It appears common enough that it’s a part of adoption lore: you request information from an adoption agency or maternity home, only to find out that a mysterious “fire” destroyed their adoption records years ago. Or a flood. Or some other natural catastrophe that eliminated years of adoption records. I heard it myself when I contacted my mother’s maternity home, which is now a large multi-service agency. The agency head had no idea where my mother’s records had gone and had no explanation why they disappeared. I had been told before by family that there was a letter in the file for me. Gone.
Fires and floods and plagues of locusts aside, what happens—or should happen—when an adoption agency goes belly up or closes its doors? Where do the records go? What happens to the information? In Minnesota over the last few years, Catholic Charities stopped doing adoption-related work and announced that Lutheran Social Services would now handle its post-adoption requests. Presumably, that means the records are now with LSS.
More recently, Independent Adoption Center (IAC) filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors. Until then, it operated in at least eight states, had annual revenue of more than $6 million, and had been an adoption agency in some states for more than 30 years. In a message to its clients, IAC assured that it was working “to provide for the appropriate disposition and return of client files” and that “all families and birthmothers who were currently working with IAC have been notified and been provided with potential referrals to assist with their adoption journeys.”
But what about us? What about adoptees? Most states—if not all—should have specific legal requirements an agency must follow to maintain and retain its records. Minnesota, where I practice, requires that “[a]ll adoption records shall be retained on a permanent basis under a protected record system which ensures confidentiality and lasting preservation.” All good, but what about going belly up? In Minnesota at least, specific regulations require a child-placing agency to have—before it begins operating under a license—a “Plan for Transfer of Records.” This includes a “signed agreement or other documentation indicating that a county or licensed child placing agency has agreed to accept and maintain the agency’s closed case records and to provide follow-up services to affected clients.”
With IAC, I decided to ask what each state is doing about IAC’s records, for a couple of reasons: 1) to be a watchdog, in which part of the message to regulators is that the IAC bankruptcy—or any other closing of an agency— is important not only to adoptive parents waiting for adoptions but also to adoptees whose records are affected; and 2) to determine if the states will assure that IAC complies with any law or regulations concerning permanent retention of their records. Conveniently, IAC posted a notice to its clients with a listing of their regulatory contacts in the various states. This morning I sent letters to each of those regulators, and a copy of my letter to Californias is here. The text of each letter is nearly identical to the following, with the exception of the contact at each state:
California Department of Social Services
2580 North First Street, Suite 350
San Jose, CA 95131
I am a Minnesota lawyer who advocates for adult adoptee rights. I am writing to request information about the recent bankruptcy of Independent Adoption Center (IAC), which is a state-licensed child-placing agency in California. Your names were listed by IAC for licensing issues related to its bankruptcy.
Specifically, I am asking for information about how your office will assure that IAC’s adoption records are preserved and transferred to a responsible entity. Transfer of these adoption records to a responsible party is critical to assure that any rights of adoptees to access identifying and nonidentifying information from those files is preserved.
While I do not practice law in your state, my office posts information of broad interest to adult adoptees, particularly information related to adoption records and access to those records as required by law.
Please let me know what efforts have been made to secure the adoption records of Independent Adoption Center.
Gregory D. Luce
Attorney at Law
Adoptee Rights Law Center PLLC
My hope is that the states take this issue very seriously, which they likely do. In fact, I heard back almost immediately from California:
Our Department’s Adoption Unit picked up all of the adoption records from IAC’s corporate office on February 3, 2017 and they are being stored confidentially and indefinitely in Sacramento.
Good news, at least for California adoptees who may be affected by IAC’s bankruptcy. I’m still waiting to hear from all the other states and will update people here or on Twitter if I hear anything further, including any news of unfortunate floods or fires. 🙂