Sunday, March 29, 2009

C.A.R.E. doesn't care about California's adult adoptees, Pt 2

There's been some chitter chat on various fora, blogs and blog comments about how AB 372 no longer "belongs" to C.A.R.E., and that while they have publicly declared a willingness to compromise (compromise what, when and where left unspecified), they would rather not. CARE's memo from their ED, dated March 26th, and for the moment linked to their update page, should put to rest any such misapprehensions. The memo demonstrates that while C.A.R.E. might rather be sailing or fishing or advocating for adoptee rights, they are quite willing to compromise early on basic issues of equity for California's adult adoptees.

Folks don't seem to get that as the sponsoring organization for AB 372, C.A.R.E. has privileges of advise, consent and access that others do not. In practical terms this means that C.A.R.E. plans to negotiate and strike compromises with organizations like ACAL and the ACLU and let you in on it afterward. Assemblywoman Ma and C.A.R.E did not invite any other stakeholder organizations to the March 24th meeting described in the memo, although at that point her office certainly was aware of CalOpen and AAAFC's interest in the bill. But that's not the way C.A.R.E rolls. They have appointed themselves as the deciders, and they are deciding.

So, why 25? According to C.A.R.E, the California Association of Adoption Agencies and others at the meeting (who dat?) "recommended the age be raised to 25 and a confidential intermediary utilized before the record was released". This makes sense if you're a social worker, because the in the word-view of social work we are all clients, some of us are just wandering the Earth without case workers...

Words have consequences. Remember C.A.R.E's letter to the Judiciary Committee in which they based the argument for open records on the opinions of adoption professionals and social workers... Well, guess what? The California organization representing adoption professionals think open records are fine as long as you're 25 and you're mandated an intermediary...

But again, why is 25 the magic number? Because C.A.R.E has not figured out a strategy to deal with the statute that granted disclosure veto power to first parents that was enacted in 1984. 2009 take away 1984 equals 25. Of course, this solves nothing in terms of the disclosure veto, because we can't stop the clock, and everybody knows this. The memo notes that although C.A.R.E. would not accept a CI, Assemblywoman Ma did accept the age change to 25. There is no mention of how this was received by CAAA. My guess is that the language was changed after the meeting with C.A.R.E.'s sign off, and that CAAA found out about it when the language was released. But that's just a guess, what is certain is that the memo does not state if CAAA accepted the change, or what their position will be on the bill as it rolls into Judiciary. So we have the typical adoption reform compromise buck and wing, with C.A.R.E. giving away stuff and not getting anything in return. You still wondering why I don't want these guys negotiating in my interest? These guys couldn't negotiate themselves out of a revolving door...

So there you have the C.A.R.E. way in a nutshell. Adult adoptees aged 18 - 25, go back to your rooms and pack your bags, you're out. CAAA frowned at C.A.R.E. like they were misbehaving chihuahuas, and C.A.R.E. peed. Just a little puddle, but now C.A.R.E. is off to meet the adoption attorneys and the ACLU. Better throw some newspaper on the floor....

But what does this mean, what action can we take? I can only tell you what I am going to do, which is to send communications to Assemblyman Ma's office and the Judiciary Committee outlining my opposition to AB 372 as it has been amended. If an adult adoptee is old enough to serve their country and sacrifice their lives in some souk in Iraq or on some lonely mountain top in Afganistan, then he or she is old enough to access a copy of their birth record. And that's the way I roll....

Thursday, March 26, 2009


[UPDATE, 3-7-09: Amended AB 372 can be found here]

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's office released new amended language for AB 372 this afternoon. The legislative web site hasn't updated the status of AB 372 yet but as soon as it does I will post a link to the amended bill. The amendments are substantial, and create a clean bill that creates a process by which adult adoptees may access their unaltered original birth certificates through the State Registrar, and provides a Contact Preference Form, similar to Oregon, for first parents. The amendments strike out the original language revising the petitioning of records through the courts.

The amendment sets the age at which adult adoptees may access their OBCs at twenty-five (not eighteen, not twenty-one). There is also a lengthy subsection attached to the CPF regarding medical histories. If a first parent checks off that they don't wish to be contacted, they are given the option of completing a long list of questions about their health. It looks like the form you fill out the first time you visit a caregiver. I wonder if this violates federal HIPAA rules. I've got some queries out about this and will report back what I find out.

So, that's what I know right now. I have a pdf of a scanned fax of the new language, but I'd prefer to wait and see the new language in its published form before I comment further.

I will say that Assemblywoman Ma and her staff have been listening to everyone who has been commenting, analyzing and sending in sample law from other states, and that's a good thing.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Separate Is Not Equal

May 17, 2009 will mark the 55th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the landmark civil rights decision of the Supreme Court that yanked the thread that eventually unraveled the legal basis of institutional racial segregation in the United States. In Brown v Board of Ed. the court distilled the arguments down to one simple principle: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

I just watched a video of SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, speaking at the Commonwealth Club, remarking about Brown v Board of Ed. and his support of gay marriage. He noted the upcoming anniversary of the decision and predicted that we will hear many speeches celebrating the principle that separate is not equal, by politicians who will then turn around and side step questions about marriage equity by talking about civil unions, a separate procedure designed for gays and lesbians. But as Mayor Newsom points out, SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

Adult adoptees in California have experienced this type of inequality from the moment their adoptions were finalized and their records of birth, their original birth certificates, were sealed. As adult citizens, they are treated differently than every other citizen. They must go through separate processes to gain access to what every other citizen takes for granted and in the majority of instances the outcomes of their requests will be different than every other citizen because they will be denied. And this is unjust because SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

Most of the adult adoptees I know who are working or who have worked to change the state laws sealing records will not benefit directly from their work, for the simple reason that most of them have successfully searched and made contact with their families of origin outside the law. This includes adult adoptees on the board of C.A.R.E., the sponsoring organization for California's AB 372. This speaks to the generosity of spirit of those who choose to devote themselves to the issue, and also speaks to how ineffectual these laws are. To discover our identities requires that we, otherwise law-abiding citizens, become outlaws.

Personally, I won't gain anything (as far as I know) from obtaining my original birth certificate from the state of California. My first mother's name was contained in a document in the possession of my adoptive parents. Even so, the state of California denies me access to a document containing information I already possess. Just who is the law protecting here?

This disconnect between legality and reality breeds a type of contempt and cynicism towards the law that feeds the rage some adoptees pour into their phone calls, letters and emails to legislators.

It all boils down to equal treatment. The issue of whether adult adoptees should be able to access their records of birth is not about their relationships with their adoptive families or their families of origin. Its about their relationship with the state of California, which currently treats them as separate, but equal. I am here to tell you this: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

And this is why the laws that deny adult adoptees equality of access to their records of birth must be overturned in California. Not because some medical or child welfare specialists recommend it. Not because we feel the emotional pull of reunion narratives. We must recognize the principle of Brown v Board of Ed., the same principle that is driving the efforts to overturn Propositon 8, the principle that SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL, because it affirms the basic justice underlying all of our laws. We must make governance by law consistent with the realities and aspirations of its citizens, and in equal measure. Justice benefits everyone equally, just laws benefit everyone equally.

Now, we will be told that it's not that simple. But just as the US Supreme Court did in Brown v Board of Ed. , and just as Mayor Newsom did by decreeing gay marriage legal in San Francisco, we, as adult adoptees, must stand up and tell the legislators, in one voice, the simple truth: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

WRITE YOUR CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY MEMBER AND THE MEMBERS OF THE ASSEMBLY JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TODAY! To find out who your Assembly member is, click HERE. Contact information for the Assembly Judiciary Committee is HERE.

Blees you, Justice Marshall!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What's the Rush?

It's a rainy Sunday morning here in Portland, OR, in an off-year for elections, just months after the most exciting (and exhausting) political year of my life-time. I could sit around all day, drinking coffee, attempting the Times crossword, puttering around... Or I could go shmooze at a political function down in Albany, where the state party apparatchiks will be swarming around potential candidates in next year's governor's race. That election is about nineteen months away, but people are already lining up behind candidates, budgeting donations, strategizing... Because that's the way it works. If you want to win in politics, you plan well ahead and execute.

Not so with CARE. They're in a hurry. They were formed in January and already have a bill in play and it's only March... It is, admittedly, not much of a bill, but still, they have a well placed author... On the other hand, CARE reminds us that adoption law in California is as byzantine and twisted as the Gordian Knot... Which makes me wonder, what's the hurry?

CARE's latest published document, which can for the moment be found here, reiterates their theme that AB 372 was introduced the week of the deadline because to not do so would mean that they would have to wait two years. And again my question is, what's the hurry?

Imagine if Barack Obama entered the presidential race in June of last year with a platform that said "TBD" and the slogan "Hope... I Win!" Precipitous action in politics is a recipe for failure, even for the most seasoned of politicians. C.A.R.E. holds itself above such petty concerns, like planning, organizing and educating. C.A.R.E.'s motto, as it is in most of Adoption World, is "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing quick and dirty..."

Adoption World pays lip service to success, but there is no down side for failing. Folks in some states, like New Jersey, have banged their heads against the legislative wall for decades in futile attempts to lobby for records access, using the same tired tactics year after year after year. Instead of giving the leaders of these failed attempts a gold watch before they're bum-rushed off the retirement party dais, these folks are lionized. It's like a party where the DJ had only one record, the Song of the Volga Boatmen...

But I digress... Thing is, a legislative reform effort in a state the size of California will take at least two years of preparation, possibly more. There are a lot of stakeholders to line up, a lot of adoptees to organize and activate, a lot of research to concatenate and distill. How is C.A.R.E. doing, what's their score card so far? As far as stakeholders, not so good. I've spoken and emailed a bunch of them and they are scratching their heads wondering who C.A.R.E. is and why they're doing what they're doing. Some stakeholders who have been contacted wonder why, after responding by giving C.A.R.E the benefit of their extensive expertise in adoption politics and law, that they weren't notified when AB 372 dropped like a battered valise out of a clear blue sky. Adoption records reform impacts policies for groups as diverse as the A.C.L.U, Planned Parenthood, both the pro-life and pro-choice movements, the Family Law Section of the ABA, family court judges, the social services bureaucracy, not to mention implications for the Assisted Reproduction Technology practitoners, who have modeled their dubious ethical framework from US adoption's toxic legacy of secrecy... Has C.A.R.E done their due diligence and negotiated with any of these folks, gained allies, neutralized potential opposition? In their three months of titular existence? Considering how little they've organized in the relatively small sphere in which they operate, that is Adoption World, I don't think so, I think they got together and said, "C'mon kids, lets put on a show!"

And about organizing California adoptees... How has C.A.R.E done with that? Surprisingly well, considering they haven't mounted any sort of outreach (media campaign, public meetings beyond the invited few). The introduction of AB 372 has energized some California adoptees, but not in the way I imagine C.A.R.E had hoped. Groups like AAAFC are mobilizing their members in California to lobby their legislators and setting up meetings to press for full unconditional access. This puts C.A.R.E. in an unenviable position of trying to explain why the adoptees they purport to represent are organizing outside of their penumbra of compromise. It speaks directly to their legitimacy.

Perhaps C.A.R.E. hoped for a "stealth" campaign... Some of the premature congratulations last week for South Dakota's now moribund records access reform bill extolled the virtue of "stealth legislation", the notion that a legislative effort can fly under the radar and avoid conflict. This is appealing to folks who are fundamentally conflict-averse, but you have to wonder why personalities like this want to be involved in politics at all... Politics is conflict and its resolution. We can see how this worked out in South Dakota. It only takes one or two folks to lift the rock and expose the wriggling underneath, and the "stealth" evaporates like mist. Better get used to it, you can't whistle past the graveyard and expect good results...

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Colleen Buckner, we'll miss you...

While doing my due diligence dogging the CARE website I noticed a new link "Colleen Buckner". I clicked on it and learned that Colleen passed away on February 28th. Colleen was a friend and colleague, I learned how to facilitate peer support groups from her and served on the PACER board with her. She will be missed.
My thoughts are with her family, especially Carrie, her daughter, who is a pure bastard spirit.

Monday, March 09, 2009

What is Jean Strauss SMOKING???

CARE has published their letter of support for AB 372 addressed to Assemblyman Mike Feuer, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, it can be found here. It's a remarkable document for several reasons, not the least of which is that CARE is an organization with little transparency so those of us trying to parse what they're up to look at each updated web page and comment for clues. It's like being a Kremlinologist during the Soviet era...

The letter introduces CARE as a "501 (C4) [sic. CARE is a 501(c)4] representing birthmothers and adoptees and supporting individuals who are touched by adoption." They've got twenty-one board members, who have voted unanimous support for AB 372, which is no surprise since its their bill... and they describe it as "an important measure that begins the dialogue of updating archaic adoption statutes and aligning them with current best adoption practices." So far, so good. CARE has credentialized itself as a group, with a board, that supports AB 372. No mention of how many members they have, I suspect that it may be somewhere between 50 and 75, but who knows? They are supporting AB 372 not for what it does, or says, but because it starts a process...

In the next paragaph they acknowledge a nation-wide movement to "create access to an adoptee's original identity." And then they state this: "This is a direct result of
medical professionals and social workers recognizing that hiding an authentic identity from an adoptee for an entire lifetime is neither healthy nor necessary." Really? WHAT HAS JEAN STRAUSS BEEN SMOKING?

I defy Jean Strauss to name one social worker or medical professional who has ever led an effort to open records anywhere. Sure, some have allied themselves to the issue, even the CWLA has deemed "openness" a best practice, but it has been adult adoptees, beginning with Jean Paton, who have effectively advocated for THEIR OWN INTERESTS. The professional class have been "lagging indicators", to borrow a phrase from the front pages...

The danger in presenting this factoid to legislators as foundational is that this alleged "recognition" by the gods of medicine and social welfare is chimerical and hardly uniform. Witness the recent NCFA rebuttal of the EBD report supporting open records, using child welfare and medical research. Take a minute just to go to the websites of these competing professional advocacy groups, and pretend that you knew nothing about them (in other words, pretend that you're a legislator). Hard to tell the difference, no? Which group of experts would you tend to believe, again pretending ignorance...

CARE goes on to explain that there have been no reports of problems in states with open records, in other words the sky hasn't fallen. Many other states are deliberating similar laws.

Then, in paragraph four, they say: "As the C.A.R.E. wades through a surprising number of old adoption polices [sic], we look forward to working with the Assembly Judiciary Committee and effecting government policies that restrict: 1) the original record of birth of an adoptee who knows the name of their birthmother; and 2) the original record of birth of an adoptee of which the birthmother is deceased." Soooo, while the CARE welcome page informs the community that AB 372 "creates" the right for adoptees to access their records of birth, CARE is telling the Chair of the Judiciary Committee that they want to allow adoptees to access their OBCs IF they already know their "birthmother's" identity, or if said "birthmother" is croaked. I guess they can't be accused of aiming too high.

The letter closes with this: "AB 372 (Ma) does not make these records public but removes the impediment of the government withholding the record from the one person to whom the record directly pertains. This information is essential to an adult who has an inalienable right to know more about his or her identity than does the State of California and who is seeking only information about him or herself." This is a strong close for a letter that makes no other claims regarding the rights of adult adoptees to their records. The body of the letter, in fact, alleges claims by medical and child welfare professionals, not adoptees, and narrows those claims to apply to adoptees who either already possess the information for which they have an inalienable right, or whose mother is dead and presumably neutral on the matter.

CARE wants to have it both ways. They assert their bill "creates" rights for adoptees when they're facing the community, but when their audience is the legislature they demonstrate their facility to traipse the tiniest of baby steps. If this is where they've staked the beginning of negotiations, one can only wonder how much they can retrench without falling off a cliff.

I'm going to let this letter percolate. And with twenty-one board members, you'd think they could proof read for typos...

Monday, March 02, 2009

73adoptee Bears Witness for Those "Left Behind"

73adoptee has a crucial blog, which can be found here, "Compromise Legislation: Why Some and Not Others", which I consider a must-read for everyone interested in AB 372 (Asm. Ma, D-San Francisco). It is crucial not simply for 73adoptee's eloquence and intelligence, it is crucial because of who 73adoptee is: an adoptee left behind by compromise legislation. One of the rhetorical methods used by C.A.R.E is to reduce adoptees to numbers, to statistics. But adoptees who have been left behind have their own voices, and we should listen to them before we marginalize any more.

I attended an AAC conference back in the late nineties, not as a registrant, but as a guest of their Board to discuss ways in which AAC and BN could work together on legislative campaigns. The conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee, and was themed as a celebration of the enactment and implementation of Tennessee's open records law. There were many happy folks in attendance; adoptees and first mothers who had effected successful search and contact, many testimonies of the law's beneficial impacts. Since I was a guest and not a registrant, though, I wasn't allowed to attend the official programs, so I roamed the halls, talking with people, which is what I prefer to do anyway. It was in the hotel lobby, by the registration table, that I met a young man who was not celebrating.

This young man explained to me that he was a subject of Tennessee's contact veto provision. The contact veto worked this way; he was allowed access to his records of birth, but since his first mother had made a simple check in a box on a form, he was not allowed, under civil and criminal penalties, from making contact with her. Or his siblings. Or his uncles, aunts, cousins... Anyone with a relationship with his first mother. Ever. Now, bear in mind that most, if not all, of these people with the exception of his first mother, probably had no idea that this adoptee even existed. They wouldn't know that there is a de facto permanent restraining order on this young man placed in their name.

There weren't any banners at the conference celebrating this young man, who looked shell-shocked and bereft. He did not expect to be called to the podium and applauded along with the other first mother/adoptee dyads. He was truly and utterly screwed, invisible, a non-entity. He didn't count, he was one of the .02% or so we are told must be sacrificed so the other 99+% can be made whole under the law. It's actually more than we are told if you count adoptees born in the "donut" hole in states that carve out years, even decades, in which adoptees are born that can expect no records.

Those of us who insist that every adult adoptee has a right to unconditional access to their unaltered records of birth are being told in California that we should accept compromise for the greater good. One of the first things we were told at the beginning of this year's legislative effort is that if we will not accept compromise then we shouldn't be involved. We are "divisive", we threaten "unity". We were more interested in "statements" than working in the "real world". Basically, we were told that we should accept that we are invisible, that we didn't count, that we are non-entities. If we weren't ready to celebrate, then we were welcome to roam the halls like ghosts, like that young man in Nashville.

Again, it is clear that we need to contact Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, the author of AB 372, and let her know we believe that no adoptee deserves to be left behind, invisible, excommunicated. Her webpage, with contact info, is linked here.