Friday, October 14, 2016

I found the following article, DNA’s new ‘miracle’: How adoptees are using online registries to find their blood relatives, on the front page of the Washington Post Thursday morning very interesting. It discussed how adoptees are now finding their birth parents through DNA services such as and 23 and Me.  These services offer any individual – adopted or not -  the opportunity to send in a saliva sample and have it analyzed for ancestry information.  After it is analyzed the services send a report of ancestry (where one’s family is likely to have come from) and also a list – including contact information - of people who have “matched DNA” and are likely relatives. For each individual “matched” they list whether it is a parent, sibling, first cousin, second cousin, or 3rd-6th cousin.

These services can be very empowering to adoptees (or birth parents) seeking to search on their own, but they can cause complications. When adoption agencies such as Barker assist adoptees who wish to search, they follow state guidelines which assure that if a birth parent requests to remain anonymous, this will be respected. Regardless, Barker will always try to obtain medical information for the adoptee.   This is markedly different than the process of searching using a DNA service. It is likely that if an adoptee finds a match, it will be a cousin or other relative (and not the birth parent) who may or may not have known about the placement. This can result in “talk” and speculation within the birth family, and often leads the adoptee to a birth parent who may not want to be “found.” In addition, the birth parent may also feel compromised that his/her family is now aware of a placement that was previously unknown to them.

The primary message of the article mirrors a major point that Barker now states at every information meeting and intake with prospective new families: there is no longer the possibility of entering into a closed adoption and assuming it will remain that way. Even if both parties declare that this is what they currently want, they need to be cognizant that in the future, if the adopted child wishes to know information about his/her background and history, and reach out to birth relatives, he/she will likely have the chance to do this through DNA services. This phenomenon is not limited to domestic adoption. In my role as Post-Adoption Director, I have already provided counseling to people who were adopted from overseas who have found their birth families through DNA testing. As these tests are more widespread it is possible that more birth parents – and/or their families – will also take these tests.    In future years the DNA registries, now relatively small, will be far larger and this information will be even more accessible.

Currently, more than 95% of adoptions in the United States have some degree of openness. Regardless of whether this openness is manifested through direct contact, facilitated visits, or non-identifying letters being sent between adoptive and birth families, the adoption community has witnessed the profound positive affects these relationships have on the well-being of the adopted child.  In contrast to the situation several decades ago, the majority of domestically adopted children today are growing up knowing their respective adoption “stories,”  the reasons for the placement (when age-appropriate) their family histories, and often know members of their birth family.  Even though at times this can indeed be complex, the benefits to the child of knowing his/her story – and not wondering (or fantasizing) about who they and their birth parents are, nearly always outweighs the complications.      

Read the full article, here:

Varda Makovsky - Director, Family and Post Adoption Services