Adoptee Rights: An Overview

Adopted children’s rights (often referred to as “adoptee rights”) are the legal and social rights that are automatically given to non-adopted persons, but that many adoptees may not automatically have. These rights include:

  • Legal access to one’s birth certificate
  • Knowledge of potentially life-saving medical history
  • Knowledge of one’s personal history, including biological parentage
  • And more

This unequal distribution of rights has been a long-standing source of pain and frustration for many adoptees, and has led to efforts to protect the rights of an adopted child.

The History of Adoptees’ Rights

Up until the past couple decades, adoptions were almost exclusively closed adoptions. Adoptees typically had little to no information about their birth family or their adoption. Adoption records, original birth certificates and more information that pertained to the adopted person were completely sealed.

In more recent years, some states have passed laws that allowed restricted access for adult adoptees who requested their original birth certificates or information from their adoption records, but this access was often difficult to obtain or came with many caveats.

Only in the last decade has the shift toward openness in adoptions started to extend toward adoptees affected by the closed adoption era. More states are beginning to pass legislation that protects adoptee rights and grants access to original birth certificates, thanks to the efforts of adoptees across the U.S.

Ninety percent of adoptions today are open so that adoptees and birth family can continue to have a relationship, which means that these adoptees and birth parents will never have unanswered questions about their adoption. But many older adoptees still struggle with the lack of information caused by a closed adoption and slow legislative progress toward adoptee rights. There is still plenty of work to be done to improve adopted children’s rights and your rights as an adoptee.

What Is the Adoptees ‘Right to Know ‘Law?

Sometimes referred to as an Adoptees Right to Know Law, these state-by-state laws grant unrestricted original birth certificate (OBC) access to adult adoptees. It often surprises people who have never known an adoptee that most states only allow adult adoptees restricted or partial access to their OBCs, if those adoption records aren’t sealed entirely. Only nine states offer unrestricted access to OBCs.

You can learn more about how to open your adoption records and request your OBC here.

The Adoptees Bill of Rights

The author is unknown, but there is a popular list called “The Adoptees Bill of Rights” that details the basic adoption rights of the child and adult adoptee:

  1. We have the right to dignity and respect.
  2. We have the right to know we are adopted.
  3. We have the right to possess our original birth certificate.
  4. We have the right to possess all of our adoption records.
  5. We have the right to full knowledge of our origins, ethnic and religious background, our original name and any pertinent medical and social details.
  6. We have the right to updated medical and social history of our birth parents.
  7. We have the right to personal contacts with each of our birth families, as all other humans.
  8. We have the right to live without guilt toward any set of parents.
  9. We have the right to treat and love both sets of parents as one family.
  10. We have the right and obligation to show our feelings.
  11. We have the right to become whole and complete people.
  12. We have a right and obligation not to violate the dignity of all people involved in the adoption triad and to carry our message to all adopted children who still suffer.

Written from the perspective of a fellow adoptee, the list may help others understand some of the frustrations that adoptees have experienced and why legal protections for adoptee rights are necessary.