By Megan Marley
The Catholic Key
When the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act went into effect August 2016, birth parents and adoptees needed to be informed. But how? The state did not allocate resources for promoting it.
So the Birth Parent Communication Task Force was born.
“We want to be sure we’re doing our part to help spread the message, because Missouri was a mecca for maternity homes,” said Ashley Wohlgemuth, director of Education and Support at Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who organized the task force. The task force is made up of Catholic Charities’ and other adoption agencies’ representatives, birth parents, adoptees, and others passionate about spreading word and answering questions about the new law.
“Our goal is to notify as many people as possible about the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act,” Wohlgemuth said. “If you are an adoptee born prior to 1941, today you already have access to your original, unredacted birth certificate that would have your birth parents names on it. Or if you were born after 1941, you would have access January 1, 2018.”
“Now in both scenarios, birth parents have rights too,” she continued. The task force also answers questions from birth parents, helping them navigate contact preference forms, and even mailing forms to those who don’t have Internet access.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Birth Parent Contact Preference Form gives birth parents the options of choosing direct contact with the adoptee, contact through an intermediary, or no contact at this time. A Birth Parent Medical History Form is also sent with the contact preference form, so birth parents can provide medical history for the adoptee.
“For some of our birth parents, they just need the ability to process that information in a confidential manner,” Wohlgemuth said. She also explained that many birth parents are from a time when adoption was very secret, usually due to the stigma associated with being unwed and pregnant, and are dealing with how their information could be released to the adoptee after being promised it wouldn’t be.
So, how is the task force getting the word out?
Wohlgemuth said their approach is to blanket the community in many different ways, including hanging flyers, doing social media posts, and speaking with a wide range of individuals, organizations, attorneys and the media to help get the word out.
“If someone is interested in joining the task force, we’re welcome to volunteers! We meet once a month and decide what our focus is going to be, and everyone decides on different aspects of what we’re going to communicate to our new focus for the following month,” she said.
For forms, FAQ sheets and more on the rights of birth parents and adoptees under the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, visit health.mo.gov/data/vitalrecords/adopteerightsact.php, or contact the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at 573-751-6387 or online at www.dhss.mo.gov.
For more information on Catholic Charities or to volunteer on the task force, see www.catholiccharities-kcsj.org.