Let Me Know My True Name

UnknownMy name is Allie Herskovitz. I am a junior at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, NY.  I am a varsity cheerleader, study dance, serve as a volunteer with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua, and am working on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I was adopted domestically at birth and since fourth grade I have participated in several Spence-Chapin groups.

This winter, as an English assignment, I was asked to write an editorial on any topic important to me. Just a month before I had traveled out West and met members of my birth family for the first time. I was fortunate because my mom had kept all the documents from my adoption. I was able to make the connection without much of a search. My experience was very positive in many ways; however, I had attended a Spence-Chapin reunion workshop in 2014 and knew it could be very different- and frustrating- for many adoptees. When my teacher assigned the editorial I had reunion issues on my mind, so I decided to research and write about adoptee access to U.S. birth records. What I learned has made me a strong advocate for full and open access-for every adoptee.

Imagine that you were denied access to all information about your birth. No original birth certificate. No names of your birthparents. You might not even know where or even when you were born. How might you feel? For adoptees born in forty- three U.S. states this is current law- we are denied access to our original birth records. We are banned by the state from knowing our true origins. This practice of “sealing” birth records for adoptions began in Minnesota with the intention to overcome attitudes about the shame of adoption and illegitimacy. Over time almost all U.S. states banned adoptee access. Attitudes in some states have changed in recent decades, but almost six million U.S. born adoptees are still denied their basic birth information. I am one of those adoptees and in 2015 I believe everyone deserves full access to their original birth records as a fundamental human right.

Many Western countries, including England, Scotland and Israel, allow open access. In the United States, adoption regulations are delegated to the states, not the federal government, and the majority of states have laws preventing direct adoptee access to original birth documents. Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, social workers and adoptive parents encouraged states to seal records when an adoption was finalized. By 1950, most states had regulations that forever barred adoptee access. Since then, only a few states have changed their laws. Currently just seven states have completely opened their records, while several others provide for unsealing with restrictions. For example, Maryland and Iowa only allow access through a “mutual consent registry” and Nebraska allows adoptive parents, as well as birth parents, to veto unsealing.

Researching the history of U.S. adoption, I learned that over the years adoptees have been denied their records for three main reasons. The first reason, strongly promoted by some prominent adoption lobbies, has been the protection of birth parent confidentiality. According to this argument, unsealing records now would betray a promise of anonymity made at the time of the adoption. However, in the only two legal cases that have ever ruled on this claim, the courts have said open records laws do not violate privacy rights. The second reason dates from decades past when adoption was viewed as a stigma and spoken only in whispers. During the Depression and after WWII, issuing “amended” birth certificates became routine and helped to reinforce a “culture of shame that stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and adoption”. A third rationale is a concern for “disruption,” that sharing original birth information would disturb the lives of the adoption triad-birthparents, adoptive parents, or the adoptee. While some adoptive parents may still favor closed records for this reason, recent surveys show they are now a small minority. The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption, and rather than viewing open access as a disruption, states that sealed records are “detrimental to the psychological well-being of the adopted child”.

Among the public, as well as different members of the adoption community, there is a growing consensus that adoptees deserve full access. My family and I strongly support this position. We reject the age old reasons for sealing birth records. We see no valid justification for the state to deny me my original birth documents. I should have the same rights under the law as anyone else born in the United States- the right to know who I am. I should be allowed unrestricted access to my original birth certificate so I may know critical legal, medical, and genealogical information. That knowledge is part of my true identity. One organization, Adoption Find, really speaks for me when they state, “Adoptees did not sign away their rights. Identity is a human right…Adoption is not magic. Babies do not disappear into a void, never to be heard from again. We are real living, breathing people who deserve the same history, and wholeness of being that every non-adoptee takes for granted”.

Anyone favoring open access has opportunities to change state laws. At the current time, several states including Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Connecticut, have legislation under consideration that would expand adoptee access to their birth records. Citizens of these states, as well as all individuals advocating open access, can write to their state representatives. They can also write letters to their local newspapers and make donations to organizations that encourage unsealed records, such as Spence-Chapin.

According to one advocacy website, thelostdaughters.com, “what is missing the most in adoption is the truth”. Like so many American adoptees, I am not allowed by state law to see my original birth certificate. I believe it is time to get past the old arguments and to unseal every U.S. birth record. Without a change in the law, I could spend a lifetime of longing and searching for my true identity.

Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bulgaria

1. Bulgarians shake their heads to mean yes and nod for no.

nod yes

2. Bulgaria produces 70% of the rose oil in the world, which is primarily used in fragrances but is also known for being great for your skin.

rose oil

3. Founded seven thousand years ago, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is the second oldest city in Europe and the biggest and most developed city in Bulgaria.

Sofia, Bulgaria

4. Spartacus, gladiator and escaped slave during the time of the Roman Empire is from modern day Bulgaria. Roman ruins have been unearthed throughout Bulgaria and excavations of artifacts continue to this day.

spartacus

5. Bulgarians have led the way in technological advances, including the invention of the first electronic computer, digital watch and car air bag.

1st electronic computer

6. People often think Bulgaria was part of the former Soviet Union as their Communist party aligned with the Soviet government. Communism ended in 1989 in Bulgaria and the government is now a parliamentary democracy and part of the European Union. The current Prime Minister of Bulgaria is Boyko Borisov; Borisov is also known in Bulgaria for being the oldest professional football (soccer) player.

Boyko Borisov

7. Bulgarian cuisine is largely Mediterranean. Food staples include giant stuffed grape leaves; a feta-like white cheese; salads of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers and parsley, tossed with vinaigrette; and tarator, a combination of Bulgarian yogurt, cucumber, olive oil and garlic. Bulgarian yogurt has a unique taste due to the herb-rich pastures Bulgarian cows and sheep graze and the bacteria used to make it. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the local strain of bacteria used in Bulgarian yogurt, is so popular that its biggest importers include the European Union, United States and Japan.

bulgarian salad

8. Some of the oldest trees in the world can be found in Bulgaria’s forests which cover 35% of the land; most of the forest has been designated with environmental protection by the European Union.

Bulgarian forest

9. Bulgaria is located in southeastern Europe. Considering its size, Bulgaria has a huge variety of topographical features, including over 540 rivers, mountain ranges, and beaches along the Black Sea.  The southern part of Bulgaria bordering Macedonia and Greece experiences Mediterranean climates while other regions experience a broader range of seasonal changes in temperature.

map of Bulgaria

10. “Name Days” are celebrated in addition to birthdays in Bulgaria. As a matter of fact, most Bulgarians value their ‘Name Day’ more than their birthday. A Name Day, or “Saints Day” is celebrated by people named after a particular Saint (e.g. everyone named Peter celebrates Saint Peter’s day).

happy name day

 

Click here to learn more about our Adoption from Bulgaria program online.

 

 

No fees for Personal Adoption Histories

older adopteesThe Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin is excited to announce that we will no longer charge fees for personal adoption histories or support for first/birth and adoptive families in open adoptions wanting to re-connect.

This recent change aligns with our belief that all members of the adoption community should have the right to obtain their information and history with as few barriers as possible.

Of course, this is one small piece in a larger issue of providing access to birth records and identifying birth family information for adoptees who would like to search.  Spence-Chapin continues to advocate for a change in adoption laws to allow adoptees to have access to identifying information including their original birth certificates and identities of their birthparents.

I just want to thank you, actually I don’t think a million thank you’s would be enough. I will never forget your kindness, your compassion and your willingness and patience during the times we have spoken and for what I am and have been going through as an adoptee.  The wonderful people at Spence-Chapin will change me forever and again I can’t thank you enough for that. Thank you.    – Adoptee

Last January we joined the New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s Unsealed Initiative in the hearing on on Bill of Adoptee Rights. You can read about that experience on our blog post: Spence-Chapin supports the Bill of Adoptee Rights  and watch our testimony on our Youtube page.

You can learn more about how you can get involved and help advocate on behalf of NYS adoptees by visiting the  New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s site

The Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin provides personal adoption histories (non-identifying information) for agencies whose records we hold: Spence-Chapin, Louise Wise, and Talbot Perkins. We also provide search and reunion guidance, support, and counseling for all members of the adoption community. Give us a call to learn more – 646-539-2167.

Check out our upcoming events for the adoption community and register today.

What is a “Waiting Child”?

waiting childWhat is the definition of a Waiting Child?

The term “Waiting Child” holds many meanings within the adoption community. At Spence-Chapin we define a Waiting Child as a child who is ready to be matched immediately with adoptive parents and identified by their caretakers as a child who would thrive in a family. We are able to share profiles of children on our Waiting Child page. We password-protect this page in order to protect the privacy of these children; contact us to learn more about the Waiting Child page at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

Who are the Waiting Children?

We work with our partners in Bulgaria, Colombia, and South Africa to identify children who are particularly in need of loving, permanent families based on age, medical special needs, or being part of a sibling group. While the reasons a child has been identified as a Waiting Child vary, there is one thing the children all have in common – they are ready to be matched immediately with a forever family.

Comparing the Traditional Adoption Process and the Adoption of a Waiting Child

Families often ask how adopting a Waiting Child differs from the traditional adoption process. While the application process and eligibility guidelines are the same, the main difference is the timeline in which families are matched with a child.  For a Waiting Child, a family may begin their adoption process by being matched with the child who will be joining their family; families can also request to be matched with a Waiting Child at any point throughout the process. There are many children age 9 and over, part of a sibling group, or with special medical needs in need of families who are not on our Waiting Child page. In a traditional intercountry adoption process, families receive information on their child after their paperwork is submitted to the country.

What is the Next Step?

Spence-Chapin’s mission is to connect the children most in need of families with loving parents. We can help you explore which adoption program is right for your family.  If you’d like to learn more about a Waiting Child or our adoption programs, contact a member of our Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.

Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

Photo Jun 05, 6 38 54 AM

The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

The Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask about Older Child Adoption

older child adoption

Spence-Chapin’s mission is to find families for the most vulnerable children, including older children, sibling groups, and children with special medical needs.

As you begin to think about growing your family through adoption, one of the first steps is deciding the age of the child you will be parenting. Spence-Chapin can help you explore the reasons an older child could be a great fit for your family. We know there are some questions about older child adoption that people are often too afraid to ask, so we’ve started a list here.

Questions:

  • What is the age range of a child who is considered “older”?
  • What are some of the differences between adopting an older child from foster care and adopting an older child internationally?
  • Can we adopt an older child if we have younger children we are currently parenting?
  • Can a single parent/older parent adopt an older child?
  • As a single parent, can I adopt an older child who is not the same gender as me?
  • Do older children have behavioral and emotional issues?
  • Would we be able to have a bar or bat mitzvah for our child if we adopt an older child?
  • How much will I know about my older child’s history?
  • Have all older children been living in an institutional setting since birth?
  • How much input does an older child have into his adoption plan?
  • How can I be fully prepared to adopt an older child?
  • What language will my child speak? Will my child speak or understand English?

Are these the questions that you were thinking of too? Our team can provide the answers to all these and more. Give Kara, Heather and Jamie a call – 212-400-8150.

Spence-Chapin is able to share the profiles of international children who are considered to be the most in need of a loving family, and who are ready to be matched immediately.  The Waiting Child profiles often consist of children who are older or part of a sibling group. In order to respect the privacy of these children, the Waiting Child page has been password protected.

If you would like to hear more about our adoption programs or request the password to the Waiting Child page, contact us at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.