People who are adopted have little to no knowledge of their biological history, until now.
A recent Arkansas law now gives adoptees a clear starting point in their life-long search for answers.
Act 519 went into effect in August, meaning Arkansas now joins 27 other states in unsealing adoption records. The Arkansas Department of Health has a total of 60,000 adoption files ready to be released.
“For an adoptee, we’re missing that first chapter of our lives,” said Shane Carter, who authored Act 519.
The only information Shane Carter’s adoptive parents knew about him was on a typed out half-sheet of paper with his favorites foods and his sleep patterns.
“I became very frustrated in not having the information and having to search for my own basic information and my dad would help research various clues about my past,” said Carter.
It became even more of an uphill battle when he started having medical problems.
“As you look at genetics we know more today more than ever about the importance of having family health history and the more information you have the more armed you are,” said Carter.
For seven years, and along side his now late father, Carter worked on writing what is now Act 519 to unseal his adoption file. He hoped having that law in place would give him the answers he was searching for.
“There is a difference between privacy and secrecy,” said Carter.
Act 519 allows the Arkansas Department of Health to give adoptees who are 21 years of age or older their original birth certificate, medical records, adoption decree, and anything else that was included in their adoption file.
Before act 519, according to state law, closed adoptions would always remain closed.
“I never thought that it would ever happen,” said Gene Kelley who has been an adoption attorney for the past 38 years.
Kelley says confidentiality has always been a fundamental part of an adoption. In the past, only a judge could release adoption information and there would have to be a serious need for a judge to allow an adoptee’s medical records to be released.
“That’s not done very often,” said Kelley, adding it had to be a matter of “life or death.”
“This is about the right to information not about the right to a relationship,” said Carter.
Under Act 519, the birth parent also has a say in developing a relationship. Mothers can redact their name and contact preference, meaning the parent decides if they want to be contacted by the adopted child. That can be directly, through a third party, or not at all.
“Where we’ve been that hasn’t been healthy for anyone. You can still keep that information private within the parties that need to know it and you can have compromise and i think that’s what we’ve achieved,” said Carter.
Since May 2018, 391 adoptees have requested their adoption file and 13 birth parents have submitted redaction requests.
“I have my information. I’m still processing as to what the best step for me is. It’s a very individual choice and i think it’s one that you have to take your time and follow your heart,” said Carter.
For the first 21 years of an adoptee’s life- their adoption records will remain sealed.
Once an adopted person turns 21, they can request their file by filling out various forms and turning them into the Arkansas Department of Health.
You can find the instructions and documents to request an adoption file as well as redacting your information if you are a parent on the Arkansas Department of Health website.