LAW

A quest for blood ties

ANN WALMSLEY May 20 1985
LAW

A quest for blood ties

ANN WALMSLEY May 20 1985

A quest for blood ties

LAW

James Blackman says that he was dissatisfied with the limited information his adoptive parents were able to provide on the identity of his natural mother. As a result, last November the 34-year-old dispatcher with a medical supply and service firm in Malton, Ont., asked the Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto (CASMT) for information on the unknown 28-year-old woman who gave him up for adoption when he was six months old. But time is running out for Blackman and other Ontario adoptees. The reason: as of July 1, a new law will prevent the province’s 51 children’s aid societies from releasing details that could lead adoptees to their natural parents. The societies are already prohibited from divulging names of natural parents, but previously available information about occupations, hobbies and personal characteristics will also remain confidential under the new law. Declared Blackman, who has still not received any information: “I need to know why I was given up. Was it for selfish reasons or was it a loving, caring decision?”

Many adoptees and natural parents alike have denounced the law, part of Ontario’s new Child and Family Services Act which was passed in December under then-community and social services minister Frank Drea. Declared Joan Marshall, president of the Ottawa chapter of Parent Finders, a volunteer organization that helps to reunite natural parents and adult adoptees: “Cabbage Patch dolls would be given more information than Ontario adoptees.” Indeed, the 160 information requests per month received by the CASMT since December-more than five times the previous monthly average—caught the attention of Robert Elgie, Ontario’s new minister of community and social services. As a result of reaction to the law, last month Elgie appointed Ralph Garber, dean of social work at the University of Toronto, to review the legislation. Said Garber, who will present his findings in October: “The law is too repressive or limiting.” He added that he will likely recommend that nonidentifying information be made available to adoptees and natural parents.

The new legislation resulted from a January, 1983, ruling by county court Judge Gordon Killeen in London, Ont. Killeen ruled that adoptee Elizabeth Ferguson, 56, who was seeking information from court files about her natural parents, had no right to that information. He further commented that even

the release of any nonidentifying information about the woman’s natural parents would violate the confidentiality guaranteed to them under the Child Welfare Act. Under the new law, which seeks to make Killeen’s decision uniformly binding in Ontario, children’s aid societies may disclose nonidentify-

ing details to adoptive or natural parents only when the child is placed in an adoptive home. Further disclosures, involving the natural parent’s medical history, are allowed only if the child’s health is at risk. And the current practice of requiring the written consent of adoptive parents before reuniting adoptees and natural parents who have independently applied to the community and social services ministry will be continued. Said Marshall: “Where else in our society does a 40-year-old need his parents’ consent for anything?”

But according to Gerald Duda, execu-

tive co-ordinator of policy development for the ministry, the aim of the legislation is to protect both adoptive and natural parents. Duda said that the government had to consider the rights of adoptive parents, who must be allowed to decide whether the children who have effectively become theirs should meet parents who gave them up for adoption. As well, the privacy of natural parents, who can all too often be identified by adoptees from nonidentifying information, must be protected. Said Frank Drea last December: “In a big city, certain information would not identify the birth mother. But in a small town it could be a neon sign with an arrow pointing to the innocent party.”

Authorities in other provinces, where adoption laws have become more liberalized, argue that Drea’s argument is flawed. Linda Ens, for one, adoption coordinator for Saskatchewan’s social service department, declared: “You are very careful in providing information. If you state that the parent had a university degree, you do not say what it is.” Indeed, in 1982 Saskatchewan created its Post Adoption Intermediary Service, through which adoptees may request the department to initiate a search for their natural parents. Since then authorities have successfully arranged 185 meetings between children and willing parents.

For their part, many adoptees say that, as well as helping them to decide if they will trace their parents, nonidentifying information can be critical to their self-image. Declared Marshall, who in December, 1983, was reunited with her mother: “Some people feel they do not fit into an adoptive home, that they have a different temperament. They are looking for the genes that make them so unique.” In fact, the CASMT now has 900 information requests on file and has said that it cannot guarantee a response to applications received after March. As well, children’s aid society officials across Ontario have indicated that they, too, are nearing the saturation point.

Meanwhile, pending the outcome of Garber’s review, society officials are looking at ways of releasing nonidentifying information when the new law takes effect. George Caldwell, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, said that since the adoptee’s health will help determine if information should be released, officials might include mental health in that category. That suggestion is welcomed by 26-year-old adoptee Holly Kramer, a volunteer with Parent Finders in Toronto. Although Kramer met her natural mother in 1979, she remembers the feeling of not knowing anything about her past. Said Kramer: “It is like having a synthetic history—as if you

were hatched.”

ANN WALMSLEY