Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Black Market, 1945 Illinois Adoption Act & Sealed Records

When Jacob Kepecs, executive director of the Chicago Jewish Children's Bureau was asked why that agency placed
only 12 children for adoption in 1944, he replied: “We don't have them to place. The black market gets them.”
Up until 1945, the Illinois Adoption Act was woefully weak and unregulated. Back then, any person at all could “facilitate” an adoption: an attorney, a doctor, a social worker, a taxi driver, a midwife, a judge, a nurse, your next door neighbor - it didn’t matter. If you knew of a baby who needed to be adopted out, you could just go ahead and find a family who wanted that baby, go to court, and the judge would almost always grant the adoption. The absence of specific adoption regulation in Illinois was a magnet for criminals who made money from selling babies.

In 1944, Illinois statistics revealed that of the 2,680 adoptions in Cook County, only about 680 were investigated by social agencies. What about the other 2,000?

The primary intent of the 1945 Illinois adoption reform legislation was to do away with the rampant illegal baby selling racket in Illinois – the black market.

A report commissioned by the Illinois State House of Representatives in May, 1945, concluded that “It would appear from a study of the statutes that the majority of the states have decided, especially in recent years, that the interests of the child are best upheld by a more considered and complex proceeding, with the added safeguard of having the records closed to public inspection.”

A variety of social work organizations, state public health departments, adoption agencies and civic groups throughout the state wanted to clean up the black market adoption of babies. They believed that the only way to get rid of the racketeers was to make some important changes in the Illinois adoption law.

It’s interesting to note that this report states that an added safeguard would be closing the records to PUBLIC INSPECTION. It does not say to close them to adoptees! As a matter of fact, to this day in Illinois, all non-adopted citizens’ birth certificates are closed to public inspection. The difference between them and us is that their birth certificates are made available to them upon request, while ours are not..

As a result of the hue and cry from the social work community, legislators began working on a bill to add major amendments to the Illinois Adoption Act. In May, 1945, the bill was filed in the Illinois General Assembly that contained four new procedures for adoption practice which would give the well-meaning social work community almost total control over adoption proceedings.

1) Social investigation of the adopting home and the children.
2) Six months’ resident period in the adopting home before signing the final decree.
3) Consent for adoption to be signed in the presence of a licensed agency or clerk of the court.
4) Sealed adoption records which would remain confidential.

According to The Illinois Children’s Home and Aide Society, “74 per cent of the 1943 adoptions in Illinois were not arranged by licensed welfare agencies…the majority of Illinois adoptions are the sordid negotiations of a few unscrupulous doctors and lawyers, and of unlicensed ‘homes’ and pseudo social agencies of well meaning but uninformed people who strove to befriend an unmarried mother.”

Mrs. Marion K. Craine, regional representative of the state department of public welfare reported that there were many adoption cases in which they had reason to believe that large sums of money changed hands, but these cases were hard to prove because you could be sure that the individuals involved would always protect each other. Mrs. Craine said that “there is no way to control this practice until Illinois has more adequate laws for protection of the child.”

Mrs. Florence Fifer Bohrer of Bloomington, president of the Illinois League of Women Voters in 1945, called Illinois ‘the Gretna Green or Crown Point’ for hasty adoptions for illegitimate children whose mothers knew how easy it was to get rid of them here.’”

“Illinois has become a state for hasty adoptions for orphaned children by couples who cannot qualify as satisfactory parents under the laws of their own states,” declared Joel D. Hunter, superintendent of the United Charities.

The Rev. Vincent Cooke, speaking for Catholic Charities said, “Do you believe you can eliminate all the world’s evils merely by passing more laws against them?”

Mrs. William B. Walrath from The Cradle Society noted, “We passed a law once to make people stop drinking. But did they?”

John C. Slade, a prominent Chicago attorney who led the opposition, said “It seems to me this is a question of the social workers wanting to substitute their judgment for that of the courts and the judges.” He objected to the proposed changes because he felt that the new legislation would imply that duly elected judges were not competent to decide on the fitness of adoptive parents and this he found to be unacceptable.

Attorney Slade continued, “One of the most dangerous features of the amendment is the requirement that the written reports of the investigations be made a part of the records of all adoption proceedings. It would be a vicious thing to attach to the child a permanent record of the details connected with his birth and background. Nothing could provide a more prolific storehouse of ammunition for future troublemakers and busybodies than the contents of such reports.”

Adoption attorneys believed that the existing act was just fine the way it was because they felt that it encouraged adoptions and promoted the welfare of orphans and dependent children. Therefore, they concluded, the new proposed amendments to the law were “in direct conflict with the purpose and spirit of the current adoption act.”

Despite its critics, the Illinois Adoption Act of 1945 was approved by the House, 127-4. The Senate concurred with a vote of 41 -0, and in June, 1945, Governor Green signed the bill into law. While making some inroads into reform, the social workers lost their most important battle, that of securing for themselves exclusive investigating rights in all adoptions. The final bill allowed County Judges to appoint any one to make the investigation during a 6 month probationary adoption period.

Granny thinks that during the early years of the 1940s, unscrupulous attorneys and doctors began to see the handwriting on the wall. Adoption reforms were coming and they feared that these reforms could put a dent in their lucrative baby-selling business. So the baby sellers put on their thinking caps and Eureka! They found "an out" - it was called SEALED RECORDS.
In particular, the attorneys and judges hooked onto the all important phrase: "All records pertaining to an adoption shall be impounded by the clerk of the court and shall be open for inspection only upon specific order of the court." This new idea could help the black marketeers continue to operate in the lassie faire atmosphere they loved so much and that had prevailed up to now.
Unscrupulous baby sellers saw the beauty of the sealed records section - for them. Granted, they would have to put up with the law's new rules of record keeping. But the black market folks also knew that no one was ever going to lay eyes on these records . They could continue to promise people anything that would make them happy and at the same time continue their baby-selling business as usual.
How ironic it is that Illinois added a sealed records clause to its adoption act as a way to help bring about reform measure to the practices of adoption. It was part of a plan to keep the black market out of Illinois. Instead, it has helped dishonest lawyers, doctors, agencies and other individuals who have vested interests in adoptions to carry on with their criminal activities for 65 years now.


Chicago Daily Tribune Newspaper articles. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago

May 6, 1940. “Nab 2 Women in Trailer Camp for Baby Quiz”
May 7, 1940. “ List 1,922 ‘Baby Farm’ Girls”
May 28, 1941. “Lawyer Admits Handling Baby Home Adoptions.”
July 12, 1944. “Assert Illinois Laws Aid Black Mart in Babies”
July 13, 1944. “Council Head Assails State Adoption Law.”
July 14, 1944. “Adoption Laws Permit Rackets, Hunter Asserts.”
July 30, 1944. “The Adoption Racket”
January 3, 1945. “Loopholes in Adoption Law Cited in Battle for Revision.”
January 31, 1945. “Present Adoption Law Adequate, Says Cradle Head”
February 7, 1945. “Veteran Attorneys Oppose Adoption Law Amendments”
February 16, 1945. “Fight Foreseen on Adoption Law Proposals.”
February 17, 1945. “Illinois Judges Redraft Code for Adoptions.”
April 5, 1945. “Senate Group Approves New Adoption Bill.”
June 12, 1945. “Adoption Bill is Approved by House, 127-4.”
May 27, 1947. “Adoption Bill Called Invasion of Family Right.”

May, 1945. Publication No. 69. Adoption Laws. Report Pursuant to Proposal No. 209. Sponsored by Representative Ben S. Rhodes. Research Dept. Illinois Legislative Council, Springfield.
Social Workers v Attorneys
Giving over total control of adoption procedures to the social work community was abhorrent to the attorneys and judges. They were determined never to give up exclusive investigative powers to professional social workers. They believed that the power belonged to them.