Search Contact and Reunion Services
Adoption Search Contact and Reunion Services (ASCRS) are designed to enable people that have been separated from birth relatives to reconnect.
The services consist of two components:
- The Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry (MCVAR)
- Search Services
The first component of ASCRS is the Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry, also called “the registry”. This is a passive listing of adult adoptees, birth parents and birth siblings that are looking to reconnect. When an ASCRS application is received the information is entered into MCVAR. If a match is found it is first verified to confirm the connection; then both parties are notified and contact is facilitated. The registry has been in place since 1986 and has over 4,100 names in it, however there are not many matches made.
The second component of ASCRS is search service. This is when efforts are made to identify, locate and engage the sought individual. There are a few alternative approaches to identifying relatives. The most direct way is by finding the adoption record. If the adoption was facilitated by an agency then the organization’s records usually have identifying information. The process is expedited when the facilitating agency is known.
Some adoptions are not facilitated by an agency but rather an independent lawyer. In this circumstance the court record generally has needed information to identify birth relatives. There are many jurisdictions in Maryland. Each one has its own way of categorizing and storing adoption records. It is very helpful when registrants are able to identify the court where the adoption was finalized and the adoption case number.
If the court record is not able to be found or it does not have the requested information then the final alternative to identify birth relatives is to find the original or amended birth certificate. When a person is adopted their birth certificate is amended with the adopting individuals listed as the parent(s). Birth parent(s) are listed on original birth certificates and adoptive parent(s) on the amended birth certificate.
Once a record is found the search is assigned to a Confidential Intermediary (CI). CIs are trained specifically to do adoption search contact and reunion work. They are taught to prepare registrants for the outcomes that may arise. CIs are authorized to access sealed records so they can identify people in order to facilitate contact. CIs are able to identify, locate and engage people that are sought.
When a search is assigned to a CI, the registrant is sent a letter identifying the CI. The search process does not start until the registrant contacts the CI and initiates the search. The CI will have the registrant enter into a service agreement, which is where the registrant indicates what is outcome is desired regarding the services provided by the CI. Maryland is a mutual consent state. People have the right to agree to the release of information or to decline. If a person declines, the CI is prohibited from trying to persuade the person to agree. Although confidentiality is maintained in death; CIs are able to contact other birth relatives to determine interest in contact when the initial birth relative is found deceased.
The application consists of several documents. The application form is for identifying information. The registrant is encouraged to provide as much information as possible. Anything that is not known can be left blank. A consent form is required that needs to be notarized. The registrant must send a copy of a photo ID with a signature (a driver’s license or a passport). A survey is required so the Department of Human Services can determine the demographics of those requesting ASCRS. To access forms go to the Application Forms section.
There are no fees charged by the Department of Human Services for ASCRS. There is no fee to be entered into MCVAR and Local Departments of Social Services do not charge for search services. Private agencies may charge for search services in accordance with the established fee schedule. Some private agencies will accept reduced fees, some waive the fees. It is not possible to know if a fee will be required or what the amount will be until after the ASCRS application is processed. To request a reduced fee an applicant may complete a FEE WAIVER FORM. This form must be submitted with supporting documentation.
Sometimes registrant’s just want non-identifying information, or medical information. The medical information available will vary depending on what was recorded at the time of the adoption and if there was an agency involved. Non-identifying information may be requested directly from the agency that facilitated the adoption. If the registrant does not know which agency facilitated the adoption an application for ASCRS is required.
Laws were passed to protect the confidentiality of birth parents, adoptees and adoptive families. Documents relating to adoptions and birth certificates for adoptions were sealed as of July 1, 1947. CIs are able to review sealed records to enable them to provide ASCRS; however they are not able to release these to registrants. If an adoptee wants an original birth certificate she/he can petition the court to authorize the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to release this document. For adoptions that were finalized after January 1, 2000, original and amended birth certificates may be issued to adoptees or birth parents once the adoptee turns 21 years old.
ASCRS are available for those involved in adoptions that were finalized or initiated in Maryland. MCVAR registration is available to adult adoptees (at least 21 years old), birth parents, and birth siblings (at least 21 years old). Search services are only available to adult adoptees, birth parents and birth siblings (who have been adopted themselves). Parental rights must have been voluntarily terminated for birth parents to request search services. Search services are provided directly to registrants. They are not available to relatives, spouses, friends or affiliates of adoptees. Third party agencies are not able to request services.
The timing of searches varies. It depends on the information available and the willingness to engage. If the record can be found, individuals identified, located, and if those sought are willing to engage, the process can be facilitated quickly. Difficulty finding records can deter progress and people’s willingness to be involved will slow or all together prevent connection.
ASCRS are a highly emotional endeavor. While a tremendously beneficial experience, the adoption process can have many conflicting aspects. People going through the ASCRS process are encouraged to be aware of the potential fluctuations of emotions throughout and to seek assistance if needed. Registrants can seek individual assistance or group help. There are some group resources available through private agencies in Maryland. None of the groups require the adoption to have been through the agency providing the group. Although two of the agencies are faith based, neither require that group participants share their beliefs. The support groups are for adoptees and birth family members navigating the process of adoption contact and reunion.
If people do not want contact it is their right to decline. For adoptions that were finalized after January 1, 2000 a disclosure veto can be completed that specifies that contact is not to be made. Disclosure vetoes are able to be rescinded if the person changes his/her mind. Disclosure Vetoes are maintained by the Department of Human Services.
All ASCRS are coordinated through The Department of Human Services. For more information contact:
Jeffrey O’Donnell, LCSW-C
Department of Human Services
Social Services Administration
Adoption Search Contact and Reunion Services
311 West Saratoga Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201