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Missouri adoptees waiting months to see original birth certificates

Posted at 3:14 PM, Jul 05, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After celebrating a major victory in 2016, thousands of people adopted in Missouri are facing a new roadblock in their quest to see their original birth certificate in hopes of finding their biological parents and siblings and learning their health history.

Adoptees have two birth certificates. Their original birth certificate has the names of their biological parents. A second birth certificate is created when the child is adopted listing the child's adoptive parents. 

For 75 years original birth certificates were sealed in Missouri. However, in 2016, Missouri State Rep. Don Phillips sponsored the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act. It passed, giving adults who were adopted in Missouri the right to get a copy of their original birth certificate. The very legislation that provided the solution for adoptees resulted in another hurdle for adoptees.

Since the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act passed, more than 5,000 adults adopted in Missouri paid the fee and completed the paperwork with the Missouri Vital Records Bureau to get a copy of their sealed original birth certificate. 

In 2016 and 2017, the Vital Records Bureau in Missouri only had two full-time employees dedicated to searching the records to find adoptees' original birth certificates. Fulfilling applications typically takes four to six weeks but with the flood of applications, some adoptees have been waiting almost a year and they have no idea when they will find out if Vital Records was able to find a copy of their original birth certificate.

Danny Muchmore, of Cass County, is one of thousands of people adopted in Missouri who completed his paperwork nine months ago. He is extremely frustrated that he is still waiting. Muchmore is asking for the state to add additional people to handle the massive backlog of requests.

"There's been an overwhelming need, I understand. But we need to as taxpayers, we need to change this process now in order to fulfill the needs," said Muchmore.

Kerri Tesreau, Director of the Missouri Division of Community and Public Health, oversees Vital Records Bureau. She explained that finding adoptees' original birth certificates is similar to a treasure hunt.

"They (adoptees' original birth certificates) were sealed to be kept private for an eternity so there's not an easy process to find them," said Tesreau.

Information on each application contains clues that workers use to track-down information that could lead to the file number of the original birth certificate. Researchers use books listing every birth in the state, county records and even microfilm.   

"This is difficult work and you have to have trained individuals so I can't just grab two or three people from another unit. We've tried," Tesreau said.

Birth parents can prohibit access to their original birth certificate by filing a preference form so researchers must also determine if a preference form has been filed with each request.

Since January, Vital Records added six part-time researchers to tackle adoptee birth certificate requests and some researchers work weekends.     

"We know how important this is to adoptees and we want to get them the answers they need. In every case, we are exhausting every possible avenue because we do not want to send a letter that we could not find the original birth certificate when if we had simply continued to follow leads we may have been able to find it," Tesreau said.

Dr. Randall Williams is Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. He is the head of the Missouri Division of Community and Public Health and the Vital Records Bureau. Williams said in January 2019, he will ask Missouri lawmakers for additional funding to hire more full-time employees to specifically handle adoptee birth certificate requests.

"Yes, is this a challenge; but it's a wonderful challenge and we will work it out and get them to people as soon as possible," said Dr. Williams.

State Rep. Don Phillips encouraged adoptees to be patient.

"We know, if that birth certificate is there, it's a matter of when and not if they're going to get it. So you know, a little bit of patience goes a long way," said Phillips.

But adoptees are anxious for a variety of reasons. Some fear their biological parents and siblings could die while they're waiting. Others are concerned because they need medical history information now that biological parents and siblings could provide.

Danny Muchmore said the increased demand for original birth certificates should trigger an immediate response from Missouri.

"We shouldn't have to wait this long for answers," Muchmore concluded.

The wait for answers could get even longer. Last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, signed into law a bill that allows children of people adopted in Missouri to get a copy of their biological parent's original birth certificate if that adoptee-parent is deceased.

To apply for a copy of your original birth certificate, click on this link to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services