Helen I. Morgan
Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts
Lawrence County Government Center
New Castle, PA 16101
Postmarked April 27, 2001
[There was no letter, just a brochure about Access to information about adopted individual ands location of birth parents.]
PA Law and Practice
Court of Common Please of Lawrence County
Family/Orphans’ Court Division
It reads as follows:
The court adoption records are NOT open for anyone to read or to copy.
All court records pertaining to adoption are impounded (sealed) and are not available to the public. The information in those records may only be made available under certain circumstances set forth in the statute 23 PA. C.S. A. 2905
The court MAY release some of the information in the adoption file.
A petition (a letter to the Family/Orphans’ Court Judge) maybe sent (filed with) to the judicial district in which the permanent records relating to the adoption have been impounded (sealed.) the court may reveal information to theadopted person about his/her adoption but, by Pennsylvania law, may not revealany information that would endanger the anonymity of the birth parents.
Non-identifying information may be provided by the court.
Non-Identifying information typically requested and provided by the court include:
The nationality of the birth parents The religion of the birth parents The status of marriage of the birth parents at the time of birth The age ofthe birth parents The medical histories of the birth parents’ families
Any adoptee who is at least 18 years or older may “petition” the court for this information.
For an adoptee less than 18 years of age, his or her adoptive parent or legal guardian may petition the court.
It is possible for the adoptee to learn the identity of the birth parents and to search for them.
Under the law of Pennsylvania, the court may, upon the review of the petition filed by the adopted person, appoint an agent to locate the birth parents and to convey to those parents the reasons why the adopted person desires to contact each of them. The agency will use best efforts to locate the birth parents but, given the passage of time, it may be impossible to find the current location of many of these individuals. The court can NOTorder the birth parents to respond to the agent.
The court entrusts the agent with the responsibility of making contact or attempting to make contact with the birth parents. If the birth parents refuse to accept the offer to communicate with the agent or with the adopted person, THE SEARCH STOPS. The court will not order that a reunion occur if the birth parent has not consented.
This is the public policy elected by the law of Pennsylvania. Traditionally, this law has protected the birth parent’s anonymity and will continue to so unless the birth parent expresses a positive willingness to have a contact made with a child who was released for adoption many years ago.
The court and the agent appointed may refuse to contact the birth parents if it is believed that, under the circumstance, there would be a substantial risk that persons other than the birth parents would learn of the adoptees existence in relationship to the birth parents.
THE AGENT APPOITNED BY THE COURT
Only one of two agencies may be appointed by the court to serve as locating agent.
Under the law, the court must appoint either the county’s children and youth agency or a private agency which provides adoption services in accordance with standards established by the Department of Public Welfare.
If possible, the court will appoint as agent the adoption agency or successor, which handled the adoption of the person seeking information or contact with the birth parents.
In most cases, the adoption agency who worked with the birth parents and adoptive parents is selected to serve as the adoptee’s agent.
In most cases, the agency’s file contains more information than does the official court record. The search for non-identifying information and location of parents is usually more efficient, economical, and successful when these records are available.
If a person was adopted privately (not through an adoption agency) the court will still appoint one of the agents approved by law.
The court will appoint either the county children and youth agency, or a private agency, to conduct the search even if neither of these agencies were the adoption agency.
Even though the appointed agency may not have the files on the adoption in question, the agent will review the court records and track down leads from the information disclosed there.
It is often more difficult to search for birth parents when an adoptee has been adopted privately, as there is often little information available.
THE COURT MAY NOT APPOINT AN INDIVIDUAL, SUCH AS A LAWYER OR A PRIVATE DETECTIVE, TO MAKE CONTACT WITH THE BIRTH PARENTS.
The adoptee may make a request directly to the agency that place the adoptee to contact his or her birth parents. The agency may, however, ask the adoptee to obtain a court order.
Certain restrictions apply upon the agency that placed the adoptee when the adoptee requests information about birth parents.
Any information given by the adoption agency to the adopted person must be done in accord with the PA law as discussed above. That is, only non-identifying information may be revealed from the agency files.
AGAIN, THE ADOPTEE WILL BE UNABLE TO MAKE CONTCT WITH THE BIRTH PARENTS IF THOSE PARENTS DO NOT CONSENT TO THE CONTACT.
A letter (Petition) to the Family/Orphans’ Court division ofthe court which handled the adoption is sufficient to begin the procedure of asearch for one’s birth parents.
The letter (Petition) should contain the following:
The adoptedname of the person The countyof the adoption The birthdate of the adoptee Theadoption, if known The file number of the adoption, if known
It should also contain current information about the adopted person:
Current name, address, telephone number, social security number of the searchingadoptee Reasons whythe adopted person is interested in seeking non-identifying information, or in having a agent appointed to search for the birth parents.
If there is sufficient information to locate a file in the county records and a file on the particular adoptee is located, the court will issue a court order appointing an agent to serve on behalf of the adopted person to search for and/or make contact with the birth parents.
THE COURT ORDER
The court order means that the agent who is named in that order has permission to examine various files and records in the courthouse andelsewhere.
The agency will have permission to contact the birth parents to determine whether or not the birth parent is willing to make contact with the adopted person.
Not all information in the record/file will be required to be given.
The agent is obligated to exercise discretion to assure that the anonymity of the birth parents is protected unless and until the birth parents choose otherwise. That means that certain kinds of information in the record which could be used by someone to violate that trust will not be given out without permission by the birth parents. The agent, will, however, be able to give out non-identifying information as it sees fit.
A copy of the court order appointing an agent will be sent to the adopted person and to the agency which has been appointed.
The agency will send a letter to the adopted person within a matter of a couple of weeks after receiving the court order acknowledging that it will be in further contact with the adopted person. In a subsequent letter or telephone contact, the agency will explain to the adopted person the procedures involved and the costs. The agency may ask the adoptee to prepare a biography and to verbalize the reasons motivating the search. The agency will schedule an interview in person or by telephone so as to become acquainted with the adoptee.
THE AGENT AND THE ADOPTEE
It is necessary that the agent interview the adoptee.
It is important for the agent to be able to describe facts about the adopted person to the birth parents with accuracy and sensitivity.
Counseling is provided by the agency appointed by the court.
The process of a search for birth parents may take a long time and can be emotional for everyone involved. The agency have all be licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and they are all trained, professional counselors. The counseling dimension helps the agent getto know the adoptee and helps the adoptee prepare for the course of a search and the eventual outcome.
In Lawrence County, there is a fee associated with thefiling the petition.
A fee of $ 5 (money order payable to Helen I. Morgan) is assessed to defray the cost of attempting to locate the file of the adoptee.($ 18.00 money order payable to Gateway Commerce Center.)
Each agency has its own policy regarding any fee charged for the costs incident to the search.
You will be notified of the agency appointed to conduct the search. You may speak directly with that agency regarding their fee schedule(s).
OTHER INFORMATION TO KNOW
Even if the agent reaches a dead end in its search for the requested information, that does not mean that the adopted person will never ever find his or her birth parents.
The court order will continue to be in effect and the agency will maintain the file. On occasion, the agency may receive new leads or information from the birth parents’ families that will make it possible for a search to be reinstituted. Sometimes, birth parents who are not willing to make contact with the adopted person when first presented with the option change their minds. Updated information in the agent’s files can make possible a reunion which may have seemed unlikely when the search was instituted.
If you are a birth parent or a member of a birth family of an adoptee:
You can submit letters expressing a willingness to be contacted by an adoptee to the court. Such letters will be placed in the court file and will also be sent to the agency which handled the adoption.
You cannot, under Pennsylvania, petition the court to make an appointment of an agency to search for and contact the adoptee.
If you are a birth parent or a member of a birth family of an adoptee and wish only to make medical information available to the adopted person:
You can submit letters disclosing the medical information and the names of doctors may be filed with the court. Such letters will be placed in the court file and will also be sent to the agency which handled the adoption.
The information will be made available to the adoptee if the adoptee ever contacts the court of the agency.
IF THERE IS A GENUINE MEDICAL CRISIS INVOLVING AN ADOPTEE OR A BIRTH FAMILY MEMBER:
The court will promptly review the matter presented and order the course of action it deems to be appropriate under the circumstances.
PLEASE NOTE: THE LAWS PERMITTING ADOPTED PERSON TO SEARCH FOR THEIR BIRTH PARENTS ARE NOT THE SAME IN EACH STATE.
Petitions should be sent to:
Court of Common Pleas
Family/Orphans’ Court Division
Lawrence County Government Building
New Castle, PA 16101
This information reproduced from the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas brochure on adopted person and the location of their birth parents. January, 1993.
2-24-99 Response from Dominick Motto, Judge, Court of Common Pleas
Lawrence County Government Center
New Castle, PA 16101
In response to your letter dated Feb 15, 1999, I am enclosing herein the information packet that we provide to anyone requesting information from the adoption files, which I believe will answer all of the questions contained in your letter.
Relative to releasing identifying information, our Court requires a petition, in which case the Court will appoint a third party to make contact will all interested parties to determine if the information is to be exchanged or contact to be made.
If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Judge Dominick Motto enclosed information on the PA Adoption Medical Registry and a copy of the PA Adoption Law.