the Lund Home. She went on to marry, move to California and bear eight children of her own. Off and on for the next 60 years - she and her husband, Vyrle, retired to Park City 10 years ago - she continued to look. But it took her computer to crack the case.

"I decided, a lot of people are finding relatives (online)," she said. "I asked myself, 'I wonder if can do it?' "

It was just a year ago that Dietsch, a computer novice, bought her Compaq laptop. Teaching herself as she went, she was soon investigating ship manifests on - she thinks she was once told that her parents came from

Ireland by ship - and poring over online message boards.

"I used to read those messages over and over," she said. "Every once in a while, I would see the name 'Cady' (her mother's maiden name). But it was always a wrong lead."

Once she even located a 98-year-old Winifred Cady in Indiana. Both the name and age matched what she knew about her mother, but subsequent information just didn't ring true. Throughout last summer, Dietsch persisted online.

"It was basically wasted time," she said.

Along the way, she accessed Vermont's state site, through which she found a post-adoption coordinator. Working that angle, Dietsch finally got her hands on "nonidentifying information" about her birth parents. Though their names were not disclosed, the information listed their ages, religion, complexion, height and even occupations.

She celebrated the small details, taking great solace in finally learning details, such as her birth weight.

She also learned that her mother's life had not been easy. Winifred Cady had lost her own mother at the age of 9, had given birth to Dietsch at 19 and had then lost her brother, her only sibling, only weeks after Dietsch was born.

Need to know more

To access her vital records, Dietsch was told by the adoption coordinator that she would have to petition a judge. Within two months, she had received the judge's response. Citing Vermont statute, he denied her petition, writing that "there is no evidence that disclosing identifying information would not harm your birth parents or their issue. ..."

Still, the disappointing news came with a twist of hope. A clerk in the judge's office tipped off Dietsch to Vermont genealogist Joann Nichols, who lives only six miles from where Dietsch grew up. In 38 years of conducting genealogical research, Dietsch's case was only the second adoption Nichols had tackled.

Within weeks, Nichols hit pay dirt. She said she made the connection by "pure luck." While searching for Winifred Cady, Nichols discovered a Winnie Mildred Cady who seemed the correct age. Winnie Cady, she discovered, lived just across the river from where Dietsch was raised.

To locate Dietsch's siblings, if any existed, Nichols tracked Winnie Cady to the husband she had married several years after Dietsch's birth. From his obituary she gleaned the names of the couple's five children, all half-siblings to Dietsch.

Aunt Micki

Dietsch said the news hit her as if she had just won a million-dollar lottery.

"To this day, I keep pinching myself," she said. "Is this really true?"

She wasted little time in contacting the one sister for whom they could find an address.

"I was hesitant, but then I thought, 'What can happen?' " she said.

The news drew mixed emotions from her half-siblings, who range in age from 61 to 75. They had no clue Dietsch even existed.

Her only brother and youngest sister have celebrated their newfound sister and can't wait to meet her in person. Her two older sisters remain a bit more hesitant.

Dietsch also discovered that she had gained 18 nieces and nephews and 32 great nieces and nephews.

"I'm just now beginning to learn who's who," she said, smiling.

In the past few months, phone calls and e-mails have criss-crossed the country. Raised as an only child, Dietsch was thrilled to receive her first letter addressed to "Aunt Micki." Likewise, she has been amazed to see strong family resemblances among her own progeny and the photos she has seen of her biological family.

The hunt continues

Yet as Dietsch anxiously awaits meeting her new family, she knows her hunt is only half over. Not only is she determined to find the identity of her biological father but she would also like to make adoption laws more amenable to situations like hers.

"I believe adoption laws are antiquated," she said. "I've been denied my civil rights for over 70 years to know my brothers and sisters. And they have been, too."

With the consent of her newfound siblings, Dietsch and Nichols continue their mission to find her biological father. Though Dietsch doubts he's still alive - "he would have been 106 now," she said - she can hardly wait to see if she has more family to meet.

Unfortunately, the three or four people privy to the story of Dietsch's birth are presumably long gone. Apparently, her biological mother took the secret to the grave. And she believes, from some vague memory, that her father's mother - Dietsch's paternal grandmother - demanded that the records be sealed.

Vermont law states that records will remain sealed for 99 years after the adoptee's birth. There are certain provisions, however, that allow inspection of the records, and Dietsch is working that angle.

"All I can do at this point is hope," she said.

Link to article

MAINE: Senator Gets National Attention for Adoption Bill, February 26, 2008

Kennebec Journal Staff report
February 26, :09 PM

Senator gets national attention for adoption bill

AUGUSTA — State Sen. Paula Benoit, R-Phippsburg, will
be part of a news story airing on ABC News with
Charlie Gibson because of her efforts to pass
legislation to help adopted adults.

Benoit, who was adopted, sponsored legislation last
year to give adult adoptees access to their original
birth certificates. While exploring her family
history, Benoit discovered she is the aunt of two
sitting state lawmakers — Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham,
and Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield.

“The fact that in trying to find my identity I
discovered that two of my legislative colleagues were
my nephews is a great story, but it is also important
to remember that while the story is great, what is
most important is that because of this law thousands
of adult adoptees will be able to have access to their
original identity in 2009,” she said in a statement.

The segment is expected to air Wednesday, Thursday or
Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ABC. Benoit’s district includes
Richmond, and 10 other Sagadahoc County communities,
along with Dresden in Lincoln County.

Link to article

NOTE: (NOTE: For some reason the link isn't working, though it was cut and pasted in. Here is the URL:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CONNECTICUT: Adoption Birth Record

WTNH-TV, New Haven
February 26, 2008

Adoption birth record
by News Channel 8's Sara Welch

(WTNH) _ It's information many take for granted: the identities of biological parents. But, for adopted children in Connecticut, those facts are under lock and key. But now, there's a new push to follow eight other states and open adoptions.

Bill Finch has a public identity as a politician -- a former State Senator and now Mayor of Bridgeport. He's also a husband and father of four. But, despite all those accomplishments, there's a void.

"The thing that is missing is that you never fully know where you came from or who you are," Finch said.

That's because Finch, born back in 1956, was given up by his biological mother --- and adopted. By law, he's denied access to his family history.

"If you are adopted you can't know that," Finch noted. "That's not fair to those people."

Today, he spoke before state lawmakers hoping to change that. Finch asked that all adult adoptees in Connecticut have the option of accessing their original birth certificate.

"The question you have to ask yourself is does the state, do birth parents, does anyone have the right to erase a child's identity and forever forbid them from finding out who they really are?" Finch questioned.

It bothers Finch that adopted adults have no access to their medical histories. "Do we have things in our background, in our genetics that we should know about?" Finch questioned. "Everyone can know that except adults who were adopted and their ID's area covered up."

Finch pointed out times have changed. "Despite the fact that in the 1950's and 60's -- children who were born out of Wedlock were inferior and women were shamed that doesn't exist anymore. We don't have those hang-ups, so let's not have this hang up -- let me know who I am."

The Connecticut Catholic Conference strongly opposes allowing access to birth certificates because the group believes it infringes upon a woman's right to privacy -- and might also influence her to have an abortion.

Finch points to a UConn survey that says 84 percent of people polled believe adult adoptees should have access to birth certificates which name their birth parents.

Link to article

Monday, February 25, 2008

UNITED STATES: Letter from Mirah Riben--States' Sealed Records Discriminate Against Adoptees, Families, February 25, 2008

February 25, 2008

States' sealed records discriminate against adoptees, families

Mirah Riben, member, board of directors, Origins — - Richmond, Va.

In his letter "In cases of adoption, respect privacy of birth parents," USA TODAY reader Craig Roberts wrote about his "concerns" for mothers who surrender their children for adoption. Roberts took enormous liberty in speaking for others (Tuesday).

He wrote that mothers who lost children to adoption "could have made a choice to terminate their pregnancies." Yes, they could have, but so could the mother of any child ever born.

Roberts wagers that "the majority of these decisions were made at a young age." The majority of mothers placing children for adoption today are in their 20s. I don't consider those ages to be young. Also, the history of sealed adoption records indicates the records were never sealed to "protect" mothers who surrendered their rights. They were originally sealed in the 1930s to protect adoptive parents and the secrecy of adoption. This kind of protection is a smoke screen for denying adoptees and their families of origin the same rights as others.

Mothers who lost children to adoption have been speaking out, writing and appearing on national television since the '70s. We do not need others speaking for us, making assumptions about us or trying to protect us.

Link to article

Saturday, February 23, 2008

NORTH CAROLINA: Boy's Death Spurs Lawsuit, February 22, 2008

February 22, 2008

Boy's death spurs lawsuit
4-year-old died in 2006

Mandy Locke, Staff Writer
It has been two years since 4-year-old Sean Paddock suffocated to death in the home of people the state had entrusted to raise him, and the boy's grandfather wants to know why.

Ron Ford Sr., administrator of Sean's estate, this week filed a wrongful death lawsuit and a N.C. Industrial Commission claim to try to force an answer and apology from the adoptive parents, as well as the state Department of Health and Human Services, Wake County Human Services and the Children's Home Society of North Carolina, a private adoption agency.

"One person blames another, who blames another, and there's been no answers," Ford said. "I never want another grandfather to go through what I've gone through."

Sean's adoptive mother, Lynn Paddock, is blamed in Sean's death; a murder trial has been set for May. Lynn Paddock is also charged with abusing Sean's siblings, whipping them with plastic plumbing pipes on the advice of an evangelical minister who coaches parents on rearing submissive, godly children.

Officials at the state Department of Health and Human Services and at Wake Human Services declined to comment on the lawsuit. Efforts to reach The Children's Home Society on Thurwere unsuccessful.

A few questions in particular eat at Ford: Why was he, the biological grandfather, never asked to raise Sean after the Wake County social workers deemed the boy's parents unfit? How could social workers give Sean to the Paddocks after the boy came home from a trial visit with a bruise on his backside?

The answers Ford seeks are tucked in social services and adoption records that he asked a judge to release a few months after Sean died.

The state considers the records secret. At a hearing in July 2006, lawyers for the state and Children's Home Society, a Greensboro agency contracted by the state to find a home for Sean and his siblings, argued that the records should remain confidential, and the judge agreed.

This week's lawsuit could force the state to turn over the records. Ford's attorney, David Mills, said there is no longer a reason to keep them private.

"The typical purpose behind secrecy in adoption is to protect the privacy of the parties, especially the parents who gave up the child," said Mills, a lawyer from Smithfield. "The child is dead, and everyone knows who his parents are. His only representative here on earth, Ron Ford, wants answers."

A snapshot of Sean's short life was made public in the weeks after his death in 2006. After social workers discovered Sean and his siblings living in a home with no heat in December 2002, the children went to live with Ron Ford Jr., Sean's uncle. After about seven months, Ron Ford Jr. and his wife told social workers they couldn't afford to raise the three siblings along with three of their own.

Sean and his siblings spent little more than a year in foster care before Children's Home Society offered to place the children with Johnny and Lynn Paddock. Children's Home Society had previously helped the Paddocks adopt three other foster children.

In January 2005, Sean returned from his first visit to the Paddocks with a bruise covering his bottom. The boy and his older siblings told his foster mother that Lynn Paddock whipped him for playing with the family dog; Paddock said the boy had fallen off his bunk bed. Wake County social workers and Children's Home Society workers believed her and proceeded with the adoption.

The Paddocks formally adopted Sean and his brother and sister in July 2005.

Paddocks were paid

The state paid Children's Home Society for its work. It's not clear exactly how much the agency collected for placing the Ford children; the state considers those records confidential, too. But according to Children's Home Society's contract, the agency could have earned up to $45,000 for linking the three children with the Paddocks.

The Paddocks were paid, too. They received $390 a month to rear Sean, according to DSS records from multiple jurisdictions. The Paddocks were likely paid to raise the other former foster children, deemed "special needs children" by the state. The Paddocks' monthly compensation could have topped $2,400.

If Ford prevails in the lawsuit, he can't collect a dime. Sean's adoption erased all kinship ties to Ford.

"I've nothing to gain here," Ford said. "But I need someone to take responsibility."

Mills, Ford's attorney, said any payment to Sean's estate would benefit his new family: the Paddocks, Sean's two older siblings and other adopted children the Paddocks reared in a remote farmhouse in Johnston County. Mills said he'll argue that Lynn Paddock, charged with killing Sean, isn't entitled to any money.

Ford said he hopes his other grandchildren, Sean's siblings -- now living with new families -- would benefit from any award a judge or jury might grant. or

Link to article

ARGENTINA: Adoptee Sues Parents for Kidnapping, February 20, 2008

February 20, 2008

Adoptee Sues Parents for Kidnapping

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Feb. 19) - A 30-year-old woman is suing her adoptive parents for kidnapping in a case that opened in an Argentine court Tuesday, becoming the first child of disappeared political prisoners to press such charges.

Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan accused her adoptive parents Osvaldo Rivas and Maria Cristina Gomez Pinto of falsifying adoption documents to hide her identity. She made no comments on leaving court Tuesday.

Thousands of leftists and dissidents vanished after being abducted by security forces during Argentina's 1976-1983 military regime, and human rights groups say more than 200 of their children were taken and given to military or politically connected families to raise.

Sampallo, who in 2001 learned that she is the daughter of missing political prisoners Mirta Mable Barragan and Leonardo Ruben Sampallo, is one of 88 young people who determined their identity with DNA tests coordinated by the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Sampallo's mother was six months pregnant when she and her father were abducted on Dec. 6, 1977, said Sampallo's lawyer, Tomas Ojea Quentin. He said Sampallo was born in February 1978, while her mother was being held at a clandestine torture center.

Ojea Quentin said former army captain Enrich Berthier is facing related baby theft charges in the case. He is being held at a military unit, while Sampallo's adoptive parents are reportedly free.

Lawyers for Berthier and the Gomez Pintos declined to comment when they left the courthouse where an Associated Press writer and other journalists were waiting.

The case marks the first time a woman has taken her adoptive parents to court in Argentina. There have been at least three earlier trials involving suspected illegal adoptions dating to the dictatorship that resulted in convictions - but the plaintiffs were not the adopted children.

Also Tuesday, a former military officer wanted in connection with the 1972 execution of 16 leftist guerrillas surrendered, hours after returning from the United States, government news agency Telam said.

Carlos Marandino is the fourth former naval officer arrested this month on torture and murder charges linked to the "Trelew Massacre" of 16 leftist rebels who fled an Argentine prison, presaging the excesses of Argentina's so-called dirty war.

Marandino walked off a jet at Buenos Aires's Ezeiza Airport and was detained, Telam reported.

Marandino's co-defendants include Ruben Paccagnini, 81, former head of the Almirante Zar Trelew southern military base; Emilio Del Real, 73, a frigate captain who allegedly witnessed the 1972 executions; and Luis Emilio Sosa, 73, a former navy captain who allegedly captured the escapees.

Lawyers for the three men have protested their innocence, but it was not immediately known if Marandino had hired a lawyer.

Some 25 leftist guerrillas escaped a southern Argentine penitentiary in a 1972 jailbreak. Six fled by plane to Chile, where they were granted political asylum and allowed to proceed to Cuba. The other 19 were taken to a nearby naval base, where 16 were shot dead in their cells, prosecutors say.

Link to article

UNITED STATES: Sally Brown--Letter to the Editor: Story on Adoption Records Provides Public Benefit, February 20, 2008

February 20, 2008

Story on adoption records provides public benefit
Letter to the Editor: Sally Brown - Livermore, Calif.

Thank you so much for your objective feature on the "rights" of mothers who gave up children for adoption vs. the "rights" of adults who were adopted ("As adoptees seek roots, states unsealing records," Cover story, News, Feb. 13).

When I relinquished my son to adoption in 1950 in New Jersey, I was 22, single and unprepared either financially or emotionally to face the scorn of a community that thought I was still a "nice" girl. By 1981, my idea of myself had strengthened, and I was able to reveal my secret to my daughters and search for my son so I could answer his questions.

For any state to interject itself between a competent adult and his or her child is an unwarranted intrusion into a citizen's private history. The facts in USA TODAY's cover story prove wrong the notion that the availability of honest birth certificate information will produce more abortions.

Continued secrecy might protect those agencies and institutions that gave false information to either relinquishing or adoptive parents, but it does not protect any valid interest of the state.

I commend USA TODAY for bringing these facts to the attention of a wide readership and trust that it will not abandon the topic. The electorate needs to know the facts.

Link to article

Friday, February 22, 2008

UNITED STATES: Did You Ever Give Up a Child for Adoption?, February 22, 2008

Please go to the link and add your comments!

February 22, 2008

Did You Ever Give Up a Child for Adoption?
ABC Wants to Talk to Biological Parents Who Want to Keep Their Adoptions Anonymous

We are doing a story on the efforts of different states to unseal adoption records. We are looking to interview a woman who gave a child up for adoption and does not want to be found and is adamantly opposed to the unsealing of adoption records. We promise to fully disguise her identity in the piece, including her face and voice.

Please tell us your story below:

Followed by form.

Direct link not working. Try

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

UNITED STATES: Maggie Gallagher--Children of Sperm Donors Have Rights, Too, February 20, 2008

Check out the comments!

February 20, 2008

Children of Sperm Donors Have Rights, Too
By Maggie Gallagher

In New Jersey, the state Senate has twice voted to give adopted children access to their original birth certificates, that is, to the names of their biological mothers. Birth mothers would have one year to notify the state that they wish to remain anonymous. Even so, such birth mothers would be compelled by government to provide social, cultural and health information, or else their identities would be released regardless of their consent.

Recently, one southern New Jersey newspaper weighed in forcefully in the bill's favor: "This is not too much to ask from a birth mother ... The adoptee's right to this information is as important as protecting the privacy of the birth mother," the editors of the Courier-Post opine.

Embryologist Harsha Bhadarka works on the Intra Cytoplasnic Sperm Injection (ICSI) process at Dr. Nayna Patel's Kaival Hospital in Anand, India, Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand's surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
Related Media:
The Difference between Men and Bulls: Procreation by Donation

But why pick exclusively on birth mothers? If children have a right to know their own biological parents -- a claim recognized in international human rights law and one to which I am deeply sympathetic -- there is no good reason to limit this claim to the small number of women who accept the agonizing burden of giving life to children they cannot raise.

Far more children these days are deprived of knowledge of their origins by a totally difference process: artificial insemination. How can we possibly countenance placing burdens exclusively on women who give life and excuse totally the men whose sole contribution to their child was to "donate" into a little cup, usually for money?

And our laws are almost totally to blame for keeping children created by reproductive technologies in the dark about their origins. The common law remains the rule for children created by sexual acts: I cannot bargain away at the bar my child's right to the support and care of both his mother and father. The child retains the right to the support of both parents, no matter to what those parents have agreed. But if I go to a doctor or clinic for sperm, adult bargains are suddenly allowed by law to trump the child's natural right to know both his biological parents, wherever possible.

A whole lot of other rights and concerns get trumped as well. As the New York Post reported this week, "Conditions at New York City sperm banks are inconceivably bad -- with some offices not testing samples for some diseases, and others using sperm from donors who engaged in high-risk sexual behavior."

Idant Laboratories, reports the Post, fails to test sperm donors for some sexually transmitted and genetic diseases. One woman who used sperm from Idant Laboratories contacted the agency when she learned that her own son, and the child of another family that used the same donor, both suffered from autism.

Idant declined to contact the sperm donor on the grounds that autism is not a life-threatening illness. How many other children will this one man be paid to stud with his identity totally shielded by law -- hundreds potentially?

My own position on sperm donation is considered beyond the pale. Ideally, before a man becomes a father he ought to be able to persuade some woman to marry him. But consider this an absolute minimum: A man who wants to be a father ought to be able to find some actual live woman who wants to have sex with him. Call it nature's quality control.

If we are going to revise all our laws to facilitate adult desires at children's expenses, the least we can do is require facilities that make money by making babies to keep records on whom the biological father is, and make those records available to children who turn 18.

If New Jersey legislators are going to impose this burden on birth mothers, the least they can do in justice is to make sperm-donor dads equally responsible.

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially

Link to article

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

IRELAND: Adopted "Should Retain" Citizen Rights, February 19, 2008

February 19, 2008

Adopted 'should retain' citizen rights

It was recommended today that foreign children adopted by Irish parents be entitled to become a citizen even if the family lives outside the State.

The Law Reform Commission's Report on Aspects of Intercountry Adoption Law stated non-national youngsters should have the same rights as any other child of Irish parents.

The report, to be unveiled by Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC was requested in November 2005 after the case of Tristan Dowse.

The little boy was returned to an orphanage in Indonesia when his adoptive parents decided the adoption was not working out. Last February the High Court ruled that the five-year-old's adoptive parents - Joe Dowse, from Co Wicklow, and his Azerbaijani wife, Lala, - had breached their constitutional duties when they returned the youngster.

The judge ruled that the couple must support Tristan, who was back living with his birth mother, until he was 18. The court also directed that Tristan should be removed from the Register of Foreign Adoptions that is maintained by the Adoption Board.

However, Tristan retained his Irish citizenship and rights of succession to the estates of his adoptive parents.

Under the Law Reform Commission Act 1975, former attorney general Rory Brady SC requested that a study be carried out on the status and rights, including citizenship rights, of a child resident outside the State who has been the subject of a foreign or intercountry adoption order made in favour of an Irish citizen or citizens living abroad.

Around 4,500 foreign or intercountry adoptions have been registered by the Adoption Board since 1991, with 10 per cent of those children living outside the State.

Link to article

Saturday, February 16, 2008

GERMANY: Online Sex Auctioneer Ordered to Reveal Cutomers' Identities, February 13, 2008

February 13, 2008

Online Sex Auctioneer Ordered to Reveal Customers' Identities

A German woman became pregnant after having anonymous sex with six different men who bid on the erotic encounter in an online auction. Now a Stuttgart court has ruled that she has a right to know the men's identities, despite the Web site's assurances that their personal data would be kept private.

Online privacy does not trump the interests of an unborn child, according to a Stuttgart court.
A Stuttgart court has ruled that a German woman who became pregnant after conducting an anonymous online sex auction has a right to know the father's identity.

The woman had sex with six men, each of whom bid on the chance to sleep with her in an online auction. After learning that she was pregnant, the woman sought to identify the father, but she knew each man only by the screen name they had used on the auction Web site.

The district court in Stuttgart ruled on Tuesday that the owner of the Web site that hosted the sex auction must release personal information on each of the six men who slept with the woman.

In her court testimony, the woman said that she had slept with the six men in April and May of 2007. She later discovered that her encounter with one of the men had made her pregnant.

When the men bid on the auction Web site, they were guaranteed that their personal information would be kept private. But in its civil decision, the court explained that the interest of the unborn child was more pressing than the Web site owner's commitment to protect the security of the men's personal information and the privacy of their identities.

Link to article

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

UNITED STATES: As Adopees Seek Roots, States Unsealing Records

Go to link for sidebar on history of open records, current stats, and pictures

Tom Atwood steps in the cow pie.

February 13, 2008

As Adoptees Seek Roots, States Unsealing Records

By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

When Maine state Sen. Paula Benoit got a bill passed last year, she got more than a new law: She found pieces of her past.

For years, Benoit, 52, had wondered about the parents who had put her up for adoption. That helped lead her to support a plan to give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. After the bill passed, Benoit learned the names of her birth parents and their hometown. She e-mailed a colleague, Sen. Bruce Bryant, who represents that area and supported her bill, and asked whether he knew them.

His reply: The deceased couple were his grandparents.

"Oh, for the love of God, I need to call him and say, 'I'm your aunt,' " Benoit recalls thinking. "Can the world be any smaller?"

There was more: Bryant's brother, Mark, serves in Maine's House of Representatives — and had opposed Benoit's bill. "It's too open," he says, adding that birth mothers expected privacy when they placed children for adoption years ago. He says he's happy Benoit is in his family but worries the new law may force some birth parents into contact they do not want.

Three lawmakers, two points of view, one family.

As unusual as Benoit's story is, the debate within her family over whether adult adoptees should be able to learn more about their backgrounds is echoing across the nation.

Last year, Maine was one of three states to pass laws to give such adoptees full or partial access to their original birth certificates — more than in any year since 2000, according to a USA TODAY analysis of state records. Massachusetts approved access for those born before July 1974, when records were sealed, or after January 2008. North Carolina approved indirect access through a state-appointed intermediary. When its law takes effect next January, Maine will become the eighth state to give adult adoptees full access to their birth records, which list birth parents' names.

The controversial push to open adoption records is driven in part by the increased interest among many Americans in finding their ancestral roots. Many adult adoptees may be able to find their birth parents without an original birth certificate by searching databases and the Internet, but the official record makes it easier. Some adoptees want to establish a relationship with birth parents; others are more interested in family medical histories. Some don't want to contact their birth parents, they simply want to know their past.

"For 52 years, I know I've been loved," Benoit says of her adoptive parents, who are alive and support her desire to know birth relatives. Even so, she says, she wondered whom she looked like. She wondered why, despite diet after diet, she couldn't lose weight. "Does obesity run in my family?" she'd ask herself.

"This is really about identity and the truth of a human being's existence," Darryl McDaniels, known as the rapper DMC, told lawmakers last month in New Jersey, where bills to open birth records have languished for decades. McDaniels, 43, learned at 35 that he was adopted and has since backed a bill to unseal birth certificates.

"We never start a book from Chapter 2," he said. "As adoptees, we live our lives from Chapter 2."

As the situation in New Jersey suggests, unsealing birth certificates often has been difficult. Bills to do so were proposed in at least seven other states last year but did not pass. Some proposals, such as those in New Jersey, have been stymied by opposition from the National Council for Adoption and some Catholic bishops, abortion opponents and civil libertarians.

Thomas Atwood, president of the council, which represents adoption agencies, says birth mothers were promised privacy and if that promise is broken, fewer women will choose adoption over abortion.

Despite the opposition, "the general trend is clear: Adoptees are being given access, state by state," says Fred Greenman, legal adviser to the American Adoption Congress, which supports open birth records.

Greenman reconnected with his daughter in 1991, more than 30 years after agreeing to her adoption. The daughter's husband made the first call and set up a meeting. "We spent the whole day at the dining room table talking," he recalls. He says most birth parents welcome contact, as he did, and adoptees deserve to know their past.

Last year's increase in access laws also reflects a larger trend toward openness in adoption, as more birth parents seek to stay in contact with kids they relinquish. "There's far more acceptance of it being open," says Herbert Brail, head of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

That was not the case decades ago when many women, under the stigma of unmarried pregnancy, felt forced to relinquish their babies, says Ann Fessler, author of The Girls Who Went Away, a 2006 book about women who gave up children in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fessler, an adoptee, says many of the women she interviewed have "tremendous guilt." She says they want contact with their children, and about half have it. The rest, she says, feel they have no right to it but wonder about their children.

Fessler, 58, says women in their mid-70s and 80s, are — like her own birth mother — often more reticent about a reunion. She wrote her 77-year-old mother a letter, then a postcard, and waited more than a year but got no response. So she called. "I was very, very nervous — kind of shaking," she says. Her mother was friendly on the phone, so they met in person a few months later. "We chatted like crazy," Fessler says.

Now, however, they have "minimal" contact. Her mother has not told her other three children about Fessler. "She's still torn about whether she can come out about this," Fessler says.

Eileen McQuade, president of the American Adoption Congress, says unsealing birth records has not created problems in the states that have done so — Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee. Two other states, Alaska and Kansas, have never sealed birth records. Delaware allows full access except when birth parents object.

Abortion rates have declined in the states that allow full access to records, as they have nationwide. Most birth parents in Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee have consented to contact with their children or the release of records, according to records reviewed by USA TODAY.

After Oregon began releasing records in 2000, few birth mothers complained, says E. Wayne Carp, author of Adoption Politics: Bastard Nation & Ballot Initiative 58, a book on the state's experience.

As each state opens records, others will follow, says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which favors unsealing records. "Success breeds success."

A battle of legal rights

The legislative battles often pit an adoptee's right to his or her birth certificate against a birth mother's right to privacy.

"People have a right to their birth records," says Marley Greiner, founder of Bastard Nation, a group pushing to unseal records.

There is no such legal right, Atwood counters, adding that birth mothers believe they were promised privacy when states sealed records. He says many won't speak out because they have other kids or spouses who don't know about the adoption.

Birth records were sealed not to give birth mothers anonymity but to protect adoptive parents from interference from birth parents, says Elizabeth Samuels, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She says some were sealed to protect adoptees from the stigma of illegitimacy.

If birth mothers or adopted children really want to find each other, Atwood says, they can list their names in registries set up by states.

Not all states have registries. Many that do make few matches, says Marri Rillera of the International Soundex Reunion Registry, which gives adoptees and birth parents free help in finding each other. In Texas, about 8,500 adoptees, siblings and birth parents have registered. One or two matches are made each month, says Patricia Molina, who oversees the registry.

"A registry is not the answer," Rillera says. "Open records are."

She says some companies charge thousands of dollars to search records and some adoption agencies charge $400 to $500 for non-identifying information about birth parents, such as age, medical history, ethnicity and religion. An adoptee's search will be quicker and cheaper if birth records are open, she says. "Frankly, I'd like to be out of business."

'We've had mixed emotions'

At least 19,000 adoptees have asked for their birth certificates in Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee.

"I've seen a lot of people whose hands shake" when they get the record, says Melanie Orman, adoption coordinator for New Hampshire. She says many had met their birth mother or knew her name but wanted the piece of paper as a record of their past.

Birth mothers can be distressed. Orman got a call from an angry woman who said she was awakened at 11 p.m. by a call from someone who said, "You're my mother." She says the woman felt her privacy had been invaded.

"We've had mixed emotions: happy, sad, upset," says Carolyn Jones, coordinator of post-adoption services at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Adoptees seeking birth certificates is "routine now," says Carol Sanders at Oregon's Center for Health Statistics. From June 2000 through November 2007, 9,571 adoptees sought records in Oregon. Of 564 birth parents who filed forms on whether they wanted contact, 85 said no.

"I've seen very few who say no," says Dorothy Harshbarger, Alabama's registrar of vital records. She estimates 95% of birth parents allow contact. She says a few complained after records were unsealed in 2000, but not many since then.

A dozen states provide partial access to original birth certificates, depending on the date of the adoption and the permission of birth parents. Another dozen allow indirect access through a state-appointed intermediary if birth parents agree. In other states, adoptees need court approval.

In Illinois, which allows access via an intermediary, 25% of the parents decline contact, says Nancy Golden, co-director of the Midwest Adoption Center, a group that does adoption counseling. She says the women may have kept the birth a secret or may fear anger from the adoptee. She says reunions usually are positive if people don't expect too much. Still, she says the experience can be "overwhelming."

Illinois state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who plans to sponsor a bill this year to fully open records, says she was in her 20s when she found her birth mother. The woman's first response: "What took you so long?"

McQuade was 19, a college freshman, when she relinquished a baby girl in 1966. "I felt so powerless and shameful," she recalls. She later married the father and had two more daughters, but they didn't discuss their first child. "We hoped the pain would go away," she says, "but it never did."

Then came the phone call on Nov. 28, 1997, about 9:30 p.m. "I'm calling from New York," a woman said. "I knew what it was immediately," McQuade recalls. The caller, a friend of her first child, asked if the parents wanted contact. They did. The friend handed the phone to the daughter.

Mother and daughter spoke for the first time, neither sure what to say. McQuade started by telling her family medical information.

"It was kind of indescribable — terrified, excited, surreal," says her daughter Kathleen Laing. "We e-mailed every day for a year. It was incredibly intense."

They met in person the following July 4th weekend. "It was a complete roller coaster," McQuade says, from joy and hope to sadness at missing so many years. She says their reunion is "a fairy tale come true" that prompted her activism.

Benoit says that after she began pushing to unseal Maine's birth records, she asked a judge for her own. He said no. Later, to her surprise, she received a letter from the court that included her birth mother's name. She still does not have her original birth certificate.

She says the Bryants invited her to a Christmas party and other get-togethers. "Our family is happy to know her," Mark Bryant says.

Benoit says her birth mother was poor and about 50 when she was born, and did the right thing in relinquishing her baby. If her birth mother were alive, Benoit says, "Boy, would I love to put my arms around her and thank her."

Link to article

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

NEW JERSEY: Calling All Birth Mothers..., February 1, 2008

February 1, 2008

Calling all birth mothers…
2/1/2008 by Lois Rogers

LAWRENCEVILLE - Now that the ongoing effort to open up adoptee birth records has heated up again in the legislature, it's only natural to turn to the New Jersey Catholic Conference for insight and information.

Marlene Lao-Collins is the director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference and Patrick R. Brannigan is executive director. They have a real gift for putting complex societal issues into a context everyone can understand.

Talk to them on this particular subject, and it's immediately clear why they are the go-to-guys. It's a highly charged, emotional issue but Lao-Collins and Brannigan see both sides, spell them out and ask people to get involved.

"There are two sides of this story," Lao-Collins said Jan. 28, four days after a Senate panel voted overwhelmingly to release a measure that would allow people access to their original birth certificates.

As it stands now, the measure in question - S611 - would miss the mark, said Brannigan and Lao-Collins. They are pressing for amendments that include an enhanced mutual consent registry system which would link birth parents and adult adopted persons when (both) parties have requested and consented to reunions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference doesn't oppose adoptees having full access to their birth parents' medical histories or revealing the identities of natural parents who consent to the release of the information; but doing so without consent is "simply wrong and unfair." That's what Brannigan told the Senate panel when he testified on the subject Jan. 24.

"The assurance of secrecy regarding the identity of the natural parents enables them to place the child for adoption with a reputable agency, with the knowledge that their actions and motivations will not become public knowledge," Brannigan testified. "Assured of this privacy by the State, the natural parents are free to move on and attempt to rebuild their lives after what must be a traumatic and emotionally tormenting episode in their lives."

The adoptive parents, he noted, also have an interest in having the birth records under seal. "They have taken into their home a child whom they will regard as their own and whom they will love and raise as an integral part of their family unit."

As a close friend of couples who have adopted children in good faith and embraced them as their own, I understand those concerns. As the friend of several adult adoptees, I understand their desire to know their origins.

It's a situation that begs for a Solomon.

Now Solomon, as we all know, relied on the testimony of the mother to render a verdict. And that's precisely who Lao-Collins would like to hear from.

"I would love it if birth moms, birth parents would call me about this. We would keep their information confidential but we know that the stories they tell are compelling and would have an impact.

"We fully understand that adopted persons have compelling, passionate reasons for wanting the records open but we can work this out and we can do it in a way that respects the dignity of both.

"We need to give birth parents the choice of whether they wish to be contacted. We need to do all we can to truly lift up the dignity of both sides."

Reach her at 609-989-1120, ext. 15.

Lois Rogers is features editor at The Monitor. She is available at

Link to article

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

ENGLAND: Scientists Create Three-Parent Embryos, February 5, 2008

February 5, 2008

Scientists create three-parent embryos
By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists have created human embryos with three parents in a development they hope could lead to effective treatments for a range of serious hereditary diseases within five years.

Researchers from Newcastle University, in northern England, presented their findings at a medical conference at the weekend, a university spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The IVF, or test-tube, embryos were created using DNA from one man and two women.

The idea is to prevent women with faults in their mitochondrial DNA passing diseases on to their children. Around one in 5,000 children suffer from mitochondrial diseases, which can include fatal liver, heart and brain disorders, deafness, muscular problems and forms of epilepsy.

If all goes well, researchers believe they may be able to start offering the technique as a treatment in three to five years.

Mitochondria are tiny power packs inside cells that provide their energy. Faulty genetics can mean mitochondria do not completely burn food and oxygen, leading to the build-up of poisons responsible for more than 40 different diseases.

The Newcastle team believe these diseases could be avoided if embryos at risk were given an effective mitochondrial transplant. The process involves in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the subsequent removal of the egg's nucleus. The nucleus is then placed into a donor egg whose DNA has been removed.

The resulting fetus inherits nuclear DNA, or genes, from both parents but mitochondrial DNA from a third party.

"The idea is simply to swap the bad diseased mitochondria -- give a transplant, if you like -- for good healthy ones from a donor," Patrick Chinnery, a member of the Newcastle team, said in a telephone interview.

"We're trying to prevent kids being born with fatal diseases." Mitochondrial DNA is passed down only through the female line.

The technique has so far been tried only in the laboratory, using abnormal embryos left over from IVF therapy, and the handful of three-parent embryos created were destroyed after six days.

Stiff opposition to the technique is likely from critics of embryo research who fear the creation of designer babies.

The research was presented to the Medical Research Council Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases conference in London on February 1-2.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)

Link to article

Sunday, February 3, 2008

WASHINGTON STATE: Tribes Confront Painful Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools

Go to link for extensive timeline and pictures.

February 3, 2008

Tribes confront painful legacy of Indian boarding schools
By Marsha King

Genevieve Williams lies in failing health in her daughter's small house on the Tulalip Reservation, haunted by powerful memories.

She sees herself as a little girl. Marching everywhere in a line. Scrubbing floors on her hands and knees. Being forced to stand silent for hours in a dark hall. Watching children get strapped for speaking their native language.

"I got to know that strap," she said. "Everybody knew what that strap was for, hanging inside the door."

It was especially bad for girls who wet the bed. Dresses pulled up and underwear pulled down, they were beaten. "We all had to line up and watch."

At age 85, Williams bears witness to a dark and unfinished chapter in American history: the Indian boarding school era.

Increasingly, the damage from that early abuse, loneliness and lack of love is being seen as a major factor in ills that plague tribes today, passed from one generation to the next and manifesting in high rates of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, depression and suicide.

And as awareness of the enduring harm grows, tribes and others in Washington and nationwide are reaching out in new and varied ways to elders, their children and their children's children in hopes of repairing the damage.

"This is a huge experiment — healing of this magnitude and consciousness," said Harvard doctoral graduate Sousan Abadian, an expert on Indian boarding schools and trauma to entire cultural groups.

The boarding school era began in the late 1800s and continued at its most oppressive through the 1920s, when the federal government forcibly placed tribal children in the harsh, militarylike institutions in an effort to assimilate them into the dominant culture.

All things Indian — dress, language and beliefs — were forbidden. Affection was rare, punishment often severe. Some students were raped, many tried to run away and unknown numbers died.

The schools, which slowly started to reform in the 1930s, were not just an American phenomenon. Australia and Canada operated similar institutions, also intended to indoctrinate and "civilize" their native peoples.

In Canada, the federal government recently reached a record $5 billion settlement under which some 80,000 former students are eligible for an average of $28,000 — more if they were sexually or physically abused.

"Essentially, this is what happens any time one people assert they know what is good for another," said Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. "It is tragic and inevitable."

In 2000, when he was the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Gover apologized to Native Americans for historic abuses by the BIA, including brutalizing their children "emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually" in boarding schools.

In the U.S., the focus has been less on legal actions against the federal government and more on healing.

Efforts range from the national Boarding School Healing Project to a $3 million health study by the University of Washington and the Tulalip Tribes to widespread efforts to revive tribal culture.

Lost parenting skills are believed to be a key factor in why the damage endures, so at least one group — the Tulalip Tribes — is weaving lessons about the boarding school era into child-rearing programs for parents and into decision-making classes for teens.

"It's a miracle that native peoples have survived at all," said Abadian, the cultural-trauma expert. "It reflects their unbelievable resilience."

Strong emotions

In the U.S., the boarding-school era evokes dramatically different views among Native Americans.

Some caution against asking elders to recall their boarding school years as it may trigger flashbacks, depression or even suicidal thoughts.

Others believe the era must be talked about for native people to grow strong.

And some former students insist the best years of their lives were spent in boarding schools, where they got three meals a day and met lifelong friends.

According to Abadian, those who did better often started at a later age, got to take part in some traditional activities and weren't entirely separated from their family and community.

And others — rejecting the victim label — turn the experience into a positive, saying "it was good discipline," or "I've been able to learn from it."

The father of state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, was fluent in the tribe's language but refused to teach it, saying "they beat it out of me" at boarding school. In 2005, McCoy helped win passage of a bill that encourages school districts to teach native history and culture and to consult tribes in developing that curriculum.

For some, their silence may be due to shame.

"There's a lot of incest and child abuse going on in our Native American communities" — behavior that originated in large part at boarding schools, said Phil Lane Jr., CEO of United Indians of All Tribes in Seattle.

Lane, who was born in a boarding school in the Midwest, helped to mobilize Canada's former students. "It's a very difficult issue ... just to get people to talk about it," he said. "It's painful."

Some families are working privately to stop the cycle of harmful behavior.

In Spokane, Martina Whelshula, a psychotherapist and member of the Colville Nation, is leading three generations of her family in healing sessions.

Two of her grandparents and her mother grew up in boarding schools. Her mother was cold and demanding and hit her, and Whelshula was doing the same with her own older daughters.

But it wasn't until she was studying about Indian boarding schools for a doctoral degree that she had an epiphany.

"All the pieces fell together," said Whelshula, who is president of Spokane Tribal College. "I saw all the devastation around me, all the woundedness. I realized it was me."

By then, her own daughters were repeating the mistakes with their children. Whelshula called a meeting so every generation could hear grandma Alice Stewart's story about growing up in boarding schools. That way the family could understand its parenting style in the context of history. They've kept talking ever since.

It's been a learning experience as well for the 70-year-old Stewart.

"I thought I was a good parent," Stewart said. "I didn't know I was one of the worst ones."

Boarding-school trend

The Indian boarding-school movement in the U.S. began in earnest in the late 1800s.

Before that, Native-American children were educated primarily in church-run mission schools and some tribal schools. But after tribes were moved to reservations, their treaties typically called for government-provided education.

The first government-run, off-reservation boarding school was the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard H. Pratt.

He and other reformers believed at the time that if Indians were given a proper education and religious training they could be civilized out of their "savagery" and assimilated into society.

Pratt's oft-quoted philosophy: "Kill the Indian and save the man."

By the early 1930s, an estimated two-thirds of Native Americans had attended boarding school at some point in their life.

Some schools were off-reservation, others on. Other students attended day schools. The federal government ran them or subsidized the mission schools.

Among the best-known in the Puget Sound area were Cushman Indian School in Tacoma — which later became an Indian tuberculosis hospital — Fort Spokane Indian School and the Tulalip Indian School on the reservation.

Boarding schools slowly started to improve in the mid-1930s, becoming less coercive over the next decades and more encouraging of tribal culture, though corporal punishment continued until it also was stopped in mainstream education.

In the 1960s, new federal laws gave Native Americans more rights, as well as control of their children's education. Many schools closed, and the remaining ones increasingly embraced what had been forbidden.

But it was not that way for the earlier generations.

Then, a typical day consisted of lessons in the morning and manual labor in the afternoons. Punishment ranged from a lost privilege to being locked in a closet or beaten.

Parents who openly resisted giving up their children lost food rations or were jailed. Others hid their children or denied being Indian, though some willingly sent their children to the schools to get an education or escape poverty.

Contact with families often was limited to summertime. And even then, some students were sent off to local people's homes to learn how to be civilized — that is, to be maids or farmhands.

Extreme loneliness was common.

"I used to stand at the window and cry," said Fran James, 83, a Lummi tribal member. "The night watchman would come along and say 'Little girl, you'd better go to bed.' "

Along with two sisters, James was sent to the Tulalip school in 1930 when she was about 6, then to Cushman Indian Hospital, then to the Lummi day school in 1935 and finally to Chemawa Indian School in Salem.

She studied and worked in the garden and laundry, learning to iron a shirt in two minutes. As an adult, she managed to reconnect with her culture, becoming a renowned basket maker and wool weaver.

Not long ago, her son Bill wrote to the Federal Archives for her birth certificate and a package with several documents arrived. Inside was an unopened letter from her father written in 1939.

"They will let you know when you can come home," the letter read in part. Why did it never reach her at Chemawa? The question brings tears, but no answers.

"My mom lost the spirit of the people," said her son. "Even though today she's very strong in her culture ... she lost her language."

Between two worlds

With little communication from home and heavy indoctrination at boarding school, many children felt alienated, abandoned and not sure whether to identify with the white or Indian world.

While many families welcomed their children home, others did not.

Former chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, Stan Jones, now 81, was sent to Cushman Indian Hospital in 1937 at age 11, along with three older siblings. He was there for three years.

"Actually, I forgot about my home," Jones said. "I wasn't sure where I belonged."

When Jones finally did return to the reservation, the driver tried to drop him off, but Jones thought his immediate family didn't want him back. "It's just kind of what the government taught you there," he said.

He finally settled at an aunt's house, coming to realize years later that he had been mistaken about his family's motives. "I should've just went to my dad's."

Later generations recall that same lost feeling.

"It kind of shapes your life," said his younger brother, Dale Jones, 65.

In the 1950s, social workers took him and four other brothers from their family and sent them by bus to Chemawa. To this day, he recalls paddlings and the humiliation of standing in line after showers to have his genitals visually inspected by a matron.

"You've carried it so long, I guess it becomes like a hidden deal inside of you, " said Jones, a recovering alcoholic.

He attributes some of his difficulties with alcohol to the boarding-school experience. "We try to bury the feelings we carry."

To Gover, of the Smithsonian, the schools' painful legacy should come as no surprise.

"Imagine being a 10-year-old at boarding school. You're told everything about you is wrong," he said. "I don't think we can even perceive the degree of shame involved."

Trying to heal

Healing efforts are wide-ranging.

The national Boarding School Healing Project was started in South Dakota in 2002 by Indians from various states.

Among other efforts, it is documenting abuses so communities can seek redress from the government and churches, in the form of laws and money to improve Indian education.

The University of Washington is conducting a five-year, federally funded study with the Tulalip Tribes to determine the factors — from cultural habits to past trauma such as from the boarding schools — that are related to heart disease in Native Americans. The aim is to develop prevention programs based on healthier choices.

In downtown Seattle, the Seattle Indian Health Board has started a program for urban elders.

At twice-weekly gatherings, they learn lost skills such as bead work. Some went to boarding schools, and occasionally they talk about having been beaten for "talking Indian."

It's a time "to honor good feelings or put to rest the bad so you can move on," said Chris Chastain, elder specialist.

Just west of Marysville, parenting classes are being taught on the Tulalip Reservation.

As part of a six-week course, a small group of adults met for a recent class, which began with an account of how the boarding schools of old might be contributing to their struggles today.

Instructor June LaMarr, a tribal mental-health counselor, told them that natives originally believed children "are specially beloved" and should not be hit or disrespected lest they return to the spirit world. But that gentle approach was disrupted by the boarding schools.

At one class, she projected onto a screen the words of a sweat-lodge doctor who'd gone to boarding school: "... When you get older, the habit is there, being mean and ornery ... The parent doesn't stop to think about what he's doing to his kid. He is taking his boarding-school attitude out on him."

"I never really thought about it 'til today," said Angel Chance, a class participant whose mother and grandmother rarely brought up their time at boarding schools.

A proud survivor

Genevieve Williams always has been candid about her years at the Tulalip school, Cushman Indian Hospital and St. Georges Mission School near Tacoma.

By the time she left the schools for good at age 14, she didn't recognize her own mother.

The two never did bond.

Later, she didn't know how to nurture her own children. Her husband had been physically abused in a Canadian residential school and instilled in their children his deep suspicion of white people.

"That's how we grew up," said their daughter, Leslie Lopez.

After many prayers, Lopez decided to judge people by their actions instead of their race and to teach her children to do the same.

"It's taken a long time. I try hard," she said. "It's getting easier."

Williams now lives on the reservation with Lopez, with whom she's grown close. She encourages the grandkids to learn the Lushootseed language, and she sometimes watches language classes on the tribe's closed-circuit TV network. But the only word she knows, she says, sounds like "paw-sted" — meaning white person.

To this day, questions haunt her — such as why she was sent to a TB hospital when no doctor ever found evidence that she had the disease. Sometimes she looks back and cries. "I know I missed out on a lot ... "

But like others of her generation, she doesn't want to be cast as a victim. At 85, she's proud to be an elder. "I am Native American," she says. "I survived."

Marsha King: or

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NEW JERSEY: Adoptees Could Access Birth Info

January 31, 2008

Adoptees could access birth info

SOUTH BRUNSWICK- The state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee unanimously supported a bill last week that would grant adult adoptees the right to their birth certificates.

Under the bill (S611), an adoptee over 18 years of age or the adoptive parent of a child can request their birth certificate from the state registrar's office. The bill allows a one year leeway for parents who gave up their children before the bill was passed to request not to disclose their information.

Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer) found it to be a difficult, emotional decision as both he and his sister were adopted. However, only his sister had a desire to find her birth parents.

"I am adopted and I see it from many perspectives," he said. "I do believe they have the right to have that information and I believe that passionately."

Sen. Diane Allen, who sponsored the bill, agrees.

"It's important that adults who were adopted have access to vitally important familymedical information," she said. "This kind of information could dramatically affect the quality of an adoptee's life if left undiscovered."

However, Marie Tasy, the executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, believes the bill is unfair because some mothers do not want to be known.

"Advocates [of the bill] don't believe the birth mother should have the right to have this decision," she said. "We are willing to strike up a compromise but the advocates are not."

Pam Hasegawa, an adoptee and member of the New Jersey Coalition forAdoption Reform & Education, believes, "We're compromising by allowing past birth parents to write a request to be honored for their name and address removal."

Mutual Consent Voluntary Registries are also a hot topic. Some states, including New Jersey, give adoptees and parents the ability to find each other if they both want to. They can register at places like the International Soundex Reunion Registry. Information is computerized for each resident, and people are notified of a matching relationship.

Tasy believes that since this is in effect in many states, it should be tried on a national level.

"It's a good idea, but it's a backup idea," Hasegawa disagreed. "It works for a few people. I think it's a 2 percent success rate.

"Dead people don't register," she added. "Amother could be dead before the adoptee is old enough to apply for it."

She also mentioned that New Jersey allows the adoptive parents to change the date of birth on the certificate to their hometown, making the registry even less useful.

Some opponents have even said that more parents will resort to abortion if their children will have the rights to their full birth certificate. However, Hasegawa says evidence is pointing in the other direction.

In Alabama, a lawwas passed in 2000 allowing access to birth certificates.According to a Guttmacher Institute poll, the abortion rates decreased by 16 percent from 2000 to 2005. Oregon passed a similar law in 2000, and their abortion rates decreased by 25 percent in the same time period. The national average during this time period was a 9 percent drop. Also, Alaska and Kansas have never sealed birth certificates and have abortion rates below the national average.

Baroni said he believes the bill will pass.

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