Giving a Voice to Those Often Silent

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and each year the courts designate a National Adoption Day. Judges in the courthouses across Massachusetts clear their dockets to finalize the adoption of children and teens in state foster care.

While adoption is a wonderful thing, there is a voice in the adoption process that is too often silent. In Massachusetts and throughout the country they are often referred to as the “unknown,” the “unnamed,” or the “of parts unknown” fathers. Many unwed fathers are never given the chance to decide whether to parent their child or participate in the adoption planning.  Why is this so?

Many states, including Massachusetts, have no process of notifying the father, or expectant father, of a child’s birth or potential adoption other than the mother’s identification. Yet Massachusetts law states that for an unwed father to preserve his parental rights, he must take action prior to the termination of the mother’s rights.  Thus, the statute presupposes the mother has identified the father and that the father is aware of the mother’s pregnancy and adoption plan.  Simply put, the father must rely upon the mother to have his voice heard.

A solution to this problem is called a putative father registry. There are putative father registries in at least 34 states.  Massachusetts is one of few states that does not have one.  A putative father registry is a confidential database, where unwed fathers file notice of intent to claim paternity within a prescribed time. A state’s putative father registry protects the right of an unwed father to receive notice of any proceedings involving paternity, termination of rights, or a pending or planned adoption of a child he may have fathered, and allows him to come forward and assert his parental rights and preserve the opportunity to parent his child.

A putative father registry also relieves the mother of having to identity the father, should she not want to for whatever reason. For example, she will not have to disclose to anyone that she does not know who the father was, or that she is in fear of her safety or that of the expected child. Moreover, with an active and well thought out putative father registry, the mother will not be in a position to circumvent the father’s parental rights, intentionally or not.

Having the father involved from the beginning has many advantages for the child as well. Gone will be the fear of adoptive parents that a father may show up later and disrupt an adoption; the placement will be a permanent one.  In situations where the father chooses to participate in the adoption process, more reliable medical history and notable information will be available. The need to answer the child’s questions with words such as, “I don’t know who your father was”; “I do not know what he looked like”; or “I do not know whether he knows you were born” will be diminished greatly.

The putative father registry does not demand that a potential father identify himself, it simply levels the playing field so an unwed father may choose to be a proud father and take an active role in making decisions for the health, welfare and best interests of his child.

All of the participants who can and want to contribute to placing children in safe, loving homes deserve a voice in the process. If you agree with this article, please share it with your State Representative. We can make a change for the better.


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