Since Oct. 1 — the first day they could apply — more than 900 Missouri adoptees asked the state Health and Senior Services Department for copies of their original birth certificates, showing the names of their biological parents.
Under long-standing Missouri law, those certificates were replaced with new ones when a child was adopted, showing the names of the adoptive parents, and the originals were locked away and expected to be closed records forever.
However, a 2016 state law changed that, and Tuesday morning, about a dozen of those adoptees attending a special conference at Jefferson City's Capitol Plaza Hotel received their original birth certificate copies.
"It's really a pleasure to celebrate with all of you today, and it's humbling to join you for this really special occasion," first lady Sheena Greitens told about 100 people gathered for the conference.
The oldest of four children, she recalled the time she was in third grade and her parents adopted her younger sister, who was about a year old at the time.
"When I think and talk about adoption, I do so as the sister of an adopted child, who's had that experience that was central to our family from the time when I was very small."
Having that sister "as part of our family has just been an incredible blessing, in ways that I can't begin to count," Greitens said.
However, she noted, as many adoptees grow older, "It is natural to have a lot of questions about your personal history and your family's history — whether that's medical or simply your family's story.
"And birth certificates are an important piece of that story — and that's part of why we're so excited to be here, to celebrate with each of you today."
Heather Dodd got involved in the fight to open up adoptees' birth records after her mother's siblings were separated when their mother died — and state officials later told her mother that finding her siblings was none of her business.
"Some flat-out said it was impossible" to change Missouri's laws that closed adoption records, Dodd reminded the conference Tuesday. "We were told, 'You will never, ever get those birth certificates unsealed.'
"That's the last thing you want to tell this 'Show-Me' girl."
A number of adoptees and their supporters already had been working on the idea for several years before Dodd got involved, and a group of volunteers called the "Adoption Army" stepped up the pace for two years to get the Legislature to pass Rep. Don Phillips' bill — with success coming in the 2016 session.
Greitens said she and Gov. Eric Greitens "are committed to making Missouri the best state in the country for all of the practices around adoption — and for helping children find safe, permanent, loving families that set them up for success throughout their lives."
Acknowledging there's a lot of work to do, Greitens said, "we're really committed to — and also really excited about — the potential for that work."
She noted Missouri is joining the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise, designed to speed up the process for sharing documents about children among the states "so they spend less time in limbo."
Missouri charges $15 for people to search the state records for a birth certificate but, Greitens said, has stopped charging children in foster care for those copies — a policy which "kept kids, teenagers especially, from learning to drive and getting a job."
Adoption-related proposals for the 2018 legislative session, Greitens said, include allowing adoptees and adoptive parents to disclose an adoption, "which is technically limited in the state of Missouri right now," and allowing birth parents whose children are in state custody to authorize parental rights to consent to an adoption.
Greitens said lawmakers also are being asked to speed-up the process for adoptions from foster care.
"There are more than 13,000 kids in Missouri's foster care system, today," the first lady reported. "About 2,700 of them are awaiting adoption, and about half of those have identified adoptive families.
"We want every child in Missouri — and every family in Missouri — to know that we care about them and that we will continue to work everyday for the safe, stable, loving and successful families that they and their loved ones deserve."