‘Search and Reunion’ program brings
together adoptees, birth parents
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning; no matter what our attainments in life, there is the most disquieting loneliness.” -- Alex Haley (Author of Roots)
By PATTIE MCGURK, LBSW
Catholic Social Service
Adoption is not a one-time event, but a method of forming a family that affects the parents, the child, the siblings, and future generations.
The practice of adoption has undergone dramatic changes in the last 30 years. An explosion of evolving understanding has influenced practice and philosophy throughout the United States. Instead of secrecy and barriers to contact, there is an increased emphasis on openness and knowledge. The voices of those impacted by the adoption journey have clamored to be heard. Adopted persons, birth-parents and adoptive parents have educated professionals about the complexities of living with adoption. What was believed to be a simple journey has instead resulted in being a highly complex life experience. 1 The rise of the adoption movement in the 70s began to erode popularly held beliefs. Adopted persons began to openly acknowledge a profound need to know their birth families. They expressed a love and loyalty for their families by adoption. The need to know in no way denied the adoption ties. The search for self was identified as central to the quest. 1
When an adoptee or birth parent makes the decision to search, one can only hope to find long awaited answers to life-long questions. For the adoptee, questions of “Who do I look like?” and “Where did my abilities and my talents come from?” can be frustrating and lonely. Adult adoptees, in particular, have many questions regarding health issues. Current medical background information can be crucial for not only the adoptee but also for their children. 2
For the birth parent, they have questions of whether their child is okay, has the child had a good life and is the child happy. Many times, the birth parent fears that their child resents them for placing the child for adoption. Often, both the adoptee and birth parent feel that a piece is missing.
“Search and Reunion” fills that void and makes them complete. As a result of searching, some adoptees and birth parents will develop a lifelong friendship. For others, answers to questions and peace of mind will be achieved. 2
Few questions are more heatedly debated in the world of adoption today than whether adult adopted persons should have routine access to their original birth certificates and other documents from their agency and court adoption files. In most states, they are legally prohibited from obtaining such information, except by petitioning a court for its permission.
In only two states, Kansas and Alaska, have adopted persons -- upon reaching the age of maturity -- always had access to their original birth certificates. Since 1996, six states-Alabama, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee-have re-established adult adopted persons’ direct access to their birth and/or adoption records. 3
In 1987 Ann Forester started the Adult Adoptee Search and Reunion Program, which was the first program of its kind in Kansas. Shirley Lytle joined the agency in February 1990 to assist Ann and then took over the program when Ann retired in 1992. Shirley assisted adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents through the search process from 1992 until August 2007. Pattie McGurk took over the responsibilities of the Search and Reunion program upon Shirley’s retirement.
1 Adoption Search: Ethical Considerations for Practitioners
By Patricia Martinez-Dorner MA, LPC, LMFT
Catholic Charities USA
2 Shirley Lytle
“Search: Looking for Answers”
3 Evan B. Donaldson
Adoption Institute Research