Arkansas law calls for an adopted child to come to their adoptive parents with a history. The law says, “Prior to placement for adoption, the licensed adoption agency or, when an agency is not involved, the person, entity, or organization handling the adoption shall compile and provide to the prospective adoptive parents a detailed, written health history and genetic and social history of the child that may exclude information that would identify birth parents or members of a birth parent’s family.”

Birth parents in Arkansas get to choose the amount of information about themselves that they want to share. In a closed adoption, the name of the birth mother might be kept confidential. But the history of the child, including their genetic history, will be available to the adoptive parents.

What is genetic history, and why would you want that information?

Your adopted child’s genetic history may include information about medical conditions that run in the child’s family. In some cases, this information can help your pediatrician make decisions about testing and diagnosis. One of the best-known examples is phenylketonuria (PKU). Untreated, this hereditary condition can lead to problems with brain development. Caught and treated early, PKU can be handled effectively with a special diet. Newborns in the United States are routinely screened for PKU.

Knowing a child’s genetic history is not intended either to guarantee a child’s health or disqualify the child from adoption. It is intended to provide the same kind of family health history information adoptive parents would have about a biological child. This information can help with lifestyle choices and medical decisions making, just as your own family history helps you make health decisions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics made an important point about genetic information of adopted children: “Just as a birth family cannot be certain that its natural child will be healthy, the adoptive family cannot be guaranteed that a child will not have future health problems.”

Genetic testing and genetic history

Now that genetic testing is readily available from organizations like 23andMe and, it is easier than ever to learn more about an adopted child’s family background. Just as adults might enjoy knowing that they have 8% Basque DNA, it can be fun to learn about your adopted child’s genetic profile. This type of testing can also alert you to family health history issues that might not be included in the child’s genetic history report.

However, this kind of information should be used with caution. First, popular, inexpensive at-home tests are not the same as genetic risk evaluation from a medical professional. The level of accuracy may not be high enough to make such tests useful.

Using these kinds of tests can even have negative effects:

  • Limited Scope: Genetic testing doesn’t reveal all potential health risks. Many conditions have complex causes involving both genetic and environmental factors.
  • Psychological Impact: Knowing about potential health risks, even if they haven’t manifested, can cause anxiety for both parents and the child as they grow older.
  • Availability of Treatment: Not all genetic conditions have readily available treatments or cures. In some cases, knowing about a risk factor might not change the course of action but instead could create unnecessary worry.

The American Society of Human Genetics recommends that genetic testing should be done for adopted children only in the ways and for the reasons it is done for all children.

Let Heimer Law help with the details

The adoption process can be lengthy, complex, and confusing. Heimer Law can help you understand all the ins and outs. Contact us with your questions for a free consultation.

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