Burger King Baby’s Search: A Challenge to Adoption Practices

Will the Internet make closed adoptions a thing of the past?

Posted Mar 17, 2014

Angela Tucker, a young woman whose quest for her birth family was chronicled in the documentary Closure, made her first breakthrough in finding her family through the Internet. As the documentary shows, Tucker — born in Chattanooga, TN but adopted by a family in Washington State — only knew a few bits of information on three pieces of paper her parents received when they adopted her.

Using what she had (her birth city and the first name of her birth father: “Oterius”), she took to the Internet. She found a blog post from a radio station in Chattanooga, TN about a man who could have been her father.

After the movie screened at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Black Culture, several members of the audience shared their stories, either of reuniting with their birth parents or adopted children. Interestingly, several pursuits — like Tucker’s — started with an online search and only scant information pieced together from their birth records. One member of the audience found her birth mother on Yahoo Personal when she was 12.

The Burger King Baby Takes to the Internet

In many ways, the stories at Harlem’s Schomburg Center mirror what’s happening elsewhere in the country. Just recently, Pennsylvania woman Katheryn Deprill — who, only hours old, was famously found in 1986 swaddled in a red sweater in a Burger King bathroom — made headlines by turning to Facebook to locate her birth mother. In a public photo, Deprill, now 27 years old, held a handwritten sign reading “I am looking for my birthmother. She gave birth to me September 15, 1986…Please help me find her by sharing this post. Maybe she will see this…” Within 10 days, the photo reportedly became one of the most-shared posts, reaching 31,000. The connective power of social media has opened doors many thought would never open.

Internet Transformative in Adoption Practices

A report by the Donaldson Adoption Institute titled “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption,” found that modern social technology like social media and powerful Internet search engines are changing what it means to have a closed adoption. “The Internet is having a profound, permanent impact on modern adoption,” the report details. “It is circumventing procedural and legal barriers – including ‘closed records’ statutes that seal adopted people’s original birth certificates in most states – that had prevented adoptive and biological relatives from locating each other, while accelerating searches and reunions to an extent and speed unimaginable just a few years ago.”

The report also explains that some websites have allowed both parties — expectant mothers and hopeful adoptive parents — to locate each other without the aid of an adoption agency. This means it’s become more and more difficult to regulate ethical and legal exchanges between adoptive parents and birth parents:

“One professional suggested that when hopeful couples reach out to pregnant women online, without agency or other professional support, they are in jeopardy of falling victim to scams. For example, there are instances of people posing as expectant parents interested in placing their babies for adoption and receiving payments of one sort or another – but there are no babies – and there are cases of pregnant women seeking financial support from multiple couples hoping to adopt their children.”

95% of Agencies Offer Open Adoptions

There are two types of open adoption: fully open, where biological and adoptive parents have full contact and identifying information, and semi-open, where a caseworker works as a communication bridge between the two parties.

The Donaldson Adoption Institute also surveyed 100 adoption agencies, finding, “Confidential adoptions constituted only 5 percent of their placements during the past two years, while 55 percent were fully disclosed and 40 percent were mediated. Ninety-five percent of the agencies said they now offer open adoptions.”

According to a report by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Research has shown that children do better in an open adoption because it allows them to better understand how they came to be adopted. An open adoption also allows them to ask questions about their family backgrounds as these questions come to mind throughout their lives.”

When you consider the heartache of someone like Tim who spent decades trying to locate his birth mother, you have to hope future adoption practices will be open. But, how do we balance adoptees’ drive to search with biological parents’ desire for privacy?

Update: “Burger King Baby” reunites with birth mother: “I never in a million years thought I’d find her,” said April Deprill. Read about the reunion

Related: “Philomena” Could Be My Friend’s Mother; Why More People Don’t Adopt; My Family Is Not a Second-Best Option


Child Welfare Information Gateway and the OPA Clearinghouse. Could Open Adoption Be the Best Choice for You and Your Baby? https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/openadoption.pdf

Closure. (2013) Dir. Bryan Tucker. http://closuredocumentary.com/

Howard, Jeanne. Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption. New York: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2012. Web: http://adoptioninstitute.org/publications/untangling-the-web-the-internets-transformative-impact-on-adoption/  

Siegel, Deborah, Smith, Susan. “From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections.” New York: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2012. Web: http://adoptioninstitute.org/publications/openness-in-adoption-from-secrecy-and-stigma-to-knowledge-and-connections/

Sottile, Chiara. "Burger King Baby: 'I Just Want to Hug' My Birth Mother." NBC News. 12 Mar. 2014. Web. http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/burger-king-baby-i-just-want-hug-my-birth-mother-n51281 

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