Adoption Records Secrecy Breeds Mistakes

I doubt few people in the adoption reform community are surprised to hear that Catholic Charities, that bastion of super-secrecy, made a mistake in connecting an adoptee with his biological family.
More than three decades after Ryba and Butler gave up their baby son to Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., for adoption, and four years after the agency facilitated their “reunion” with Bloete, genetic testing revealed last year that none of them are related.
Lisa Thibault, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Trenton, acknowledged that the situation is “tragic,” and that a “mistake” was made somewhere. But she said the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them.
I’m sure CC charged a hefty fee for this botched “reunion”. That’s how confidential intermediaries work: You pay, they supposedly search and find. But the problem is, there are no checks and balances to ensure that you get what you paid for.
I’ve written extensively about my own experience with Illinois’ confidential intermediary program (here and here), which remains the only state-sanctioned method by which adult Illinois adoptees may attempt to gain access to their records. The word “confidential” is a euphemism for “hiding in the shadows”. Their policies and procedures are secret; even participants are not allowed to know what is done on their behalf. Which means if mistakes are made, you might never find out about them. In my case, my identifying information was given to my birth mother without my consent… meaning their policies are more confidential than the privacy of participants. What does that tell you about the priorities of such programs? It’s a back-door method of making more money off adoptions. Seal the records, then charge later for access to those very same records. It’s not commonly known by the general public but everybody in the adoption reform community knows how the game is played.
Cases like these are exactly why entire concept of confidential intermediaries needs to be chucked. Why should we trust third parties to act on our behalf when we have no way to verify their actions? Sealing adoption records and falsifying birth certificates only breeds these kinds of mistakes, and provides fertile ground for profiteering. Instead, all birth certificates should bear the truthful information of one’s origins, with adoption certificates verifying the facts of the adoption, and every single adult in this country, adopted or not, should be able to obtain their original, unaltered birth certificate for the same minimal fee. I spent thousands of dollars trying to get my records, just as these people have spent thousands trying to accomplish what Catholic Charities should have done in the first place.
We need to abolish confidential intermediaries in favor of open adoption records.
See also:
And let’s note that reformers in New Jersey have been fighting to open adoption records. There’s a petition here if you want to sign it to help the cause.


  1. It no longer surprises me. It is a horrible mistake. That is why we need to strip the adoption industry of its power over its participants. There is no other answer.

  2. Amy, I totally agree with you.

  3. Do you know if they are going to rectify their error, and find the actual natural parents?

    How ironic that their oh, so careful record keeping is seen as it really is, a great big fat joke on the mothers and children whose lives they changed, willy-nilly.

    It is little wonder, after seeing these slipshod practices, and the fiasco with the Colorado records, and the mess in Canada that they want to keep these records sealed. If people actually found out what contempt they held for the unmarried mothers in their charge that they couldn’t even keep their records straight, imagine what other horrors will be uncovered when they eventually open, and they WILL open. It is absud that they aren’t yet. They MUST be opened to mothers and children, and I only wish it would happen before the mothers of the EMS/BSE pass on, but I am fearful that they will not.

    Eventually, however, we will no longer be seen as liars and bitter, angry women. We will be viewed as victims of a governmental social program and survivors of incredible abuse, and our children as pawns in the power struggle.

  4. Hi Sandy–In the article CC was quoted as saying, “the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them”. I’m surprised they didn’t say, “pay us a bunch more money”. They could keep stringing these people along for ages, raking in the dough. Because that’s basically all these programs are about.

    And yes, this is exactly why they want to keep the records sealed, not to “protect” the mothers (who neither want nor need protection) nor to “help” adoptees (who don’t need their help) but to keep the industry’s dirty laundry concealed. No wonder it’s in their interests to act as intermediaries and deign to allow us to exchange anonymous correspondence with our own families. They don’t want us to be able to compare notes and discover their errors!

    Yep, it’s all a big joke… on us.

  5. Okay, that’s what I suspected. If there isn’t a buck to be made, to Hell with “Christian Charity”. Certainly does leave yet another bad taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?

    BTW, Triona, I am in IL now. I am near Litchfield, which is about 1/2 way between St. Louis (where my son was born) and Springfield.

  6. Horrific. This is what happens when you give people fake birth certificates. I am just horrified that US/Canada does this. Where I’m from you can only be born once and only get 1 birth certificate. You’re not allowed access to it until you’re 18. In lieu of birth certificate you have an “adoption certificate” which functions as a birth certificate for ID, passport, bank account etc. Yes, it’s embarrassing to hand it over and have everyone know you’re adopted… but I’ll take that “shame” over being lost forever to my ancestors in some crackpot paperwork fakery.

  7. http://Anonymous says

    Since Ontario opened its records, a lot of people are finding out that the name of the father has been wiped off the obc’s.

    It would appear that if the unwed mother put the father’s name in on the birth registration in hospital, the social worker or other professional (nurse, etc.) would remove the father’s name before it got to the Registrar General to be certified.

    There are a lot of reunited families in Ontario who can’t believe that these fathers have been omitted despite the fact that they willingly admitted their paternity and that the mothers willingly named them.

    My son and I are still waiting for his obc as is his father.

    We want to see if they have done the same to us. We have been waiting four months now.

    What is the point of open records if the information has been deleted for no apparent reason?

  8. Hi Anonymous–I suspect this is the real reason some in the adoption industry fight against efforts to open records: to conceal things like this. Some adoption facilitators changed information on birth certificates or in the adoption files, like changing religion to make the adoptee more “marketable” to the adoptive parents. So they fight against it, leaving situations like the one I heard about recently where a woman who has a critical illness was denied access to her records because unless she can actually PROVE she needs the records for treatment, she can’t have them. (!!) How can people sleep at night?

  9. AdoptedExpat–I agree. I’d rather have the shame than be denied my origins also. I’m also tired of other people making that decision for me. I’m in my thirties, fercryinoutloud… I think I can handle seeing my own damn birth certificate.

  10. ugh. I feel the need to just copy and paste some of my old comments here.

    Any activity based in secrecy has no oversight, no accountability, no checks and balances, no verifiability and thus no credibility.

    At least twice in my lifetime the CIA’s activities have been investigated by Congress. How on earth the adoption industry has escaped any scrutiny just defies all logic.

  11. ‘The word “confidential” is a euphemism for “hiding in the shadows”. ‘

    Exactly. It’s incredibly disheartening to acknowledge that most people just don’t see this. Disheartening and frustrating.