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Adopted adults could gain more access to information about biological parents

Saturday, May 21, 2011 | 7:48 p.m. CDT; updated 8:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 21, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians who have been adopted could have a little easier time getting information about their biological parents.

Currently, adults who were adopted as children can obtain non-identifying information — such as physical appearance, nationality, religious background and medical history — about their biological parents and siblings. Identifying information that includes the biological parents' names, dates of birth and last known addresses is handled differently. If a biological parent has died and has not agreed to release identifying information, a judge can order that it be disclosed after determining it is necessary for health reasons.

Under a bill recently passed and sent to Gov. Jay Nixon, the identifying information could be provided to people who were adopted if the other parent is unknown, cannot be notified of the request for information, also is dead or has consented to release the information.

The legislation also allows information about biological parents to be released to descendants such as the children of someone who was adopted and since has died.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said the bill would help people who have been adopted to get information while balancing privacy rights.

"A fundamental question is, 'Who am I?''' said Barnes. For many adopted adults "there was no answer to that question because of existing Missouri law."

During the past six years, more than 7,000 children in the state's foster-care system were adopted, including 1,078 last year, according to the state Department of Social Services. Those figures do not include adoptions handled through nonprofit organizations.

Also under the bill, identifying information about the adult siblings of someone who has been adopted could be provided when sought and with those siblings' consent. Currently the courts must also determine that the information is necessary for an urgent health purpose.

Plus, when adults who were adopted or their descendants seek identifying information about biological parents who already have not agreed to release those records, the courts would no longer be required to notify the adoptive parents of the request.

Sen. John Lamping, R-Clayton, who proposed the adoption legislation, said the bill's scope was narrow. Lamping, a first-term senator who has adopted children from overseas, said he plans to pursue a broader overhaul of Missouri's adoption process in future years.

Lamping said people who were adopted can more easily learn about their medical histories if it is simpler to get information about biological parents. He said it also can provide personal fulfillment by knowing more about their families.

Missouri lawmakers in recent years have considered changes to how adoption records are handled.

In 2005, the legislature passed a law that allowed adult siblings to sign up for an existing state registry that permits biological parents and adopted adults to indicate whether they wished to be contacted. It also allowed information about the biological parents to be released with their consent if the adopted adult eventually requested it.

Last year, state senators endorsed a measure that would have allowed people who are adopted to have access to their birth and medical records when they turn 18 through the registrar's office, instead of going through the court system or getting consent from their birth mother. That legislation was not considered in the House.


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