Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Pennsylvania Adoption Law

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Adoption has been prevalent since time immemorial. In fact, history tells that the practice of adoption dates back as far as the 18th century BC. This was practiced by the ancient civilizations such Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians. It is even referred to in the Bible and other religious texts (Meiser, 1997).

Adoption is the process whereby a child is removed from his/her biological parents and placed with non-biological parent(s). This establishes a parent and child relationship, in contemplation of law, between persons not so related by nature (Adoption, 1994). Thus, adoption creates a legal parent-child relationship between individuals without the benefit of biological relation.

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Reasons for the Emergence of the adoption
In the early decades of the twentieth century, adoption was rather unusual. In fact, adoption was not recognized by the common law, and exists later in the United States solely by virtue of the special statutes. Thus, adoption was not a common way to form a family.

Due to humanitarianism, upward mobility, and infertility, however, adoption started to be institutionalized. These factors mirrored reality especially in 1920s and 1930s, when inquiries made by adults about children unattached to their families greatly increased in the United States.

Through adoption, children are transferred from adults who do not want or is not capable of becoming parents to adults who want the offspring and is capable of giving love, time, and an acceptable standard of living. Hence, adoption is considered as a salvation to married couples deprived of bearing their own children because of infertility since this process allow them to form families of their own.

Likewise, adoption allowed illegitimate children to be protected from social stigma as they are legitimized once adopted by their adopting parents. Thus, adoption gives a fresh start to everyone involved—the mother can erase her past by placing her baby for adoption, the child can join a normal family rather than being raised by a single parent, and the adoptive parents can experience the joy of having a child (Martin, 2006).

Adoption Phenomenon: Some statistics
In 1950s and 1960s, as measured both by number and by the enthusiastic support of a broad white middle class, adoption flourished. Ten years thereafter, or in the 1960s and 1970s, adoption brought a remarkable transformation to society as adoption posted a record high of almost ninety thousand adoptions made by non-relatives.

In recent years, however, this number increased by almost forty (40) percent as survey reveals that Americans annually adopt approximately one hundred twenty-five thousand (125,000) children, strangers and relatives alike (Adoption statistics, 2006).

This has affected 2.4% of the United States population or about five (5) million Americans (id). The Census also reveals that among those children adopted, sixty-four (64) percent are whites, sixteen (16) percent are African American seven (7) percent are Asians (2000).

In Pennsylvania alone, 4,047 children were served by the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (PAE) (PAE 2004). Forty-eight (48) percent of these children are African Americans, thirty six (36) percent are Caucasians and five (5) are Hipics (id).

Despite this wide acceptance of adoption in the American society or the inhabitants of Pennsylvania for that matter, a number of children are still “waiting” to be adopted. For instance, in Pennsylvania, out of the twenty two thousand six hundred ninety (22,690) children who were placed in foster care, twenty two (22) percent are still “waiting” to be adopted (Adoption institute, 1999).

Considering this unprecedented increase in adoptions in the country, the United States senate is pushing for a bigger funding for the child support enforcement and family support programs to be paid to various states. Thus from a mere $2,121,643, 000 appropriated in 2006, the proposed budget for the administration of children and families is increased to $2,759,997,000 for this incoming year of 2007 (US Department f Health and Services, 2006). This is equal to a $7,300,00 increase of funding.

Adoption Laws in the United States

Before the first adoption statutes went into effect in 1850’s, children were removed from his/her biological parents and were transferred to non-biological parent(s) without the legal recognition of the adoption. As this informal type of adoption increased the State legislature devised a way to formalize the adoption process.

Thus, in May 24, 1851 the first adoption statute in the United States went into effect – the Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act. Pursuant to the Massachusetts statute, adoption was required to be judicially approved, likewise the consent of the child’s parent or guardian were needed to be secured, and also a finding that the prospective adoptive family was of with sufficient ability to raise the child.

History of Pennsylvania Adoption Law

Following the example of Massachusetts, the Pennsylvania enacted its own adoption statutes – the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. In earlier times, Pennsylvania provided that adoption could be decreed by the common pleas of courts of the countries.

An amendment to this adoption legislation was thereafter made in 1872 wherein the process of adoption referred to as the “common law form of adopting a child be deed” was legalized. Under this system, it is possible that an adoption refused by the judge will be consummated by a deed. (Deardorff, 1925).

The State legislatures saw the defect in this kind of Pennsylvania system. For under this system, no social investigation of the child and his natural family or of the adopting family was provided. Further, a judge can consummate an adoption without seeing any of the parties and worse, even without sufficient information other than that contained in the petition for adoption.

With this kind of system, cases of perjury as to the identity of the natural parents of a child and as to whether or not these natural parents are still alive were exposed.

Due to the globalization of the adoption, legislatures have made vigorous reforms as regards adoption statutes. In 1917, for instance, Minnesota passed the first State law that required children and adults to be investigated and adoption records to be shielded from public view (Adoption history in brief, 2006).

Decades later, more than twenty states had translated similar standards into law. By mid-century, policies of minimum standard such as certification of child-placers, investigation of the child and adult parties to adoption, and supervision of new families after placement and before finalization were incorporated in the revision of adoption statutes in all the states in the country.

The policies of confidentiality and sealed records were likewise instituted by most states. Confidentially of records, however, at this time meant that the records of information are off limits to the inquisitive members of the public but kept it available to the children and adults directly involved in adoption, who were called the “parties in interest.”

Similarly, in 1925, under the Pennsylvania adoption law, the adoption was accessible to anyone curious enough to search it out. Other court records were sealed only at the discretion of a judge, in which case they could then be inspected by court order. In 1947 however, Pennsylvania followed suit in sealing its records.

Although the records were sealed, adoptees who would reach the age of twenty-one (21) could still obtain their original birth certificates from the Office of Vital Statistics. Then in 1953, court records including the adoption decree were sealed to all, with the exception of being able to be opened upon showing of an undefined “good cause.”

(Holub, 2006) In 1984, after a six (6) year push by state Rep. Stephen Friend, R-Delaware Country “to close the loophole”, as it was termed, the state legislature passed a bill denominated as Act 185 finally closing the records of adoption. Act 185 amended Title 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes and provides that all adoption records, and other papers shall be withheld from inspection except upon a court order.

The Pennsylvania adoption law, thus prohibits adoptees from obtaining their original birth certificates or any other document that would identify birth parents. That includes baptism certificates and adoption records. After the grace period in February 1985, adoption records were finally closed.

This law was pushed by Rep. Stephen Friend since he claimed that young, unmarried pregnant women would choose to have abortions rather than relinquish their children to adoption if it were possible for their adult children to discover their identity. He also asserted that the state should “keep its promise” of “privacy” to birthparents. (id)

Cynthia Bertrand Holub, a member of the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the Joint State Government Commission on Adoption Law, says the desire to "preserve the middle-classness of these women, so they could relinquish their [illegitimate] child and go home as if nothing had happened," was one of several forces that led states to seal adoptees' birth records (2006).

Thus, confidentiality now means that when courts issue adoption decrees, they shall produce new birth certificates, thus, listing adopters’ names in the new birth certificate, and sealing away the originals, which contained the names of birth parents, or at least birth mothers.

Criticisms of the Pennsylvania Adoption Law.

 The Pennsylvania Adoption law was criticized mainly with respect to the sealing of the adoption records. Critiques refutes Rep. Stephen Friend’s claim that “unmarried pregnant women would choose to have abortions rather than relinquish their children to adoption if it were possible for their adult children to discover their identity.”

They assert that Pennsylvania’s abortion rate should have declined and the adoption rate should have risen accordingly. Between 1985 and 1990, however, the abortion rate in Pennsylvania is inconsequential, and Pennsylvania still has one of the lowest adoption rates in the country.

They further assert that neither was there ever a single suit by a birthparent for invasion of privacy. Other critique says that the confidentiality made it possible for some of these parents to avoid telling their children that they were adopted at all.

As far as a number of birthparents are concerned, they believe that they still have the right to copies of everything relating to the loss of their babies. Dorner, in her book Adoption Search citing the Catholic manual states that “[b]irth parents also seek information about their children and their adoptive families through the years. Being able to obtain file information pertaining to the time of the pregnancy, is reality basing and healing...” (Buterbaugh, 2001).

On the other hand, supporters of the Pennsylvania Adoption Law, such as the relatives of many unmarried birth mothers also favored the confidentiality measure. After the World War II, when more out-of-wedlock births occurred in middle-class families, mortified parents contends that their daughters should have a second chance to lead normal, married lives.


Adoption statutes by different states primarily emerged as an answer to the growing unrecorded adoptions in the country. More so, these enactments are hoped to protect the interests of the parties involved — i.e. adopting parents, biological parents and the child himself.

Adoption statutes, however, are of varying degrees in terms of privacy across states. Recently, Pennsylvania adopted a very strict standard on privacy matters.

This means that nobody can actually view the original birth certificate of the adopted child as a new one was created. This new law, however, sowed criticism from different sectors as they believed that biological parents still have the right to information as to what has become of their child.

Also, they argued that the child, himself, is entitled to information as to whether he is indeed of the same flesh and blood as that of his known parents. They also sans the statute for allowing adopting parents to forever conceal the truth regarding the child’s birth.

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Pennsylvania Adoption Law. (2016, Jun 16). Retrieved from

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