Summer 1999 Issue
Obtaining a Pennsylvania Birth Certificate
Laura Ellman, LSW
When parents complete an international adoption, they receive a birth certificate for their child issued by the country where the adoption took place. If parents prefer that their child’s birth certificate come from their state of residence, it is possible to apply for this through the Orphan’s Court. Birth certificate regulations vary depending upon where the family resides, and the following information applies only to those families living within Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (If you reside outside of this county, please contact the Orphan’s Court in your area.)
In Allegheny County it is not necessary to re-adopt an internationally adopted child. To receive a Pennsylvania birth certificate, it is required that the parents register the adoption with the Register of Wills. When the adoption is registered, meaning that it is recorded in vital records, the parent will receive a Certificate of Adoption. Once the parent has this certificate, she/he may then apply for the child’s new birth certificate through the Pennsylvania Department of Vital Records. Currently, Michelle is the contact person at the Register of Wills, in Orphans Court, in downtown Pittsburgh. Her phone number is 412-350-5970 and her office hours are 8:30-4:00.
The process is as follows: As a courtesy, Michelle will send the adoption registration forms to your home in order to complete them in advance. Otherwise, they may be obtained in her office. The completed forms and all the original adoption papers and translations are presented to Michelle in her office. (All above mentioned documents are not returned to parents and become the property of Orphan’s Court.) She will process them and issue the Certificate of Adoption, which she said takes approximately 15 minutes. The parent may at that time apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Vital Records for the birth certificate, which should arrive within 4-6 weeks. Most parents make high quality copies of their children’s adoption documents to keep for their records. Kinkos and other similar businesses do a fine job of making such copies. Parents who do not want to give up original paperwork have the option of filing a petition with the court to have this requirement waived. This does not require an attorney, but does involve writing and presenting a motion to the judge. Michelle will explain the procedure. She said that it takes 1-2 days to file and present the petition and that the parent must be in court during that time. Michelle added that her office is in the process of trying to change the regulations to allow parents to submit copies, rather than original documents. She hopes to have a final decision on this request during the summer of 1999.
Thoughts From The Miles
Laura Ellman, LSW
Bob and Jean Miles adopted their first son, Bobby, from Russia in January 1994. He was a little over a year old at the time. Today Bobby is 6 years old and he has a sister, Melissa, who was adopted from Russia in August 1998. Melissa recently turned 2 years old. As “old hands” at adoption, we asked Bob and Jean to share their thoughts so that newcomers could benefit from their experiences. Bob and Jean are so pleased with their family that they were happy to do so. They have faced joys and challenges along the way and weathered them well.
Life has changed immeasurably for the Miles since becoming parents. In their words, “Parenting takes much more energy than we ever imagined but the rewards are so gratifying...Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself or your spouse...It takes time for the child to understand both the verbal and non-verbal language we are communicating. It takes time for bonding to occur; it may or may not be immediate.”
Their experiences with each child have been totally different even though the children were about the same age when adopted. One is more outgoing and seems happier; the other is more cautious and easily upset. Bob and Jean have learned that it is important to be responsive to the individual needs and personalities of each child. They have learned to be patient as they take the time to know each child. In so doing, they also notice some of their similarities: unhappiness when it is time for bed and strong wills. “Children are smart,” they concur. “They are seeing and learning more than we give them credit for. They seem to know instinctively who will and who will not let them get their way.” Bob and Jean have learned the importance of consistency in their own behavior and how and when to set firm limits with their children.
Prospective parents often wonder about sharing information about how a child entered the family. “Bobby knows that he was born in Russia and that his parents had to travel to bring him home. He also knows that he did not grow in Mommy’s stomach but in her heart...We will provide more information as he inquires about it.” To better understand how Bobby came into their lives, Bob and Jean explained to Bobby that “we prayed and prayed that God would bless us with a child, and that the child was him and now his sister. Since he was part of his sister’s adoption he will have a greater understanding of just how blessed we all are to have each other.”
Additionally, parents must decide with whom they will discuss their child’s adoption. The Miles said, “Our immediate relatives know how we came to be a family. They cheered us through each step of the adoption process. Since I (Jean) broke my ankle while adopting our son, we were a human-interest story in the local newspaper. His adoption was public knowledge before it was his knowledge. This did not bother me until he came to an age where he was beginning to comprehend things; a complete stranger approached us at a local pool and asked if he was the adopted boy from Russia. I prefer that he be labelled as a good swimmer or a friendly or smart child. While we are raising our children with pride in their heritage and in our family, the fact that he was adopted from Russia is a private matter and should not be made any more of an issue than anyone else’s heritage or identifying characteristics. He has completed pre K-3 through kindergarten and it seems that the teachers who did not know of his heritage evaluated his performance differently from those who did. Unless it is for the child’s benefit, we would recommend not sharing your child’s history with just anyone. As with any family, some things are simply private and need to be communicated with discretion.”
Bob and Jean are pleased with their decision to adopt children from another country. The waiting period was less than a year and their ages were not a factor in adopting a child under two. They have not worried that a biological parent would disrupt the adoption. They were comfortable with the staff at Adopt-A-Child. “We immediately felt that this is where we belonged and these would be the people who would help us build our family. “It is through their efforts that we once again believe that prayers are answered and that miracles do exist...we have living proof.”
Understanding the Medical Report
by Laura Ellman, LSW
Most children born outside of the United States are given the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine to protect against tuberculosis (TB). While this vaccine probably prevents some cases of severe TB in infants, it has been found to have very little short-term and virtually no long term protection against TB.
While it was once believed that a person could not be accurately tested for TB after receiving the BCG vaccine, we now know that individuals who received the vaccine can and should be tested. When internationally adopted children go to their American pediatricians, they should be routinely tested for TB with the PPD (purified protein derivative) test, also known as the Mantoux test. This involves inserting a thin needle under the skin of the forearm and injecting a small amount of the PPD. This test should also be repeated about six months after the child returns home, in case she/he was exposed just prior to leaving the orphanage. This test should be interpreted 48-72 hours after the injection by a physician or nurse. The reader will look at the size of the bump on the child’s arm at the site of injection. If the bump is greater than 10mm (or for some children 5mm) a chest x-ray should be taken to determine if the child has active TB disease.
Dr. Sarah Springer of Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., stated that in her pediatric practice, approximately 5% of internationally adopted children need a follow-up chest x-ray. She said that in most cases, the x-ray is normal, meaning that the child has been exposed to the germ, but is not sick or contagious with the disease. In this scenario, the child will begin a 9 month course of a preventative medicine called Isoniazid (INH) in order to eradicate the germ from the child’s system. The medicine is taken orally on a daily basis. Children usually have no side effects from this medication, although some may experience loose stools during treatment. If a child has a positive PPD test, parents should also have a PPD test performed at that time. This is not because the child is contagious, but because the parents may have been exposed to the same contact while overseas. Families with questions about TB or their child’s PPD test may call Adopt-A-Child and/or Dr. Springer.
Many thanks to Dr. Sarah Springer for providing the information and collaborating on the text of this article.
From the Director's Desk: Sonya Girel
I hope that everyone is having a good summer and enjoying the warm weather. We continue to be very busy in the office as we bring children and parents together.
On Sunday June 13, 1999, 300 Adopt-A-Child parents and children gathered for our annual spring reunion. We enjoyed delicious desserts, entertainment and the opportunity to see how the children are growing and thriving. We also had the pleasure of hosting two Russian dignitaries from the St. Petersburg region. What a thrill for our Russian guests to see so many of the children that they had cared for before their adoptions.
Our Parent Network Speaker Series continues to attract a large number of our clients. In March, Lisa Greenler, mother of Robbie, adopted from Moscow in 1995, and Lisa Steindel, a local speaker on adoption issues, spoke to our group about their own adoptions. Both women, adopted as infants, spoke honestly about their lives and graciously answered participant’s questions about raising adopted children. In June, Cora Koller spoke to our group about creating lifebooks for children who have been adopted. We thank our committee of parents for their input in planning our discussions and encourage you to call the office with ideas for future speakers.