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The roots of Mother's Day

Posted at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (2 Comments)


Long before Mother's Day was a Hallmark card holiday, Julia Ward Howe suggested a day in which mothers stand together to proclaim peace.

In my work throughout the years as commmentator about motherhood issues, I have often highlighted her proclamation.

Mother's Day is this Sunday, May 11.

Julia Ward Howe had six children. It was 1870 when she wrote "The Mother's Day Proclamation for Peace."

Howe is the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She and her husband were friends with Abraham Lincoln. Together the three of them walked in a Civil War battlefield, still strewn with dead soldiers. As the Franco-Prussian War was beginning, Howe asked that women gather immediately to promote peace. She called her event "A Mother's Day for Peace."

On a Sunday in May in 1870 in a crowded assembly hall in Boston, Massachusetts, Julia Ward Howe read her proclamation.

Here it is:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or
of tears!

Say firmly:

We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage,
for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country
will be too tender of those of another country
to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.

It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of
war, let women now leave all that may be left of home
for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace,
each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God--

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and
and held at some place deemed most convenient
and at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
to promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
the amicable settlement of international questions,
the great and general interests of peace--

--Julia Ward Howe / Writer, Lecturer, Reformer / Boston 1870

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Youth speak up about civic involvement

Posted at 3:05 PM on May 5, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (1 Comments)

Last Tuesday night at the UBS Forum here at Minnesota Public Radio, about 40 teenagers gathered to talk about community and civic involvement. Civic involvement is the act of being involved in a community's policies and laws.

It's active participation as a citizen.

Minnesota Public Radio news analysts and researchers from The Humphrey Institute wanted to hear if teenagers want to be involved in their community and in their local governments.

The teenagers were from several high schools and community groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

We broke into small groups for an hour to discuss four approaches to civic involvement.

One approach was mandatory service. A teenager, perhaps upon graduation from high school, would be required to give a period of time (maybe a year?) to community service--a program like Americorps.

In the group that I was moderating, several kids said they were averse to anything that had "mandatory" in the title. But one young woman pointed out that if she didn't HAVE to do something, she probably wouldn't, even if she thought it was a good idea.

Another approach to civic involvement that we discussed was service learning. Service learning combines community service with classroom instruction. Students could serve as election judges in training, for example, and then reflect on those experiences as part of a broader curriculum. This approach is popular in some high schools. Students in my group said that service learning was the "fun part" of being in school and that they often got to go to new parts of the city or to an organization they had never heard of.

The small groups adjourned and we all met in the UBS Forum for the last hour of discussion. One teenager said he wanted to see elected officials make an effort to come to his neighborhood. He said "our governor and mayor have never come to our school or done anything to get to know us."

Zoe Haas is the program director of Youth Farm and Market Project in Minneapolis.

Her advice is to get involved right in your neighborhood.

"Start local. Meet your neighbors. Go to centers, and find out what's going on in your neighborhood. If they tell you they don't have a program for people your age, start something."

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Sandwich Generation caregivers

Posted at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (3 Comments)


"I can hold her hand and you can feel that there's something much deeper than words can ever express, so that's how we communicate. But she's slipping away."

Mary Louise Clary is describing what it feels like to be with her mom. Her mother has had Alzheimer's disease for more than 6 years. She still recognizes Clary, and they spend time together every day, holding hands.

Several years ago, Clary helped her mom and dad move from their home on Cape Cod back to Minnesota. Soon after that, she found a nursing home for her mom and helped her dad start his solo life at a townhouse across the yard from Clary's home.

Clary has a son in high school and one in college. She's recovering from breast cancer. She quit her job so that she could attend to her parents and be there for her boys. She's trying to take care of everyone and yet let them have their independence too.

Although she doesn't want to interfere with her dad's privacy every minute, Clary needs to know that he's okay. He gets Meals on Wheels every day. The meals come to a cooler that her dad puts out by his back step each morning. Clary can see the back door of her dad's townhouse from her kitchen window.

"So every morning I look out to see if the cooler's out there to see if he's okay so that I don't impose on him by constantly calling saying 'Dad, are you all right? Did you get up this morning?' But the cooler is the message," says Clary, "I know if the cooler's out, he's okay."

There are often tough decisions that caregivers need to make, while trying to help their parents feel like they're still in charge. Women like Mary Louise Clary are called Sandwich Generation caregivers. They are women in their forties and fifties, who are sandwiched between caring for their own kids, caring for their elderly parents, and often holding a full time job.

It's mostly women who are "sandwiched," according to Kathryn Ringham, a care coordinator for Eldercare Partners.

"Even when men are involved it's the women who tend to do the most challenging tasks related to caregiving," says Ringham, "The men typically get involved with the finances. They may be in the position to do some of the care coordination, whereas women are doing the dressing, the feeding and the more challenging personal care tasks."

When people start caring for their parents, they often underestimate how long the commitment will last. Kathryn Ringham says that many people imagine it will just be a year or two that they'll be helping their parents. But often it's four years, or eight years, or more.

In order to manage the extra time and energy involved in caring for elderly parents, social workers and professionals who work with caregivers want sandwich generation caregivers to seek out the resources that they need to stay healthy.

One of the strongest issues that's emerging is just the physical and emotional long-term consequences of being a caregiver," says Kathryn Ringham, "Caregivers have a higher percentage of alcoholism, of use of psychotropic drugs and medications. They experience higher anxiety, higher stress."

Ringham wants caregivers to know that they can find help with many of the physical needs that their parents have: a home health care nurse, or Meals on Wheels. They can also get counseling and support for themselves AND for their parents. They can get help with their parents' finances. Many of these services are based on ability to pay.

Within the next twenty years, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. And they will need care. 80% of care to elders is provided by family and friends, according to The National Alliance for Caregiving.

According to The National Institute on Aging, the U.S. will need a 40% increase - 20,000 additional - social workers who are trained in the needs of elders and their caregivers.

Professionals recommend that each family devise a caregiving plan. They say the conversation can begin casually, at the next family gathering, or by email.
And they say that caregivers need to recognize that they need help.

Resources:

Help Starts Here: from The National Association of Social Workers--(includes resource directory)

National Alliance for Caregiving

National Alliance for Caregiving: resource page

Eldercare Partners --services, intake and live phone staff, M-F business hours

Family Caregiving Center: University of Minnesota

AARP: Family Caregiving

Survey of Social Workers Finds Families Ill-Prepared for Care of Parents

The work of taking care of family produces stress on time, finances and emotions: Kate Hughes/ The Independent

Generation juggles children, parents: essay by Anne McGraw Reeves: Newhouse News Service: March 4, 2008

Working Couples Caring for Children and Aging Parents: Effects on Work and Well-Being

Caring for Your Parents: a PBS documentary (April 2008

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Grandpa remembers active duty

Posted at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (4 Comments)

Many grandparents are stepping in to raise their grandkids these days. Sometimes it's because the parents have been deployed.

Lloyd Lano and his wife Susan got to be full time grandparents a few years ago when his daughter was called for active duty in the Army.

His son-in-law was already serving in Afghanistan.

They brought their three grandsons, ages 7, 9 and 16, to live with them in Ramsey, Minnesota.

Lano himself was in the Navy for ten years. He's had three kids in the military. "Most of our family for generations has been either Navy or Marine Corps," he says proudly.

So when his daughter enlisted and then was called to active duty, he and his wife were happy to step in to "active duty" as grandparents.

"We had one in high school and we were going back to grade school stuff and Cub Scouts and that... things we hadn't done in years," Lano says with a laugh. It's obvious that he enjoyed his year as active duty grandpa.

Lano is retired from his work in the sound industry. He holds a job at Menard's "with all the other geezers" in his community.

I asked Lano if the kids were aware of the danger that their parents were in. He doesn't really think that it registered with them. He said that when you're a kid everybody's infallible and "nothin's going to happen."

Lano has lived a military life and told me there's a good chance that most people get out without a scratch. If he worries, he wasn't going to tell me about it.

Lano and his wife have raised a close-knit family. That year that they spent as custodial grandparents was valuable to all of them. They experienced the kinds of things that they remember experiencing as parents:

"We had one of 'em break his arm. Another one had a tooth extraction that wound up getting infected. It was like raising kids all over again."

Right now Lano's son-in-law is at Fort Bragg with the boys. Lano's daughter is serving in Iraq. She stays in touch with her boys by email and phone. They don't know how long she'll be there.

I asked Lano if they'd take care of the kids again. He says they're ready. "If Uncle Sam blows the bugle and my son-in-law has to go active again, either I will go down to Fort Bragg and stay with my grandkids or we'll bring them back up here again."

Lano credits his wife Susan as having "a knack with kids."

"She's the kid expert," Lano says, "She's really something else because she can have them eating out of her hand in two seconds." He remembers the way she'd get them to contribute to the household every day, doing dishes, taking out the garbage.

And Lano misses the boys now.

He had a special bond with each of them, but the sixteen-year-old was the one he gave the most attention to, because he was concerned that his oldest grandson would be the most vulnerable while his parents were gone. "He was a die-hard Vikings fan so I became an instant Packer Backer," remembers Lano. "When it comes right down to it I really don't know anything about football, but I just wanted to have that in common with him. I bought a Packers shirt and all that just to get it going."

And he misses how that grandson would shovel the sidewalk in the winter.

Lano brought me out to their backyard deck so I could see the American flag, with another flag hung below it. It's called the Blue Star Mother's Flag. There's a star for each son or daughter in the service. The Lanos' flag has three blue stars on it.

There's one for his daughter and one for his son-in-law.

And that grandson who shoveled the walks is now in the Army, too.


Resources:

Minnesota National Guard Family Network

Minnesota Veteran Families

Minnesota Military Family Foundation

When the Grandparents Raise the Kids: conversation with Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association


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Get ready for April Fool's Day

Posted at 4:38 PM on March 31, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (2 Comments)

April Fool's Day.

I want to call it the ultimate family holiday.

It's just an opportunity to horse around.

And you PROBABLY won't get in trouble for it.

What could be better than to shake up the daily routine with a few lighthearted pranks?

The roots of April Fool's Day are uncertain.

One theory is that when the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and the Julian calendar was no longer used, those who refused to go along with the change (or those who simply didn't know it had occurred) were called "April Fools."

In France a fool is sometimes called a "poisson d'Avril" (April fish). Pranksters would stick paper fish on a person's back.

In April in France there were an abundance of fish that swam in the rivers and streams. These were young fish that were easily lured and hooked. A person who was gullible to pranks was called a "poisson d'Avril."

Festus Fatuorum (the Feast of Fools) was observed in France. People would elect a "mock pope" and parade around, making fun of church rituals.

In Scotland, a fool is called an "April gowk" or "April cuckoo."

While I was researching the roots of April Fool's Day, I was tempted to just make up a few theories about how it got started... isn't that in keeping with the holiday?

Here are the household April Fool's pranks I have heard of (or been a part of...):

  • Filling the sugar bowl with salt.
  • Pouring ketchup in the coffee maker's filter before brewing the coffee.
  • Attaching a rubber band to the sprayer on the kitchen sink.
  • Balancing a small bucket or plastic bowl full of water on the top of a door.
  • Changing the clocks to the wrong time.
  • Setting alarms for the middle of the night.
  • Serving meatloaf cupcakes.
  • Putting vanilla pudding in a milk glass.
  • Removing all the batteries from the remotes.

Last Friday I went out to The Rondo Community Outreach Library and The Como Zoo to talk to people about how they celebrate April Fool's Day.

My vox pop (an audio collage of people's comments) airs on All Things Considered today.

Maybe we're all a little too tense about our jobs and the economy to celebrate April Fool's Day in the workplace. Creative Group of Menlo Park, California did a survey that found that most executives agree that pranks at work are not a good idea.

But Canada Newswire has a different story.

Evidently workopolis found that 46% of Canadians report that "pranks are accepted or encouraged in their workplace, and another 45% say that humour at work is used to alleviate pressure and control stress." But the Canadian article stresses that "humour gone wrong can hurt you in the long run."

The suggestion is that if you don't know how your coworkers (or your bosses) are going to react, it's better to not do a prank.

Maybe it's better to keep the pranks and the jokes at home.

What do you think?

What do you do for April Fool's Day?

What's the best (or worst) trick that's ever been played on you?

Resources:

Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes

Origins of April Fool's Day, from SNOPES

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Office Pranks for April Fool's Day? They May be no Joking Matter, Survey Says

Half of Canadian Workers Rely on Humour to Alleviate Workplace Stress

Ten Top April Fool's Day Links

"Colorful" (meatloaf!) Cupcakes

Spot the April Fool's Gags

The Guardian Book of April Fool's Day: Martin Wainwright

Writer's Almanac: More April Fool's History


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When grandparents step in to raise the kids

Posted at 8:59 PM on March 25, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (6 Comments)

The number of grandparents raising their grandchildren continues to rise.

In Minnesota, 48,000 children live in homes headed by grandparents. That number has more than doubled since the 1990's.

The Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association, a group that provides support to grandparents and kin who are raising grandchildren, says that the main reasons grandparents and other kin (aunts, uncles, cousins) are stepping in to take care of children are:


  • Alcohol and drug abuse

  • Child abuse and/or neglect

  • Mental health problems

  • Teenage pregnancy

  • Family violence

  • Unemployment

  • Incarceration

  • Abandonment

  • HIV/AIDS

  • Divorce

  • Poverty

  • Death.

Linda Hammersten is the program manager for GrandFamily Connection at Lutheran Social Service. She says that sometimes the grandparents haven't planned for this to be a permanent situation:

"The kids will be dropped off and told by the parents that they'll be back in a couple of days or a week," she says. "And they simply don't return."

Or maybe there's police intervention.

"The mother maybe had the kids in the car and is picked up by the police for a DUI," says Hammersten, "and the police will contact grandma and ask if she can come and get the kids. And she goes, of course."

Eight years ago in the United States there were 6 million children in informal custodial childcare arrangements, mostly with their grandparents.

In 2007, that number rose to 6.7 million.

Grandparents face many challenges when they bring their grandchildren to live with them.

They might spend a lot of money --even their retirement savings-- taking care of the basic needs of the kids.

It takes a lot of energy to keep up with children, and many grandparents find that they become exhausted from the day to day care.

Lugene Flores is raising her six granddaughters, who range in age from one to sixteen.

She gets up at four in the morning so that she can have a little time to herself, and to get a load of wash in the dryer before the day starts. Her granddaughters begin getting up at 5:30 and by 8:00 a.m. all the girls have left for school and she's heading out the door to drop the baby at day care. She works a full time job, but by 4:30 p.m. she's back home to start dinner and homework with all her grandkids.

"I drop into bed at 11 p.m. when everyone else is in bed," says Flores with a sigh.

Grandparents might feel isolated from their peers. They're strapped to a childcare schedule while their friends are traveling, going out to movies and concerts, and leading a child-free retirement.

Lugene Flores has a friend who headed off on a road trip to Colorado. "She just rubbed it in my face that she just has to get in the car and go because she doesn't have any kids at home anymore," said Flores.

And sometimes the adjustment from the traditional idea of being a grandparent--an adult who can visit, spoil the kids, and go home-- to a grandparent who needs to enforce discipline, provide for basic needs, and be completely responsible for the kids, is overwhelming.

In Minnesota, there are several groups that reach out to grandparents and other kin to help them feel supported in their work.

They offer support groups, legal information, and referral services to families who are learning to adapt to the needs of their grandkids, and themselves.

Sharon Olson has been a custodial grandmother for 14 years. She's the vice president of the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association board of directors.

MKCA wants lawmakers to know the problems that grandparent caregivers face.

Grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren don't always have access to the resources that foster families qualify for.

Olson says that grandparents need to work together to let the legislature know that they need resources for these children: medical assistance, counseling, and basic funds for food and shelter.

"It's our stories that finally push any changes through that we might be able to make," Olson says.

She's getting ready to go the Grand Rally in Washington D.C. on May 7, 2008.

Grandparents will gather together that day to connect with each other and to make their needs known.

There will be a Grand Rally on May 6 at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Do you know a grandparent raising a child?

What do they say are their challenges?


Resources:

The Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association

Legal Steps: Kinship Caregiver Resource Manual

Grandparent Programs, from Kidsource

GrandFamily Connection: Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Full Circle of Care: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Generations United

"How's the Family?" podcast: a conversation with members of the MKCA

Grand Rally, May 7, 2008--Washington D.C.

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New study says one in four teenage girls has STD

Posted at 5:40 PM on March 12, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (4 Comments)

One in four teenage girls in the U. S. has a sexually transmitted disease.

This statistic, from a first-of-its-kind study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 24 percent of girls ages 14 to 19 have at least one of four common STDs.

The STDs tested for were human papillomavirus (HPV), Chlamydia, herpes simplex, and trichomoniasis.

48 percent of African American teenage girls are infected with an STD. 20 percent of young white women are infected.

People who work in public health say that the startling infection rates show the need for more access to treatment, screening, and vaccination.

The CDC recommends that girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26 be vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can lead to cervical cancer.

About 50% of women who get cervical cancer die from it.

The HPV vaccine has been available and approved for girls for two years.

The same vaccine will be available for boys in 2009.

Some parents are skeptical that boys need vaccination. The vaccine is not yet approved for boys, and the Centers for Disease Control say it's not clear whether it will be effective in men or boys.

If it is, it might help prevent genital warts or cancers in men too.

The CDC calls it "herd immunity" when both sexes are vaccinated.

This new data is a wake-up call to parents and public health officials to be sure teenagers have access to comprehensive sex education.

What do you think?

Will you have your daughters (and next year, your sons) vaccinated?

Resources:

Planned Parenthood Sex Education Issues and Action

Centers for Disease Control Press Release

Wake Up Call for Health System

Vaccinating Boys for Girls' Sake?

Parents' sex ed center


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Teenagers need more sleep

Posted at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (4 Comments)

The high school student next to me on the bus this morning was falling asleep. We were zooming onto 94 East, heading toward St. Paul.

The sun was just rising over the Mississippi River. It might have been the heat blasting onto him, or the motion of the bus. His eyes closed. His head wagged forward.

As we pulled into downtown St. Paul, I started to worry he was going to sleep through his stop.

I nudged him and asked quietly, "Do you have to get off downtown?"

He looked at me blurrily and replied, "Yes."

Then, "Thank you."

I started thinking of my own son, who slept through his alarm this morning. Twice.

As a high school senior, he's hitting crunch time. This week he has several tests, an essay, and a senior recital.

Research tells us that teenagers need nine to ten hours of sleep per night.

But my son only gets seven hours, sometimes six.

As he jumps on his bike at 7:15 a.m. for an icy two-mile ride to school, I've always counted on the fact that the cold air and physical activity will wake him up.

According to The Nemours Foundation, an organization which supports clinical research for children and teens, a teenager's body programs itself to stay up later at night.

But that body needs to sleep later in the morning, too. When school starts at 8:00 a.m. (I was on the bus with that teenager at 7:30 a.m.), a student is bound to be tired for at least the first two hours.

The National Sleep Foundation says it's important for parents to enforce sleep patterns, especially with teenagers.

Getting enough sleep is the best thing teenagers can do for themselves.

Sleep deprivation is a national epidemic, according to The National Sleep Foundation.

Find out how much sleep a teenager needs.

And wake that kid up on the bus, so he doesn't miss his stop....


Resources:

Sleep Deprivation Undermines Kids' Health, Happiness, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Sleeping Habits of Teenagers, Kaboose

Risky Teen Sleep Habits Discussed, The Paly Voice

Clocks Spring Ahead, Bodies Stay Behind, Asbury Park Press

How much sleep does your teenager need? Kid's Health

Sleep Deprivation is a National Epidemic Wellspan Health


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Now's the time to plan summer schedules for kids

Posted at 4:15 PM on March 6, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (0 Comments)

It’s crunch time for parents right now.

It’s time to make summer plans for kids. Summer is many weeks away, but camps are filling up right now .

Most parents I talked to were feeling the strain of finances as they considered what their kids are going to do this summer.

At $300 to $1000 a week for a residential camp, it’s easy to see that options are limited for many families.

This Saturday, Minnesota Parent is offering a CAMP FAIR. Parents of school age kids can check out 35 different organizations that represent more than 100 summer day camps and residential camps.

Check out some “sleep away” camps. This is the list of American Camp Association's accredited camps. Camps accredited by the ACA have met standards of excellence in health, child development, and safety.

For households with two working parents, planning for safe, affordable care for kids this summer takes some effort. Single working parents have to do all the planning on their own.

There’s Minneapolis Kids, which has 12 month child care options for kids of all ages. There’s the Y’s Kids Club in St. Paul.

I heard some working parents dreaming of year-round school. Does it seem old fashioned that we still have three months off of school, when the reality is that many people work through the summer?

The Camp Fair will have some good resources for you this weekend if you’re still trying to figure out what your kids will do.

If you have kids, how are you doing on planning your summer ?

Is there some time built into the summer schedule to be with extended family?

Did Grandma and Grandpa say they’d love to have the kids for a week?

If you don’t have kids, have you ever brought your niece and nephew on a trip, or invited them to spend a week with you?

Resources:

Minnesota Parent Camp Fair

Y’s Kids Club--St. Paul

YWCA Girls and Youth Programs

Science Museum of Minnesota Summer Programs

Guthrie Theatre Summer Programs

Little House in the Big Fort Day Camp, Fort Snelling

Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp

YMCA Camp Iduhapi

Minneapolis Kids Day Camp programs


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When you're adopted, how do you find your birth parents?

Posted at 8:41 AM on March 4, 2008 by Nanci Olesen (11 Comments)

What do you do when you were adopted at birth and you want to find out who your birth parents are?

In Minnesota, you must first find the agency where your adoption took place. Sometimes this information is hard to track down.

And you have to pay for the adoption agency to do a search.

If new legislation passes in Minnesota this year, people who have been adopted would be able to get a copy of their original birth certificate when they turn 19. They wouldn’t need to go to the adoption agency to start a search for their birth parents.

Eight states have already passed similar legislation. There is a growing movement in Minnesota to allow people who have been adopted the right to their original birth certificate.

Until 1982 in Minnesota, there was no formal way for a woman who was putting her child up for adoption to say whether she wanted her child to know who she was when that child became an adult.

Since 1982, a birth mother has to sign an affidavit (scroll to Birth Parent - Permission to Release Original Birth Record to Child), which is a legal document provided by the Minnesota Department of Health in which the birth mother states her preference for future contact.

The birth mother can check a box for disclosure, indicating that the child can find out who the birth mother is, or non-disclosure, meaning that the child cannot find out who the birth mother is.

If the bill that’s just been introduced to the Minnesota Legislature passes, anyone who was adopted in Minnesota will be able to get a birth certificate, unless there’s an affidavit of non disclosure on file.

But all those birth mothers before 1982 didn’t sign anything, and many of them were led to believe that their identity would remain secret

“We get calls from birth mothers that just beg us and say, ‘This would just devastate my family and all the relationships that I’ve built since that time,’” says Madonna King, president of Children’s Home Society and Family Services, an adoption agency.

“The reason that people want it to be kept secret is because they believed the promise of confidentiality and they went forward,” she says. “Probably we are talking about women that are in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s-- that’s the group of women that we’re really concerned about."

The adoption agencies would like a clause in the new bill directing the Minnesota Department of Health to host an awareness campaign to let birth mothers know that if they don’t want their children to know their identity they should sign an affidavit indicating that they want non-disclosure.

Many of these women do not have access to the Internet and are not receiving information from the adoption agency they worked with. Many of them have indeed “gotten on with their lives” and the child they bore is a secret, sometimes to their current families and partners.

But the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform (MCAR) wants people who are adopted to be able to access their birth certificates. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the adopted person will try to make contact, although the adopted person might have medical and emotional needs.

“The foundation of adoption has been secrecy,” says Mary Mason, a leader of MCAR. “That secrecy was a part of shame, related most often to women not being married and relinquishing children in the past. That changed the whole system. Now we know we don’t need to have that paradigm of secrecy.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death for an adoptee who needs medical information. Sandy Sperazza is a birth mother who was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. She wanted her daughter to know. They were reunited a few years ago, and based on the information Sperazza gave her, her daughter had a preventive masectomy.

Sperazza says that her experience taught her that it’s imperative for an adoptee who wants to know his or her history to have the ability to access it.

The bill, HF 3371, goes into committee this week.

My report about this bill and its controversy will air on Wednesday March 5, on Morning Edition.

Resources:

For the Record: Restoring a right to adult adoptees: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

Give adoptees right to their identities: Minnesota Daily

Children’s Home Society and Family Services: Legislative Priorities

Lutheran Social Services post adoption information

Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform

As Adoptees Seek Roots, States Unsealing Records: USA TODAY

Bill No. 3371, introduced by Representative Kathy Tinglestad and Senator Ann Rest

Affidavit of Disclosure or Non-disclosure: PDF: Scroll to:
Birth Parent - Permission to Release Original Birth Record to Child

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