September 14, 2015

What You Can Do To Support Adoptee Rights
An Interview with Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

Deanna: Karen, I admire your work with Access Connecticut Now, and am eager to have a conversation with you today to find out latest development. First times, things get discouraging. Do you believe there any hope for adoptee rights?

Karen: In a word, Yes!
Karen Caffrey, LPC, JC

If you’re an adoptee born in the United States, chances are that you do not have the legal right to obtain a copy of your true, original birth certificate or any records or documents related to your birth.  We adoptees have the misfortune to be living in an era where shame and stigma surrounding our conception and birth has been codified into law in most states.  

But we are also fortunate to be living at the end of this era.  A small but growing number of states are changing these laws to allow adult adoptees access to their birth identities.  These legal changes have typically occurred as a result of advocates clawing their way through a miasma of myth and misinformation that infects the general public’s understanding of adoption.  

Adoptees have been isolated from each other as a result of the cloud of pretense that fogs our very existence, covering the underlying shame and stigma.  For years we were supposed to “pass” as non-adopted.  Or buy into the myth that we were “special”.  Why would we need to gather, to share our stories, to share in the strength of our numbers?  What, for heaven’s sake, could we have to complain about?  Never mind raising our voices, organizing, shaking our fists and lobbying…

(If you’re a regular reader of Deanna’s blog you know the answers to these questions.) 

Deanna: Why do you believe it is taking so long to get adoptee rights laws passed?

Karen: A while back one of my fellow advocates and I were brain storming around the challenges we face.  Suddenly he said, “If only our cause were more emotionally simple, you know, like ‘Kittens Deserve Milk!’ Who could disagree with that?”  We imagined the groundswell of support that would arise.  We saw the flocks of supporters who would come to our meetings, write their legislators, and contribute their funds.  We envisioned thousands of people chanting, posters held high above their heads on the steps of the Capitol.  “Kittens Deserve Milk! Kittens Deserve Milk!”  We laughed.  We sighed.  Then we got back to work.

If you’ve had even a single conversation about adoptee rights with anyone besides a fellow advocate, you are well aware of how the myth, misinformation, emotional complexities and outright hostility we encounter make us long for our mythical kitten constituents.  

Unfortunately our “enemies” are legion, and reside both inside and outside of us.  Shall I name a few?  

·        There must be something wrong with me for wanting to know my birth identity.  I must be maladjusted/crazy/sick.

·        I must be a bad/ungrateful/selfish daughter/son to even consider hurting my adoptive parents this way.

·        I have no right to invade my birth mother’s privacy.  I am selfish to even consider it.

·        Why can’t I just leave well enough alone?  (Answer:  Because I am bad/ungrateful/sick/selfish.)

(I have had people say ALL of these things to me.)  

Add on top of this the run-of-the-mill fears and challenges that many social justice advocates grapple with:

·        I’m just one person.  One person can’t make a difference.

·        Politicians are corrupt.  Why should I waste my breath trying to get them to listen?  They don’t care anyway.

·        Politics is all about highly paid lobbyists and special interests. I don’t want to dirty my hands.  

With these kinds of impediments, it’s a wonder we’ve gotten anything done!

Deanna: Who should pay for us to get our rights back?  

Karen: Among adoptees, I’ve also noticed a suspicion of being used around money that may exceed that of the “average bear”.  Perhaps it’s due to feeling like we were treated as a purchased  commodity early in life.  And in today’s environment where the for-profit adoption industry abounds, adoptees have a particular right to be suspicious of potential abuses around money.  

So who should pay for us to get our rights back?  Our parents?  The government?  Adoption agencies?  Frankly, none of these entities are going to pay.  But more to the point, why should they?  Do we really want to take the stance that we are owed a special privilege that entitles us to have other adults pay our way?  

We are no longer children.  We can’t be claiming we deserve the same rights as other adults if we are not willing to shoulder the same adult responsibilities.  

Deanna:  I'm glad you've shared this, Karen. It's definitely needed and timely. Many people may wonder how much their one contribution will accomplish. So let me throw this question out there to you...for the person out there who thinks that -- how much good can any one of us do?  

Karen: John Wesley exhorts us to do all the good we can.  Yet not all of us can give the kind of time, money and energy that is devoted by the most active, “in the trenches” advocates.  When I donate to a cause, I am so grateful that there are people willing to actively do the work that I don’t have the time or the skill to do.  I have a friend who works in Africa building kitchens and serving meals to orphaned children.  I’ve chosen not to do this with my life at this time, but I’m grateful that I can help HER do it.   

Hundreds of years ago the English writer John Heywood immortalized the phrase, “many hands make light work.” I’m sure all of you have causes you support in various ways and with various levels of energy.  We can’t do all the work that needs to be done in the world and take care of ourselves, as well.  So the question becomes whether a collective group of people can offer their “hands“, so that the strength of the crowd allows the good work to become possible.   

Deanna: What good has been done so far?

Karen: About a year and a half ago, Deanna graciously allowed me to post here on the topic of advocacy, and my personal journey from devastation to empowerment.  Since then, in my home state of Connecticut the efforts of our adoptee rights group led to the passage of a partial access bill.  As a result of that law, on July 1, 2015 any adult adoptee born and adopted in Connecticut after October 1, 1983 has the right to get a copy of their true, original birth certificate. That’s the first time in forty YEARS that any adoptee in our state can get their original birth certificate as a matter of RIGHT under the law!

Deanna: What did this good cost?

Karen:  Blood and treasure.

Through incredible synchronicity and hard work, the energy of thousands of individuals was marshaled to restore this right to adult adoptees.  Our supporters gave of their time and came to meetings, called and wrote their legislators, spoke to their friends and families (who in turn reached out to their legislators), and obtained endorsements from professional organizations (by attending their meetings, reaching out to their members and talking with their leaders).  We had supporters from local churches and clergy, lawyers, and adoption professionals.  

Hundreds of legislators and government officials read our information and listened to us.  Some of them helped us draft several iterations of the proposed bill.  They spent time with us, thought about our issue, and discussed it with their own friends and family.  We met with the Governor’s office, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Commissioners of the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Public Health, the Probate Court Administrator’s Office and their staffs and attorneys.  

TV reporters came to our events with their camera crews and televised interviews with our supporters.  Journalists interviewed us, wrote articles, talked with their editors and published stories.  People wrote letters to their editors, and posted on blogs, Face book and Twitter.  Advocates all over the country advised us, shared their experiences and supported our efforts through emails, Facebook posts and phone calls.  

Many, many people sent $5, $10, $50 dollars or more.  We received anonymous $1000 matching grants and $7000 in grants from the American Adoption Congress.  We used these funds to hire an experienced lobbyist who cared, listened to us, learned about our issue and used his skills and experience to help us.  

Thousands of people combined their energy, their “hands”, and got the job part way done.

We want to finish the job.  We are going back to the legislature in a few months to try to get the law extended to the pre-1983 adoptees who weren’t covered by the law that was passed.     
There’s a great scene in the classic 1975 movie “Jaws”, when Sheriff Brody first sees the massive shark lunging out of the water right next to Captain Quint’s boat.  Backing up in shock, he tells the Captain, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”  As it turns out, they didn’t need a bigger boat.  They had enough grit, determination and yes, luck, to get the job done.

We’ve got the boat.  We’ve got the grit and determination.  (And the structure, organization and connections.)  

Deanna: What more do we need?

Karen: We need YOU.  We need the tangible support of adoptees like you, in any one of the following ways:

1.      A donation to our crowd funding campaign, which continues through October 7.  Frankly this is our most immediate, pressing need to ensure we can pursue our legislative efforts.  We invite you to take a few moments to watch our moving video and read the information about our work.  (Our financials are transparent and can be viewed on our website.)   

2.    Sign up for our email newsletter, so you can keep up to date with our activities and help in ways that fit best for you and your available time and energy level, especially as the legislative session gets underway.

3.    Please let us know if you are a member of a United Church of Christ church. The Connecticut Conference of the UCC is considering an Adoptee Rights Resolution at its annual meeting on October 23-24, 2015.  We are meeting with many UCC churches and are garnering support for the Resolution.  If it passes in Connecticut it will be considered by the UCC General Synod in 2017.  The moral and practical impact on adoptees throughout the United States if the UCC adopts this Resolution is immense.

And if you believe prayer, please pray for us.  

Deanna: You can count on it. 

Access Connecticut Now, Inc. is a non-profit, grassroots adoptee rights organization working to restore the right of ALL Connecticut adoptees to obtain a copy of their true, original birth certificate.  Visit them at, on Facebook and Twitter.  Karen Caffrey is the President of the organization.