Many adoptions went through adoption agencies. The function of the agency is primarily to act as a liason between the adopting family and the birthparents.
If the agency is good, during pregnancy, the birthmother is supported in several ways. My birthmother received much counseling during her pregnancy from the agency, which attempted to help her make a decision about relinquishment with which she could be comfortable. Her social worker visited her monthly at the home for unwed mothers where she stayed and discussed the possible futures that lay before my birthmom. She was present when my birthmother had to sign the relinquishment papers, and even provided compassionate assistance to her after the adoption, and with potential employment help. I know not all agencies or social workers necessarily are like this, but I have seen extensive evidence that this social worker believed in my birthmother's potential and wanted to encourage her and build her self-esteem, and help her plan a future. I also later found out this lady went on to become president of a respected social work group. So to the late Renee Shenkin, thank you for seeing my birthmother through the hardest time in her young life, and for writing the history of my beloved birthmom.
The agency is also responsible for checking out the adoptive family. My adopted family went through numerous interviews with the agency to determine their fitness to be parents. Their income, lifestyle, and psychological profile were examined. My adoptive folks were also subject to getting "home studies" where the agency social worker would stop by to check out the house, the room prepared for me, and look around to see if all was well. Homestudies were performed every so often until the final one that was performed about 30 days before they got me. The social worker also noted my parents' preferences on a child- they wanted a girl, not a red head, because they wanted one who looked sort of like them. (They got gypped on this one!) I have no beef with my agency here- I got very cool adoptive parents. And when they got me, my folks were so grateful, I was almost named for this social worker, Judy.
The agency came and got me from the hospital when I was 5 days old. I was driven to the home of a foster mother where I lived for about two months. During this time I was visited and observed by a social worker in a "pre-adoptive study" to ensure my fitness for adoption. My foster mom made reports to the social worker, who observed everything about me- my ability to focus, my coordination, my sleep habits, what and how much I drank and ate, my personality- I have gotten these records and am amazed at what a pro this lady was in her ability to read babies. The foster mother was also a pro. I was one of over 100 infants she cared for over the years. I also met her, and she was a doll, very touched one of "her babies" came back. So thank you Emma Troutt, for writing the history of my babyhood that I never would have known, and thank you Mrs. Stanley Rothenberger, for your loving care until I finally went home.
Finally, I was picked up and driven to an agency office, where my parents came to get me, and I was on my way. I hope most agencies were and are as compassionate and professional as mine used to be.
Now, many agencies (including my old agency) make a good buck selling adoptees back their histories, and/or providing "search" services for adoptees and birthparents. There is good and bad in this. Obviously they have scads of info you don't, so they can theoretically help. If you want to ask for non-id or for search, it may very well cost you. My agency used to do this for free. They now charge based on a sliding-fee scale based on income. Many Catholic Charities will search too. Fees vary tremendously. The cheapest I have heard for search was $75 while the most expensive is my old agency charging someone who makes a decent income about $500. Ouch! That's extortion! Usually the justification is the hassle of file searching and then locating. One has to ask how much work goes into this- for Pete's sake, the web makes almost anyone findable, and they are holding a name, they know a family location, how tough is that usually going to be? The joke among the waiting is "they had to journey all the way to the file cabinet." It can be extremely frustrating for a birthparent or adoptee to know this person has the info right there, and they cannot find. These people are social workers, not private eyes, and unfortunately, it often shows, as the frustrated, web-savvy person sits there thinking, "Give me the info and I'll find in an hour."
One other thing you should know is that some agencies who are doing searches on behalf of birthparents have an internal policy of contacting the adoptive parents, not the adoptee. Probably they think they are being professional by dealing with their former client. They sure aren't giving any dignity to an adult adoptee. Maybe they're scared some ignorant adopting couple never was honest with their child about being adopted. It's policies like this and those fake amended birth certificates that allow some adoptees to go through much or all of life not knowing they are adopted, and working with a fake medical history. Talk about treating a human like an object! Recently I learned my old agency sat on $300 from a birthmom for a search because their policy was to contact the adoptive parents, not the (then 29 year old) adoptee. I don't know about you, but at 29, I'd be pretty annoyed if somebody asked my parents' permission for something pertaining to me. Anyhow, the now-adult adoptee had always been listed in the phone book. One adoptive parent died, the wife remarried and moved to Florida. Thus, the agency couldn't find the adoptive parents, while in a heartbeat they could have found the adoptee. Instead, they did nothing for six years. That stinks.
Nonetheless, let's face it, the agency has access we don't. They may be a route to take.
In requesting non-id on your "child" or birthparent, try asking for copies of originals with identifying info whited or blacked out. No, not so you can try to read it, but because it will likely be more rich in detail and interesting to read. Otherwise you are probably going to get a "summary" paragraph or two someone had to type up and didn't want to have to spend too much time on.
In any search, it's generally advisable to get as much non-id as you can afford from the agency and the county of finalization, but not to pay a dime for search until you have this. If then you can not find based on what you know plus this info, then maybe you need to get search help from the agency or county orphan's court. (The county is limited by law and will only do searches on behalf of an adoptee, not a birthparent, but some agencies will work on behalf of either. The birthparent still needs to go to the county of finalization anyhow to file a waiver of confidentiality.) It would be really smart for an adopted person to find out the cost of this from the agency and the county so you can maybe compare pricetags. Some PA counties will do it free, some charge. They often seem to be cheaper than an agency, but they also seem often to be slower. Think who you can work well with, who seems to deal with you best. While you wait you may go insane so you want someone you can like and respect, and not some power-hungry control freak behind the desk who gets off on making you beg for your birthweight or the occupations of the adopting family. Until PA stops putting searching adoptees and birthparents in this stupid, expensive, and paternalistic system of "confidential intermediaries" this is what you have to work with.
PENNSYLVANIA ADOPTION MAIN SEARCH MENU PAGE
PAFind EMAIL LIST - a FREE e-mail list of PA searchers helping one another.
STATE REGISTRIES AND POLITICS - Why neither are helping PA searchers much.
RELINQUISHMENT PAPERS - Like to see an example of PA relinquishment papers?
COUNTY OF FINALIZATION - Some county specific info. You need to find this out and it may not be where you think.
THE DECREE - Adoptee is adopted in the county of finalization, records now sealed. Want to see a decree?
FORMAL PETITION - Learn how some counties make it a bit harder.
NON-ID - Learn what it is, and how to ask for it.
WAIVERS OF CONFIDENTIALITY - File them!
PA ADOPTION LAW - the easy version or the actual wording.
ADOPTION GROUPS - known in PA that handle search, support, legislation or all three.
SEARCH BASICS - In addition to this whole site, here's a list of ways to search and try to be found.
PHONE CALL AND LETTER IDEAS - When you are close to making that respectful first contact.
SEARCH SUCKS! I NEED A *@$#! BREAK! - Take one, pal.
HIRING A SEARCHER OR PI? - Caveat emptor! Read some parameters and cautions.
THE UNIFORM ADOPTION ACT or UAA - Learn more about "The Evil Act". Coming to PA or your state?
CITY PAPER - Coverage of adoption search, law and the UAA in PA.
PERSONAL ESSAY - on adoption with info for all sides of the triad.
REGISTRIES AND GENERAL (NON-PA) ADOPTION STUFF - links to varied good places.