January 27, 2009

"Adoptees Seek Change in Law"

Adoptees seek change in law
Many say closed records hamper their right to know

January 24, 2009 - 11:07 PM
For The Telegraph

Anita Walker Field of Skokie was weeks away from a much-needed
vacation when she learned that the federal government had denied her
passport application because of her birth certificate.

"It was very frustrating," Field said.

Field found out the reason for the rejection was that she had been

"I didn't have a proper birth certificate that showed where I was
born," she said. "It was a Catch-22, because the documents that I
needed were sealed by the state of Illinois."

Adoptees are given amended birth certificates with the names of their
adoptive - rather than biological - parents. These amended slips
should fulfill all the requirements of a regular birth certificate,
but sometimes - as in Field's case - they don't.

Field's story points to a fact that few know: Adult adoptees from =
Illinois are not allowed access to their birth records or to
information about their biological parents.

According to the Illinois Adoption Act, "All adoption records
maintained by each circuit clerk shall be impounded ... and shall be
opened for examination only upon specific order of the court."

The act also requires that both the birth mother and the adoptee must
consent before information records will be released.

Field and other adult adoptees feel the laws that once protected them
as children now are stifling them as adults.

"The issue here is dealing with a civil and human right of every
citizen to know his or her identity," Field said.

Politicians have been debating adoptee rights for years. State
lawmakers such as state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, an adult
adoptee now seeking the seat in the U.S. Congress that was vacated
when former U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel resigned to become President
Barack Obama's chief of staff, have worked to amend adoptee laws.

In 2008, Feigenholtz and other representatives worked to amend the
Adoption Act with House Bill 4623, which would allow a liaison - a
confidential intermediary - to give an adoptee 21 or older
"non-identifying information," such as some medical records.

But not all adoptees felt that HB 4623 was fair.

"(The) legislative proposals would create multiple classes of
adoptees, and some would be denied access to information about their
own identities," said Triona Guidry, Midwest coordinator of the Green
Ribbon Campaign for Open Records.

Guidry and others opposed to HB 4623 formed the coalition, Adoption =
Reform Illinois, which worked to rethink the bill.

One of the biggest problems that ARI supporters had with HB 4623 was =
with the concept of a confidential intermediary, or CI. The
Confidential Intermediary System of Illinois, run by the Midwest
Adoption Center, has been providing CI services to adult adoptees
since 1993.

"Our focus is to provide post-adoption services, including support
and counseling and post-adoption search services," said Gretchen
Schulert, co-director of the MAC.

The program works to find the adoptees' birth relatives. It equips
and appoints trained officials to work as go-betweens for adoptees
and their biological parents. The CIs have access to court records,
birth certificates and agency record information to set up
communication for the families.

The success rate of finding a relative through the CI program is
high, according to the MAC's Web site. It has located more than 90
percent of sought relatives, 63 percent of which resulted in
successful communication, according to a 2006 chart.

ARI representatives say that they oppose the CI method, mainly
because adopted individuals can obtain birth records only after
establishing contact with their birth parents.

"You may or may not find your birth mother with a CI, but you won't
get your certificate," Field said.

ARI would like to establish open records, which would allow adoptees
full access to their records without an intermediary. But the right
to privacy remains a factor for involved parties.

"The whole philosophy behind the CI system is to balance the need of
people to find a relative and the other person's right to privacy,"
Schulert said.

Schulert also said the representatives at MAC believe that "it would
be better for everyone if the adoption records were not secret and
sealed for adult adoptees."

But even that would create problems for those who wish to leave the
past behind them.

"It's a tough situation," Schulert said. "Opening everything up would
not be so perfect for those that don't want their privacy violated."

As of last May 31, HB 4623 was re-referred to the Rules Committee in
the Illinois House of Representatives, and officials did not want to
comment as to whether the bill would be re-addressed by the new
General Assembly this year. In the meantime, ARI members hope to
lobby for open access instead of an intermediary program.

Field eventually was able to get her passport application approved,
thanks to the hard work of friends and a local congressman. She
remains active in ARI and hopes the legislation will change someday.

"I just think that when you're an adult, you need to know about your
background," Field said. "You should have the right to access your
birth records just like anyone else."

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