Group Aids Adoptees Searching For “Lost” Families
The Seattle Times, 22 February 1977, by Marjorie Jones – edited for clarity
Most people inspired to find their family roots are free to do so – unless they are adopted.
The confidentiality clause in the state law here prevents adopted persons from obtaining their records unless they can show “good cause” through petitioning the court.
Birthright, a new organization founded by two adopted women seeking their identity, has been formed to help people searching for “lost” families.
Mary Kirk* of Kent is president, and Jean Jones** of West Seattle, vice-president.
“Our heritage begins and ends with us,” they say.
Mrs. Kirk’s search began two years ago when she placed a “Personal” advertisement in a newspaper seeking her family. Her adoptive family had been helpful. She had learned the circumstances of her birth, the fact she was a twin. In fact, she knew her twin brother.
Mrs. Kirk learned her name, that hers was a private adoption, that her father was in the Navy, but she could learn no more.
Her ad brought two dozen calls from others interested in their background and unable to trace it. Mrs. Jones was the first caller.
Mrs. Jones knows she was born April 19, 1949, in Doctor’s Hospital, Tacoma, that her mother was 16 and living in the White Shield Home, which is no longer in operation. She knows who the doctor was. That’s all.
“I was told when I was 21 I could find out, look at the records, but that’s not so,” Mrs. Jones said.
There are few “good causes” which will open the sealed records, the two women say. Only four petitions from Seattle in five years have resulted in obtaining a look at the records, then only by a third party. One involved an Indian seeking tribal rights.
The Birthright organization has grown to about 30 members now and has been effective in helping several people find their parents, two in recent weeks.
The group will not assist anyone under 18 and they have no desire to violate the rights of others. It recognizes that some natural parents do not want to be “found” by the children they gave up.
“Some would be better off undiscovered,” Mrs. Kirk and Mrs. Jones say.
They point out that the discovery may cause traumatic feelings of resentment, rejection, and hostility. Members help each other through group therapy.
“We don’t paint a rosy picture,” Mrs. Kirk says. If anyone thinks they will find a new set of parents, they are going to be disappointed. But if they have an identity and feel good about themselves, and want to find out more, then we can help.”
The group offers no magic answers but helps people gain confidence and lose any sense of shame they feel. Many adoptive children are the offspring of unmarried parents.
“We help people feel they are not alone in their situation,” Mrs. Jones said.
They also try to dispel the fears of adoptive parents who feel threatened or that they have failed when their adoptive children seek their “real” parents.
“Our mothers and fathers are those people who have loved and cared for us and that’s not going to change,” Mrs. Jones said.
The organization has been in touch with the Department of Social and Health Services, Family Courts, and other agencies in their efforts to bring about change. Adoption laws are presently under review.
The two women back establishment of a state register where adopted people and their biological parents could place their names. They believe changes will be made within a year.
*Mary Kirk Avery: “In 1976, when I began the group that eventually became WARM, I named it Birthright of Washington, and we used that name for close to a year. (It turned out that there was a Canadian right to life group of the same name and they sent a threatening letter to cease and desist or they’d sue) So that’s when it was changed to WARM, and in time for incorporation.”
**In memory of Jean Doleshy Jones, 19 Apr 1949 – 13 Sep 2017
The following is reprinted with permission from People Searching News
P.O. Box 100444, Palm Bay, FL 32910-0444.
In August 1976 adoptee Mary Kirk placed an ad in the Personal column of the Seattle Times inviting adoptees to call her. Eight did, including Marilyn Dean. It was from that core group Washington Adoption Reunion Movement* (WARM) was created, although known then as “Birthright.” By 1977 WARM had branches in Spokane and Mt. Vernon.
Initially, WARM meetings consisted of adoptees and adoptive parents. They didn’t know any birth parents. During their bi-weekly meetings, they discussed how to search. Without a clue, members began asking the adoptive parents for information at the encouragement of other parents who were WARM members. Their techniques for searching, primitive at best, soon led to wondering how to make contact. They decided that a third party might be safest and best. By February, three reunions had taken place. It was to be a monumental year for WARM.
Adoptive parent and WARM member, Violet Sprague went to the County Court and connected with a social worker and a judge, both of whom were adoptive parents. The Superior Court jurist, the Honorable Norman B. Ackley became a “regular” at WARM meetings and, ultimately, their mentor and guide. In February of 1977 a state-wide agency Task Force had formed for the purpose of discussing how adoptees could access information in Washington. The Children’s Home Society hosted the first of many of those meetings. Meanwhile, WARM was growing and their media exposure had begun to take on a life of its own. Their all-media interviews led to speaking engagements at the invitation of adoptive parent groups.
Encouraged by the spirit and momentum WARM demonstrated, Judge Ackley reviewed the law. Adoption records could be opened “for good cause shown” which was, thereafter, at the discretion of the Court to define. An innovator, Judge Ackley proceeded to write a procedural format allowing adoptees to petition the Court, and for the Court to appoint a Confidential Intermediary to conduct a search. In the summer of 1977, the first file was opened, and the WARM Confidential Intermediary System became an effective reality. By 1980 judges in 35 of the 39 counties had agreed to follow suite. By August of that year, 450 files had been opened with a success rate of 97% (‘success’ meaning a release for contact had been obtained). Today, WARM has completed thousands of searches with a better than 90% success rate.
Some judges in Washington wanted the Intermediary System to be incorporated into the adoption law. It took WARM and a host of agencies 11 years to persuade the Legislature to do that. The bill was passed in June 1990. By 1995, with the WARM CI System as a Model Act, 18 other states introduced intermediary systems.
WARM’s ultimate objective, of course, was (and still is) to persuade the WA legislature to open sealed records “on request.” It is an objective for which they continue to strive with no less energy than they invested for the Intermediary law. Until such time as the Legislature “gets it” — and even after they do — triads in Washington still have the choice of a certified, well-experienced intermediary.
In 1978, WARM started networking with support groups outside Washington state. The concept of a national organization for groups and triads was discussed and formed. WARM assisted in the development and structuring of what became the American Adoption Congress. Today WARM networks with many organizations and search/support groups throughout the United States and abroad in a co-operative effort to educate and change the ways society views adoption.
Over the years, WARM has hosted more than their fair share of conferences with the same success and aplomb they enjoy as a search and support group. The leadership in WARM has balanced the seriousness and sadness genre to the issues with mirth with humor. WARM’s own spirit of networking has encouraged others to do the same, a point of light that has added to the respect, if not splendor, with which they are regard in the Movement.
*Originally Washington Adoptees Rights Movement, then Washington Adoption Reform Movement, and finally Washington Adoption Reunion Movement.