The Adoption mystique
Note from the author:
Adoption has long had a place in my life.
I have been a member of an adoptive family since I was six weeks old, and I share this distinction with an estimated five to nine million other Americans. Through the years since my adoption, social change - fueled by advances in birth control, Roe v. Wade, attitudes toward single mothers, and more recently social media and DNA testing -dramatically altered the way child welfare and social workers handled adoptions. I take you through a journey of history and activism, from the lens of an adoptee, activist, and social worker.
Though Joanne Wolf Small, MSW, LCSW-C had lived adoption for three decades, she knew next to nothing about it as a social institution. In her 30's, she began to search for her birth family, co-organized Adoptees In Search, obtained a Masters in clinical social work, and served on a Federal adoption advisory panel. There, she found a major discrepancy between child welfare’s idiosyncratic representation of adoption, and the experiences of adopted persons, and birth and adoptive parents that live it.
Her belief in the adoptive family as a positive alternate is dissonant with a widespread and covertly held negative public image.
Joanne's professional experience includes a post-adoption clinical practice, clinical supervision, in-service training, and seminars, lectures, publications, and interviews with over a thousand adoptive family members.
who am I?
this is important.
the adoption mystique
excerpt from book
I do not accept the notion that being adopted, like being Jewish or being female should restrict my rights as a citizen. I believe that adopted persons are entitled to full restoration of the rights that were abrogated. To me it is a matter of equality and social justice.
I am grateful to my parents for their patience, courage, openness, honesty, and empathy. Our family had no adoption secrets. A record of the date and story of my homecoming and the significant events of the first four years of my life were available to me at anytime. I was a curious kid. I asked many questions. They told me my birthmother was young. She ran off with someone. Her family annulled the marriage. “What was my name”? “Rebecca, maybe Roberta.” “How do you know”? They said they had papers for me in a strong box. I could have them when I was twenty-one.
The birth of my fourth child put me in touch with my heritage in a way not previously realized. This daughter had blue eyes. That meant I had to carry a blue-eyed gene. It was time to explore more fully my family of origin. It took seven months to find my birthmother.
It took ten years, however, “divine intervention,” and many false starts to complete a search for my birthfather’s side of the family.
what has this led to?
failed child welfare policies
anti-adoptee media bias
discrimination and loss of rights for adoptees
prejudices against adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive parents, infertility
problems with telling a child he or she is adopted
dysfunctional adoption myths
"I believe that adopted persons are entitled to full restoration of the rights that were abrogated. To me it is a matter of equality and social justice."
- Joanne Wolf Small
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
"The Adoption Mystique by Joanne Wolf Small is a book that every adoptee rights activist needs to keep on the nightstand. I first ran into Joanne in 1980 when somebody gave me an article about sealed records and identities she'd written for a social work publication. It was from Joanne that I first heard the peculiar legal concept that the adoptee and natural parent(s) are 'as if dead to each other."'
Janet F. Allen
New Hampshire State Representative
"She is a truth teller and a myth buster. The Adoption Mystique should be in every classroom. I am a reunited adult adoptee, who was pleasantly surprised how she covered so many issues in depth and even helped me to get a better understanding of what happened to me in my adoptive family. Five Stars! A must read!"
Executive Committee Emerti
of the bastard nation
"THE ADOPTION MYSTIQUE is for everyone. Adoptees, it's your life line. Adoptive parents and everyone else who loves adoptees - gentle help has arrived. Teachers, social workers, doctors and other professionals - these extremely well researched articles will enhance your ability to help all the different people you meet whose lives have been touched by adoption."
senior policy analyst
evan b. donaldson
"Your essays are so thoughtful - and so rich in conveying the historical context for adoption in general and the policies and practices surrounding information sharing, in particular, and in conveying the critical psychosocial issues that lie at the heart of adoption. I am certain your book will be viewed as a critical resources for policy makers and practitioners seeking to better understand adoption."'
michael j carson
midwest book review
[This book] is uncompromising in its view that adoption should be a process that considers the rights of the adoptee over the wishes of the birth parents or adoptive parents in instances where no compromise is possible, examines bias against adoptees in the media and society, and debunks the myth that an adopted person is sundered of ties to their heritage, or that they should just "get over" the need to search for their birth record information. Strongly written and highly recommended."
"Author Joanne Wolf Small, M.S.W. just doesn't break the adoption myth, she shatters it with her compilation of various research studies, essays, and personal knowledge on the subject of adoption. THE ADOPTION MYSTIQUE is respectful and not at all anti-adoption, just pro-truth and openness."
forty years later...
continuing adoption activism
It is time to bring U.S. child adoptions into the 21st century. THE ADOPTION MYSTIQUE leads the way. Joanne Wolf Small, however, has not faltered in her mission to shape the adoption industry for the better. Over four decades of writing, post-adoption clinical practice, clinical supervision, in-service training, seminars, lectures, publications and interviews with thousands of adoptive family members, Joanne still contributes to the cause. On January 21st, 2020, the Maryland Senate Judiciary Committee introduced a bill called SB331.
"Repealing certain provisions of law specifying that certain provisions of law apply only to adoptions in which a juvenile court enters an order for adoption on or after January 1, 2000; altering, from 21 to 18, the age at which an adoptee, or biological parent if the adoptee is at least 18 years old, may apply for a copy of certain birth and adoption records; requiring the Director of Social Services to develop and make available a certain contact preference form; etc."
Maryland senate bill 331
Starting in the 70's, Joanne continues to write to legislators regarding injustices to adoptees. In her most recent testimony, she simply asks her lawmakers to consider that adoptees in the State of Maryland have the right to request their Original Birth Certificates (OBC's). She notes that the New York State legislature recently passed an equal rights bill for adoptees, describing an apology given by those lawmakers on how long it took to get to this point. Joanne will continuing fighting for the rights of adoptees!
Senator William C. Smith, Jr., Chairman, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Maryland General Assembly
Dear Chairman Smith and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for hearing testimony on SB0331. I am Joanne Wolf Small, an adult adoptee, clinical social worker, author, and practicing psychotherapist licensed and certified by the Maryland State Board of Social Work examiners. Though born and adopted in IL I have lived the past 50 years in Montgomery County, and Worcester County. I urge you to vote yes to pass SB0331.
I first testified here in favor of an open records bill in 1979. Sponsored by Delegate David L. Scull. Sponsors introduced a similar bill in the Senate. I came as a co- founder of Adoptees in Search (AIS). Our members comprised the first generation of adoptees to come of age and discover that most states, including Maryland had abrogated our right to our original birth certificates (OBC’s). We asked the legislature to restore to people born and adopted in Maryland the same right to their OBC as all non-adopted Maryland citizens. To achieve equality. Noting more. Nothing less.
Yet, some, testifying in opposition to the same bills had a different take. Waving toward us, a state Senator and adoptive father said, “these kids were born as the result of incest, murder, rape, and robbery”. The damage done by opening these records could be “astronomical!” The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun referred to us as “adopted children” and warned passing the bill could “open Pandora’s Box”. The House and Senate recommended forming a committee for further study. They appointed my colleague Dr. Gordon Livingston as chair. Gordon, a late discovery adoptee and practicing psychiatrist from Columbia MD had testified in favor of the bill.
Then I received an appointment as the first adoptee to the Model Adoption Legislation and Procedures Panel in 1978. My belief that adopted people deserved equal treatment to non-adopted people contrasted with most panel member’s interest. They preferred to preserve secrecy, confidentiality, and the status quo. Nonetheless, the preamble to The Model Act read, “The adoption process shall treat all persons fairly, but the principle that adoption is a service for adoptees shall govern where rights are in conflict and compromise is not possible. And, under Title V. Records Subsection d “This subsection provides that the original birth certificate will be opened to the adoptee who has attained majority upon the adoptee’s simple request; no court order or intervention is required. Hence the adult adoptee may by right obtain information identifying his birth parents.” Still private adoption agencies, adoption lawyers, and parent groups coalesced with The National Counsel for Adoption to defeat The Model Act.
Finally, I presented testimony in 1997 opposing open record bills before The Maryland House and Senate that were so restrictive Adoptees in Search, Catholic Charities, and The Barker Foundation all testified against their passing. Though for different reasons.
The New York state legislature recently passed an equal rights bill. It gives people born and adopted there the same right to their OBC as non-adopted citizens. After voting, each delegate apologized for so long opposing the adoptees appeal for equality. I hope you believe time is right for giving people born and adopted in Maryland the same un restricted right to their OBC’s as non-adopted citizens They too seek equality. Please vote yes to pass SB0331. Thank you!