Private Investigation
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Placing a child for adoption, adopting, and searching for birth parents.

Here's how.


The choice between an open and closed adoption is very personal. With closed adoptions, boundaries and rights are clearly defined. With open adoption, more information is typically available to birth parents and the adopted child.

Letting someone adopt your child has to be one of the toughest decisions a parent will ever make. Besides the emotional toll, you'll give up your responsibilities and rights to your child forever, which will have far reaching consequences. As a result, the decision should not be made on the basis of temporary problems, whether from an unresponsive father or lack of money. Think your decision through, tap into your support system and get counseling.

On the other side of this decision is the person who wants to adopt. That means accepting all the duties and all the complications of raising a child. The permanence and the emotional aspects of such decisions underscore the importance of doing thorough soul-searching and research, and then meeting with all parties before the process concludes.

Many issues have to be agreed upon. They include whether the adoption is open or closed; in other words, whether the birth parents will know the child's full name, whereabouts and accomplishments as the child grows. Also, should the child be allowed to communicate with the biological parents later in life? Many adopted children, now adults, are searching for the most basic information about their birth parents. As the parent, you can prevent this heartache and longing by allowing information to be released later on.

The most common adoptions are those in which a biological parent with custody of a child remarries and the stepparent adopts the child. Somewhat less common, but more emotional, are adoptions where one or both birth parents decide to give their child up to an unrelated person or couple.

Adoptions are handled through a department of human services, a licensed adoption agency or an intermediary, such as an adoption attorney. Any legal actions connected with the adoption become part of the public record. That makes it easier to search for information later on.

For adoption services, you can consult a child welfare department, an agency or an attorney listed in the White Pages. Libraries and bookstores are full of reference books detailing adoption procedures. Or you can call dedicated hotlines or click to databases on the Web. At the end of this chapter we list a few social welfare organizations that serve as advocates in the adoption process and maintain voluntary match-up search registries.

Martin Investigative Services

But first, some details:


U.S. adoption confidentiality laws have been in place since the early 1900s. The goal back then was to keep information locked away to save adoptees and birth parents the grief of knowing the reasons why the child was given up. But sensibilities have changed. In the last fifteen years, our office has been flooded with calls from adult adoptees searching for their birth parents and from birth parents looking for children they'd placed for adoption. To these people, it's not about legal or civil rights; it's that they need the information for emotional or health reasons.

Whether or not you have the name of the birth relative, a private investigative firm may still be able to help you identify and find the person. Our firm, Martin Investigative Services, has the added benefit of access to unique data sources that can cross reference the information you do have (birth name, adoptee’s name or biological or adoptive parents’ names) to discover the unknown identity.

Any reputable private investigator should give you a realistic evaluation of the likelihood of finding a name or the location of your lost relative.

Start by gathering any personal identifiers and documents you have. Some that are useful include the full name of the person to be found, the name of the adoption agency, a birth certificate, last known location, adoption court file documents, social service records, Social Security number, and family records and stories.

A word of caution: Be wary of those eager to take your case if your information is sketchy. Are they just trying to get your money when there's no chance of finding the person?

How do you track down solid information that may lead to finding your child or birth parent? The amount of information you are able to obtain may be based on the type of adoption-open or closed.

In some open adoptions, birth parents select the adoptive family. In others, the adoptive parents and birth parents know each other's names, addresses and telephone numbers, and may stay in touch for years.

Generally, in a confidential or closed adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents don't know one another, beyond a description of each person's physical and medical makeup. But confidential information can still be accessible, even in closed adoptions, thus making it possible to locate a child or birth parent. (If you want to ensure that your child can reach you in the future, provide the adoptive parents with your Social Security number. That number never changes and is the easiest way to locate someone.)

The choice between an open and closed adoption is very personal. Closed adoptions may be less emotionally complicated for both the adoptive and birth families simply because boundaries and rights are clearly defined. An open adoption, however, usually allows for much more information to be available to birth parents and the adopted child.

“How do you track down solid information that may lead to finding your child or birth parent?”

Why Search?

The Adoption Information Act allows information to be shared with all parties if they waive their right to confidentiality. Without mutual consent, an adoptee can still petition the court to inspect records under special circumstances, such as for medical history.

If you know the agency that placed you, many of them are willing to help. You may even find that your birth parents or the child you gave up for adoption is on record with various mutual-consent registries throughout the country.

Although some of these issues were addressed in Chapter Two, we think it's important to address why adoptees and birth parents may want to find each other.


Most adoptees carry big questions all their lives.

What are their birth parents' names? Where do they live? What do they look like? What are their personality traits? What do they do for a living? What is their heritage?

Some adoptees want to place faces with names and to trace physical or behavioral characteristics to find out how much they get from their birth parents.

Birth parents also have questions. What type of person did their child become? What does she look like, act like? What does he like to do? They also worry about their child's health, well-being and happiness. Has their child been treated well?


A true-life story

The most intriguing, difficult, exciting and bewildering adoption case I ever worked on involved my client, the birth mother, Julie Rose. In 1996 she came into our offices a somewhat depressed but determined 54-year-old woman whose child decades earlier had been placed for adoption against her will. The birth occurred in January 1965 and the parents of Julie literally described the child as a bastard. They were hell bent that neither the neighbors nor the world would know that their daughter gave birth out of wedlock. They were the driving force behind placing the child up for adoption.

After the birth, a chain of events took place that would make my life almost overly complicated in trying to find this little girl. She was initially named Janea Rose. In February 1965, the birth mother had the birth certificate legally changed to Janea Harris to protect the real father. That birth certificate was later changed by Julie's parents to Nicole Resser so the child would never be able to find her birth mother or grandparents. When the child was adopted, the adopting parents changed the birth certificate to Kelly Miller because they did not want anyone to be able to trace the child back to the mother. Also, they had one additional plan that went undiscovered until 1997. All that would have been no problem if someone had known of the changes at the time. Unfortunately, all of this information became buried over the next several decades, making the finding of Kelly the hardest find of my career.

Most cases are initiated after a client provides an initial retainer. They generally see the case to the end and support the effort monetarily along the way. Julie happened to be a single parent of three other children. When I was presented with the birth certificate, she had advised me of the changes she had made and I did not think it would be difficult to track Janea. That was a mistake I will never forget. During the next six weeks my staff pored over thousands of records. I wanted to quit numerous times, but they prevailed. The situation was aggravated, since we had gone too far down the road to turn back. The client had no money and I was running out of patience and time.

There is a certain ethic involved when you advise a client that the case should be no problem. They then believe that there will be no problems. Unfortunately, this case became fraught with complications. Even so, little did I know that the biggest problem lay ahead.

My staff gets all the credit for this find. They found Kelly in Rochester, Minnesota where she was employed as a teacher. Her husband was the owner of a small manufacturing company. They had four children together. I called her at home and told her who I was. She was stunned as she had never been told she was adopted. To my surprise, she had three other sisters, Lori, Barbara and Bridgette who also were adopted. The adopting parents never told any of the four girls they were adopted. Subsequently we began working with the three sisters to find their own birth parents.

Kelly was an awesome girl who took the news calmly and with understanding. Later, she traveled to California where she was reunited with our client. Pictures of Kelly's half-brother and sisters were exchanged along with pictures of Julie's new-found four grandchildren. As of this writing, plans are being made for Julie to travel to Minnesota.

Medical History

Adoptees need to learn more about their medical history as they get older. They may need genetic information for concerns they have either about their own health or their children's. It is important to know about your health history, including any hereditary diseases or anomalies, so you can take preventive measures where possible.


Many adoptees want to know why they were put up for adoption. Maybe they feel guilty or angry about it. They need to know if their birth parents regret their decision or if they ever searched for them.

Birth parents are often driven by the need to tell their child why he or she was placed for adoption. Knowing that their child grew up happy and healthy validates their very difficult decision. They may also wonder if their child has ever wanted to find them.


When adoptees and birth parents begin their search for one another they usually look forward to developing a relationship. Adoptees may want to know if they have other brothers or sisters, and may want to build a lasting connection with them. While admirable, this can cause stress and confusion for all parties.

A private investigator may be able to help. You'll need one with both the emotional and psychological expertise to handle your case professionally and sensitively.

If an investigator takes your case, agree on what he or she will do once your child or birth parents are found. A professional will respect not only the wishes of the client, but also those of the people he's located. If they don't want to meet the person searching for them, their wishes should be respected. Some investigators will not provide anyone's name without their consent. You should discuss this with the investigator early on.

We feel that a private investigator who disregards your birth parents or adopted child's wishes is not sensitive enough for this delicate situation. Wisely choose the person who will represent you.

After The Meeting

Although it's important to give some thought to the type of relationship you'd like with your birth parents or child and their relatives, don't let expectations get the best of you. Remember that this situation requires patience and care. Move slowly.

And never feel compelled to meet the other party if you don't want to. Many radio and TV programs, especially talk-shows, feature advocates preaching the need for birth parents and adoptees to get together. But this is a personal choice and should not be forced upon anyone.

Making The Critical Decision

If you're considering placing your child for adoption, please be cautious. You're making a permanent decision that will change the lives of both yourself and your child. Don't overlook your support network. Turn to parents, close relatives, lifelong friends, your priest, minister or rabbi-maybe even the child's father or mother-for advice. Or seek counseling from community groups like adoption agencies, family planning clinics, crisis pregnancy centers, or city and state agencies. No matter where you go for information, keep in mind that everyone has strong feelings on parenting, adoption and abortion. It's important for you to balance your beliefs with what others believe. Don't do anything you don't want to-the decision is yours.

Pose these questions to experts to help you understand your options:

  • How can you assist me with my pregnancy?
  • How can you help if I decide I want to terminate this pregnancy?
  • How can you help if I decide to keep my baby?
  • What can you do for me if I decide on adoption?

Thinking About Adopting

Let's look at the other side now. You're considering adopting a child. But how do you decide who will handle the emotional as well as document-heavy process? Begin by interviewing local agencies. Collect information on each agency as well as any literature it sends to clients. Ask for references of previous clients. This should help greatly in determining if those at the agency are people you'd feel comfortable working with.

A private investigator may be able to help. As an integral part of the community, he or she may have worked with adoption agencies or know a competent adoption attorney. After determining your background, beliefs and wishes (such as an open adoption versus a closed one), an investigator should be able to match your needs with the right adoption center.

Lawyer Vs. Agency Adoptions

Adoption agencies may offer the personalized service and confidentiality you desire. Staffs are generally knowledgeable and compassionate, and some specialize in matching parents and child to a specific race or religion. Licensed agencies have to maintain standards based on city and state laws. They provide thorough screening of potential adoptive families, as well as follow-up investigations. They can also offer parenting support.

A private adoption can be arranged through an attorney. This can be helpful since each state has its own laws concerning adoptions. However, most people wanting to adopt go through an agency because agencies tend to cost less, yet provide more experienced personnel and complete services.

Whichever method you select, your private or public agency should offer counseling, disclose financial arrangements and, if you're the one placing your child, details on how much of your personal information will be released to the adoptive parents.

Common Questions

Many couples have turned to our firm to find the best avenue for adopting a child. We begin by answering these common questions:

Who Can Adopt? Is There An Age Limit?

Surprisingly, the requirements are quite modest, allowing for adults of all ages to become parents. We have worked with people from 24 to 64.

Various agencies have different criteria for accepting applicants. You should be able to find an agency that is compassionate regarding your needs and willing to assist you in your pursuit.

How Long Does It Take?

Once you've picked an agency or attorney, the application comes next. This is where patience and persistence come into play. It may take quite a while for your application to reach all interested parties. We have been involved in adoptions that have taken three to six months, while others take anywhere from three to four years. International adoptions average between nine months and two years.

How Much Will It Cost?

Private agencies and attorneys usually charge between $5,000 and $9,000. We have seen many agencies and some attorneys charge more than $20,000. Before you retain any agency or attorney, request an inventory of their services and the related fees.

Other Considerations

We also advise our clients to consider these points:


Children all over the world are looking for loving families. Wonderful youngsters from Central and South America, India, China and the Philippines have been adopted by Americans over the years. During the past seven years, our office has seen an influx of children from Eastern European countries as well.

Special Needs

Children with special needs-disabilities or learning impairments usually languish in foster-care programs, waiting to be adopted (there are now 500,000 children in our nation's foster home system). Although the effort and financial impact can be great, these children are their own reward.

Investigate, Investigate

To aid in your research, here is a sampling of organizations that help adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents find answers:

Concerned United Birth Parents (CUB)
Assists members in coping with ongoing suffering and problems of adoption separation.

National Adoption Center (NAC)
Provides adoption opportunities for "hard to place" children, children with special needs and children in foster care throughout the United States. (800) TO-ADOPT.

National Council For Adoption (NCFA)
A research and educational organization that advocates for adoption. (703) 299-6633.

“Success is not final; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill