As Ohio was thumbing its nose at open records advocates' testimony, the Illinois Confidential Intermediary program closed a case and added another successful match to its statistics.
Except I'm not a statistic. And as I've mentioned before, my CI case was anything but successful.
This is a timeline of my experience.
I apply to the Illinois Adoption Registry, as well as the separate Illinois CI program (run by Midwest Adoption Center under contract to Illinois DCFS). My application for a CI is rejected, despite my Illinois birth certificate, because the program “does not have a procedure” for out-of-state adoptees.
Having exhausting most resources on my own, I contact an attorney about re-applying to the Illinois CI program.
After two years of working with the program to prepare a procedure for out-of-state adoptees, mine is the first such application to be accepted.
- July 2006
My court petition is approved, and a CI assigned. The CI is given one year to search for birth parents and siblings. There is a registration fee and separate fees for each search. The first search is for my mother. I provide the CI with the scant information I have, including the non-identifying information I obtained in the late 1990s from Ohio.
- November 2006
Contact is made with my mother. We are allotted three letters each within the CI program.
I ask the CI for a (redacted) copy of the initial letter sent to my mother. It is provided with my mother's first letter.
- February 2007
I receive my mother's second letter.
I ask the CI about searching for my father. She says I should ask my mother.
I write a letter to Gretchen Schulert, expressing concerns about the program and suggesting ways it might be improved. I ask about the rigid “three letters” policy, and also if an outside counselor could facilitate an exchange with my mother in order to reserve the remaining letters within the CI program.
I am asked by Gretchen via the CI if I am willing to identify to my mother.
Nancy Golden (clinical director/chief therapeutcrat of the CI program) calls in response to my letter to Gretchen Schulert (administrative director). In a rushed conversation Nancy reveals that they sometimes do five letters instead of three. She suggests I try searching on my own. Oh, and she also suggests I seek counseling if I need it...
- March 2007
My mother agrees to increase our letter exchange to five.
- May 2007
In a conversation with the CI, I ask when my mother will receive the medical questionnaire I filled out with the Illinois registry back in 2000. I am told only if she signs up for the registry, and my CI doesn't know if she has been informed of it.
- June 2007
I receive my mother's third response. In the cover letter the CI tells me:
“Your birth mother included the first name of your birth father in her letter. Due to confidentiality issues, I was required to redact his name from her letter.”I receive the CI's status report to the judge, asking for an extension due to continued exchange of correspondence.
- July 2007
I am told my mother chooses not to identify.
The case is continued for six months. The next court hearing date is October, 2007.
- August 2007
I am told my mother wishes to continue the full exchange of five letters.
I ask about initiating the search for my father and am again told I should ask my mother. I write a letter to the CI formally asking for the search for my father to begin.
The CI informs me that there is not enough information to search for my father.
I am told by the CI that my identifying information has mistakenly been provided to my mother. As this is an express violation of the statute, the CI has to report it to the court/judge and advisory council that oversees the program. The CI will send a formal letter notifying me of the accidental disclosure.
- September 2007
I provide the non-identifying information I received in the early 1990s from Ohio to the CI again, to see if it changes the status of the search for my father.
I ask the CI for copies of the letters sent to the judge/court and advisory council regarding the disclosure of my information, and also for a redacted copy of the letter my mother sent the CI. I ask what options have been offered to my mother within the program, and what specific questions have been asked of her with regard to my father and any potential siblings.
I am told that the Illinois Registry does not apply to us because we are communicating via the CI program. The registry is only used for those wishing to communicate outside the program.
I am told I cannot know what interview questions have been asked of my mother regarding my father and any potential siblings – that I cannot know what search steps have been taken on my behalf.
I am told that I cannot have a redacted copy of my mother's letter because it is “not under guidelines of anonymous correspondence.”
The request for the letters to the judge/court and advisory council regarding the disclosure of my identifying information is ignored.
The CI tells me she intends to ask for another continuance at the October hearing.
I send another letter to Gretchen Schulert, asking for full disclosure of all standard policies and procedures, as well as standard materials given to contacted parties.
- October 2007
The CI sends me a copy of the status report to the judge, with the notation:
“The report was modified before you received it because it contained confidential information that related to your birth mother. I am prohibited from sharing that confidential information with you at this time.”[In other words, I have no idea what the real status report said.]
The CI tells me that with the Ohio information I provided there is now enough to begin a search for my father, but that the likelihood of success is poor. I pay the fee and fill out the forms to begin the search.
I call Gretchen Schulert regarding the letter I sent in September. She tells me that I will receive a reply, but informs me she does not have time to discuss the matter.
I am told my mother no longer wishes to continue anonymous exchange of letters.
- November 2007
My attorney is informed by Illinois DCFS's legal counsel that the CI program's policies and procedures are “not available to the public.”
I receive my mother's final letter, once again with a notation from the CI:
“Your birth mother included the age of your birth grandfather at the time of his death in her letter. Due to confidentiality issues, I was required to redact his age from her letter.”The judge continues my case until May, 2008, so the search for my father can proceed. This excerpt from the court order makes it sound like a capital crime for adoptees to ask about their origins:
“This matter coming on a request for instructions by the Confidential Intermediary and the Court having reviewed the matter considering the respective interests of the Parties to the adoption, namely, the adoptee's rights to search for biological relatives as granted by Illinois law, and the fact that the biological mother was more likely than not advised that her identity would be shielded from disclosure if an adoption ofher child was completed. Further noting, that the Parties have undertaken the practice of communicating anonymously which should give the Petitioner access to any necessary genetic medical history and, if appropriate, other information about her biological family. Finally, observing the mother's adamant refusal to share additional information at this time and stating a rational basis for her position.I email Representative Sara Feigenholtz, sponsor of the CI program, regarding my concerns about the program and in particular the lack of official notification of the accidental disclosure of my identifying information. I ask her advice as to how to proceed.
IT IS ORDERED:
1. That the Confidential Intermediary shall not furnish the Petitioner with an unredacted copy of her status report or any additional information concerning the biological mother, other than as authorized by her;
2. The matter is continued to May, 2008 to allow for a search for the biological father.”
I receive the long-awaited response from Gretchen regarding the letter I sent in September. She informs me that CI program policies and procedures are “for internal use, not for public distribution.”
The CI tells me she has begun sending letters to men who could possibly be my father.
- December 2007
The CI expresses surprise that I have not yet received the official notification of the accidental disclosure of my identifying information. She says she will look into it.
- January 2008
I am once again told there is “no word” on the official notification. The person who is supposed to provide it is “someone at DCFS” but the CI is “not allowed” to tell me who.
The CI tells me the search for my father is complete but unsuccessful, and that without further information no searches for potential siblings can be made.
I exchange email correspondence with Rep. Feigenholtz, who is happy to tell me about HB 4623 but ceases communication when I voice concerns about the CI program.
I am told my mother intends to file a denial with the Illinois Registry.
The CI says she will recommend in her status report that the case be dismissed.
I could have the non-identifying information the CI gathered in the course of my search. The CI would even throw in a written notation that my identifying information was disclosed. But I may only receive it if the judge closes my case.
It's apparently standard “procedure” – never mind that nobody seems able to provide written procedures for anything the CI program does. See, if they close the case they can add me to their statistics as a successful “match,” not to mention get rid of me.
Instead, my attorney and I made a motion to keep the case open pending legislation in Illinois (HB 4623) and Ohio (HB 7) that might grant more access to my records; or, failing that, to gain the right to re-open the case within a year should new information about my father arise.
It's a good thing I wasn't at the May hearing; the judge was so busy he barely had time to notice my dinky little case. His ruling was that he had read my motion but not the CI's status report, so he would get back to me, sometime. As usual, adoptees are lowest priority.
The following day I received a call from the CI. The judge chose to close my case. But it's okay, the CI reassures me. If I ever get more information about my father, all I have to do is re-petition, they do it all the time. A CI will be assigned, and we can keep going.
Here's the kicker. I would have to pay AGAIN to re-open the case!
I've already paid a registration fee, plus separate search fees for my mother and father. But due to the “exorbitant” amount of time spent on my case, the program would have to charge me again to re-open it. This is for a search in which I did most of the legwork, since they had no access to anything in Ohio. And since I'm not allowed to know the steps taken in my search, I have no way to verify what was actually done.
Ready for the scorecard? The Illinois CI program:
- Initially refused all applications from Illinois-born, out-of-state adoptees. Their web site states you don't need a lawyer – but if I hadn't had one my application would still be sitting in the reject pile.
Are other applications being rejected? Intermediary programs are not available to all adoptees.
- Deliberately discourages participants and contacted relatives from signing up with the state registry.
Why? Is it to ensure a steady supply of paying clients? The state registry is free (if you complete the medical section); the CI program costs hundreds of dollars.
- Redacts information not specifically stated in the 18.4 statute as being "identifying," in my case information my mother obviously desired to tell me since she included it in her letters.
Are adoptees being denied even the minimal non-identifying information permitted by law?
- Can't decide whether participants are permitted program information or not. I received a redacted copy of the first letter sent to my mother when I requested it, but requests for similar subsequent materials was denied.
Are programs using “confidentiality” as a cloak to hide their own shortcomings?
- Refuses to disclose the search steps taken on participants' behalf.
How are participants to know if they have received the services they paid for, if they are not allowed to know what was done?
- Refuses to disclose their standard written policies and procedures.
What do these programs have to hide, that their very policies are secret?
- Accidentally disclosed my identifying information without my consent.
Why are adoptees expected to trust programs that consider their own policies more “confidential” than participants' private data?
- Continues to fail to provide official written notification of said disclosure.
Why do proponents of intermediaries deny that mistakes occur? Is it because the primary focus is profit rather than helping adoptees and their families?
- Charges to re-open cases, with no way for participants to know what has or has not been done on their behalf.
Why are adoptees expected not only to pay extra fees, but to pay them multiple times, for the same information that non-adopted people may easily obtain?
While writing this I received the CI's last status report. This includes her mention of the disclosure of my identifying info – but that's still not the official notification. And now that the case is closed, there's a snowball's chance in hell of getting that. Plus, the non-identifying information about my father is different from what I have from Ohio. I'm left with more questions than answers. Since I'm not allowed to know what's been done, I have no way to know what's really going on.
And that's the key. They don't want you to know what's going on.
Not only have adoptees fallen into a dank political swamp, but we've been conscripted into the greatest adoption scheme since Georgia Tann first decided to falsify birth certificates to cover selling children. Post-adoption services exist to charge you, with no guarantees. If you question the process, if you dare voice a concern, you are branded an Angry Ungrateful Adoptee, and encouraged to seek counseling.
Adoptees don't need counseling. We need the same access to our records as those who are not adopted. Post-adoption services like intermediaries are ineffective.
- They operate with little oversight.
- They confuse the issue of adoptee civil rights with the debate over search and reunion.
- They force reunion in the quest for information.
- CIs may not have the experience necessary to effect successful searches.
- By their very presence, third parties may interfere with the reunion process.
- CI contact may feel threatening to first moms, whose experience with social workers may already be less than positive.
- “One strike” policy is cruel – if a contacted party says no and later changes his/her mind, the program may refuse to make further contact.
- Charging adoptees more than non-adoptees for birth information is outrageous.
- Charging adoptees multiple times is even more outrageous.
- The entire concept of intermediaries is an affront to adoptees' adulthood.
Now, I've been told (not that I can verify this, since it's more classified than the deepest government secrets) that my original birth certificate has no first or middle name – not Baby Girl, nothing. So if this legislation passes, I'll officially be:
BLANK BLANK BLANK
And the supporters of HB 4623 call this a win for adoptee records access!
Like others with the bad luck to be adopted between states, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Illinois HB 4623 promotes an already ineffective system, and Ohio's HB 7 has been emasculated of open records language. Without changes in legislation – or winning the lottery – I have slim chance of proceeding further.
This started as a simple request for my records. Twelve years later, the adoption industry has turned me into a vocal advocate for adoptee rights. It's ironic that if the records weren't sealed, there wouldn't be people like me publicly questioning the adoption industry's more dubious practices.
But we are. And you should, too.