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Adoption, Identity, and Kinship

Adoption, Identity, and Kinship: The Debate over Sealed Birth Records

Katarina Wegar
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
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  • Book Info
    Adoption, Identity, and Kinship
    Book Description:

    Members of adoption triangles-adoptees, birthparents, and adopting parents-must struggle with difficult and sometimes heartrending issues. Should adopted children be enabled to trace their biological parents? Does the individual's right to selfdiscovery outweigh another's wish for confidentiality? In this thoughtful book, sociologist Katarina Wegar offers a new perspective on adoption and the search debate, placing them within a social context. She argues that Americans who are embroiled in adoption controversies have failed to understand how much the debate, adoption research, and the experience of adoption itself are affected by persistent social beliefs that adopted children are different from and somehow inferior to children reared by their biological families.Wegar begins by considering the historical and legal development of adoption and of sealedrecords policies, showing how kinship ideology, the helping professions, and gender issues intersect to frame adoption policies and the ongoing debate. Drawing on articles in social work and mental health journals, activist newsletters, and autobiographies by search activists, as well as on popular images of adoption portrayed in talk shows and other media, she analyzes the rhetoric to reveal the unconscious biases that exist. She concludes with a discussion of ways in which adoption reformers can avoid perpetuating harmful and confining images of those who participate in adoption.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14638-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Activists who strive for social change face a fundamental strategic and moral dilemma. On the one hand, arguments that resonate with existing values and beliefs generally are more convincing and therefore more effective than those that challenge accepted wisdom. On the other hand, by using the traditional arguments, social activists risk reinforcing old stereotypes and labels of inferiority and difference.¹ This dilemma has shaped the ongoing debate over the right of adoptees to have access to identifying information about their biological parents—the so-called search or sealed records controversy. The failure to examine critically society’s view of adoptees as similar...

  5. 2 Adoption, Inequality, and the Law: THE ORIGINS OF THE SEALED RECORDS CONTROVERSY
    (pp. 17-42)

    Few issues in American adoption policy have been as widely debated as the right of adoptees to have access to their original birth and adoption records without a court order. Search activists, mostly adoptees and birth mothers, have argued that the sealed records policy violates their constitutional rights, including their right to privacy.¹ Some have condemned the treatment of unwed mothers and illegitimate children as unfair; others have framed the debate in terms of a government attack on parental rights and the “natural family.” Although search groups such as the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) and Adoptees-in-Search have established their...

  6. 3 Adoption Research: TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES
    (pp. 43-71)

    Adoption agency practices have undergone several significant changes since adoption first came to be regarded as a welfare service during the Progressive Era. The emphasis on heredity and the importance of testing adopted children for possible genetic defects, which dominated the adoption process during this period, was replaced in the 1940s by a focus on the prospective adopters’ aptitude for parenting. This conversion to psychodynamic theory and a new emphasis on parenting skills and environmental influences on child development significantly reformed the field, although the consideration of genetic factors was never completely abandoned. These changes in adoption practice, however, did...

    (pp. 72-96)

    In the past twenty years the sealed records issue has become part of the public discourse on social problems. Whereas the collection of adoptees’ life histories compiled by Jean Paton in the 1950s roused little serious interest among social workers or in the media, today adoption stories are dramatically recounted throughout the media. The adoption theme, particularly the theme of searching for birth parents, has emerged as a compelling human-interest story and has inspired myriad novels, plays, and movies. This publicity is essential to the search movement: not only does it evoke sympathy and support, but it promotes curiosity among...

  8. 5 Adoption in Popular Culture: SIMILAR YET DIFFERENT
    (pp. 97-120)

    The considerable media attention given to adoption in the past two decades, in particular to issues surrounding the search, indicates that the adoption theme has meanings and connotations that capture the general public’s interest. In the twelve months between April 1993 and March 1994, the adoption theme was featured 113 times in nationwide radio and TV news programs.¹ By comparison, other family-related topics, such as abortion and pregnancy, were featured more frequently (186 and 181 times, respectively); topics that were discussed less often include divorce and separation (97 times), birth control (31 times), and infertility (30 times). Considering the low...

  9. 6 Conclusion: ADOPTION IN CONTEXT
    (pp. 121-138)

    In this book, the concept of difference has been used mostly to question the depiction of adoptees as different—that is, as pathological Others—but also to criticize the search movement’s suppression of differences among adoptees, its unwillingness to recognize the varying experiences of growing up adopted. The quest by adoptees for genealogical knowledge is part of the “new cultural politics of difference” that has surfaced during the past two decades among marginalized social groups, especially women, ethnic and racial minorities, and gays and lesbians (West 1990). These groups have formed social movements that challenge dominant cultural representations of them...

  10. References
    (pp. 139-158)
  11. Index
    (pp. 159-169)