Law allows Missouri adopted adults access to records

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 | 6:21 p.m. CDT; updated 10:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — Carolyn Pooler wants to know who her father was.

She was born in 1943 and adopted a couple weeks later — two years after Missouri closed adoption records.

While Pooler learned the identity of her birth mother from a private investigator she hired in the mid-1990s, she does not know the identity of her birth father. Pooler wants to fill in the gap from when she was born and adopted. 

“I feel like everyone should have access to their identity,” Pooler said. “It’s who we are.”

A state law that took effect Sunday could help give Pooler, and other adults in Missouri who were adopted, answers. Before, adopted adults were required to get permission from both their biological and adopted parents to learn the identity of their birth parents. Now they are only required to get permission from their biological parents. If their biological parents are deceased, they can also request this identifying information.

Identifying information includes: name, date of birth, place of birth and last known address. 

To receive identifying information about biological parents in Boone County, adopted adults would need to make a request in writing to the circuit clerk's office, Family Court supervisor Carolyn Reddin said. The office would then search its records and submit the information requested, along with the written request, to a judge for review.

The court will then notify the biological parent and if the biological parent authorizes the information to be released or is deceased, the court will release the identifying information.

“It used to be if your natural parents were deceased, you would not get any information at all,” Heather Dodd of the Missouri Adoptee Rights Movement said. “The records would be sealed.”

Missouri state Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, who sponsored the bill, has three biological children and three adopted children.

He said the most important part of this law is that it lets people request information without the permission of their adopted parents. He said the law also lets adults who were adopted petition the court to make contact with their biological siblings. Before, the identifying information about siblings would only be released for health-related reasons.

Reddin said Tuesday that she was not aware of anyone requesting information from their adoption files. 

"The laws that they're making now are probably more for the adoptees from many years ago when things were much more secretive," said Elizabeth Page of Adoption Solutions Inc. in Jefferson City.

In addition to learning the identity of biological parents, the law also lets direct descendants of someone who was adopted and since died receive "non-identifying" information: the ages of parents when the child was born, parents’ occupation and where they lived.

Holly Cheuk, legislative director for Lamping, said that while she didn't have numbers on how many Missouri adult adoptees would be affected, any Missouri adoptee over 18 whose biological parents are deceased would be able to request information. 

Archie Hyde, a retired Naval chief petty officer, wants to take advantage of this change in the law as well. He flew up Sunday from Georgia so he could request his information about his biological parents on Monday at the Jackson County Courthouse.

"I'm hoping to get something about the adoption I had way back in 1934, '35," Hyde said on Saturday.

Adult adoptees can receive their information by making a request through the circuit court that had original jurisdiction in their adoption. The information won't become public record and is limited to lineal descendants and adults, Cheuk said.

Adoptee Ina Lewis of Blue Springs has already found her half sisters but wants to find out what else her adoption file contains.  

“I have found my birth mother’s family, and they said that she came back to Missouri every year and they always supposed that she was looking for me,” Lewis said.

Lewis wondered whether she'll find a letter from her mother in the file.

On Monday morning, Lewis, Pooler and Hyde went to the Jackson County Courthouse in hopes of learning about their biological parents and were disappointed to learn they had to wait for a judge to review each case.

"I was a very weepy person taking Archie and his wife back to the airport today without any information," Pooler said on Tuesday.

Columbia adoption lawyer Dewey Crepeau said the most common type of adoption he sees is stepparent adoption. Crepeau said Monday that while no one had contacted A Gift of Hope Adoptions about the change in the law, he occasionally gets calls from people trying to find their birth parents.

Dodd said that many people want their identifying information to look into medical backgrounds or to trace their family heritage. Her mother, Jennifer, was adopted, and Dodd searched to find her five sisters and two brothers. 

“It took 13 years, but I found every one of them,” Dodd said. 

Dodd volunteers through G's Adoption Registry and helps other searching children and parents be reunited.

“It can be really complex and confusing for an adoptee to find their roots," she said. 

While Lewis, Pooler and Hyde are anxious to see their adoption files, they also want something else they know the law doesn't provide—a copy of their original birth certificate.

"I want to know all of chapter one of my life, not just chapter two, which is my amended birth certificate," Pooler said. 

Dodd said that the Missouri Adoptee’s Right movement is pushing for adult adoptees to be able to have a copy of their original birth certificate.

“It’s my birth certificate,” Pooler said. “It proves that I was born. It's simply a human right that is denied some of us.”

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Sally Willis August 31, 2011 | 8:01 a.m.

I think this is wonderful! I can't imagine having so many questions and nowhere to turn for answers.

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