Sunday, May 25, 2008

THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE

THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE




GRANNY’S NOTES ON THE ILLINOIS CONFIDENTIAL INTERMEDIARY LAW

I have recently read two of the most enlightening, scathing, and sorrowful blogs written by Triona Guidry, an Illinois adoptee who describes her botched Illinois Confidential Intermediary Search and the inhumane treatment she received from those very people entrusted by our state to manage the CI program. You can read her blogs, “Caveat Emptor on Confidential Intermediary Programs” and “Case Closed! Another Adoptee Becomes A Confidential Intermediary Statistic” at
http://73adoptee.blogspot.com. Bottom line, the CI’s “accidentally” revealed Triona’s private identifying information to her anonymous birth mother, without Triona’s permission.

Triona relates the painful personal details of what happens when a state uses a law ostensibly to help adopted adults find some truth about themselves. But in reality this very same law allows the state to operate in secrecy, and in Triona’s situation, with out any accountability, transparency, or humanity.

The Illinois Adoption Registry (a gigantic flop) and the Illinois Confidential Intermediary Law ( a gigantic sham) were very cleverly constructed to give adoptees the appearance of receiving help from the state while at the same time making sure that any identifying information to be forthcoming would be carefully monitored and totally controlled by the state.










The Confidential Intermediary Law is a state owned and operated program that appoints social worker-nannies to adoptees to try and locate their birth parents. Nanny gets to read all our adoption documents and our original birth certificate but she must never show them to us or even tell us about them. The overriding rule governing the entire CI system is that no identifying information will ever be issued to any adoptee UNLESS THE BIRTH MOTHER CONSENTS.

Yet they call it a law for adoptees. How clever is this!

GRANNY’S MEMORIES


I signed up with the CI program in 1994, about two years after its inception. I understood from Day One that only my CIs would be given access to my adoption file and my original birth certificate in order to locate my birth parents. It was also made clear to me that all adoption documents as well as all identifying information discovered by the social workers would always be kept secret from me. I accepted this stipulation because I was dazzled by the prospect of possibly locating some birth relatives. The thought of an adoptee controlling her own destiny was unheard of to me. I was so dumb back then that I didn’t think an adoptee could ever ask for her original birth certificate.


Midwest Adoption Agency holds a total monopoly over the management of the CI program in the entire State of Illinois (How sweet is this). In fact, Midwest’s owners, Gretchen Schulert and Nancy Golden, were assigned by the court to be my very own Confidential Intermediaries.

When I was signing on, I was told in a sales talk by Ms. Schulert and Ms. Golden that the beauty of the CI program was that CIs had the full power of the courts behind them. CIs could go where others couldn’t. The CIs could present a court order for information which otherwise would not be given out to adoptees. In other words, the CIs had super powers.

I fell for it – hook, line and sinker. If these people could get their toes into doors that had been slammed in my face, then it was worth the money. I signed on the dotted line and wrote a check for $500. I also had to pay an additional $220 to file my petition with the Cook County Circuit Court, a fee that has subsequently been waived.

My search seemed to have its roots in Indiana. CI Nancy Golden wanted to obtain an Indiana birth certificate of a woman she thought might be my birth grandmother. Indiana told her to get lost. Her super powers didn’t extend into any other state. How naïve I was to ever believe that a confidential intermediary or even a judge in one state might issue any type of order to a judge in another state regarding the release of information.


Indiana’s solution for me was to apply for a Confidential Intermediary in Indiana and pay all their fees. Then and only then would an Indiana CI go to court and act on my behalf to try and obtain the desired document. Of course, the Indiana CI would only share the information on the document with my Illinois CI. The CI system reminds me of a typical “old boys network.” They sure do stick together!

By this time Ms. Golden decided that the Indiana woman in question was not a birth relative so I declined Indiana’s offer to join their CI program.

Somewhere towards the end of that first year, I began to really sour on the program. I continued to do my own searching all the while the CIs were working on my case. I shared all of my resources and information with them. But I needed feedback from them, too, and I didn’t get it. Now it finally sunk in just how stinky the CI system really is. It doesn’t give adopted men and women a chance to make any personal decisions regarding their search. By this time, I wanted to be able to make my own judgments about where and how to proceed with the search. But I could not to do this.

In 1996, after two years, the Confidential Intermediary Nancy Golden dismissed my case, declaring it unsuccessful.

Another two years later, in January, 1998, I decided I would have to go to court. I SUCCESSFULLY petitioned the Circuit Court of Cook County, pro se, to release to me copies of my entire adoption file as well as my original birth certificate. The day I actually held these records in my own hands was one of the most empowering days of my life!

By then I had already figured out that the information in these records would more likely than not turn out to be falsified or non-existent - and I was right. Nevertheless, these were my documents, I owned them, and the very fact that they were altered tells its own story.

SO YOU WANT TO SEE YOUR CI FILE?




Any searching adoptee will tell you that there is no clue too small to be considered. Ninety-nine people can look at a set of facts and reach the same conclusion. Then along comes one other person who uses the same raw data but looks at it in a totally different light and draws a different conclusion. I wanted to look at all of the raw data gathered by my CIs. Maybe I could be that hundredth person.


In April 2001, I wrote to Nancy Golden at Midwest Adoption Agency requesting a copy of my confidential intermediary file. I presented as evidence Judge Stephen Yates’ written order releasing to me copies of all of my adoption documents and my original birth certificate. I wanted to prove to the CIs that I was now in possession of all information considered by the state to be identifying.


I also pointed out to Ms. Golden that in 1998 when my case was dismissed, there was NO PROVISION in the current CI law that mentioned any instructions as to the disposition of the CI file at the conclusion of an investigation. At the time of my request, April 2001, there was still no provision for the disposition of closed CI files. [This “forgotten” hole was subsequently plugged up in a 2004 change to the CI law.]

I received a letter back from Kathleen Hogan Morrison, Attorney for Midwest Adoption Agency, who also happens to be one of the original authors of the Confidential Information law. It was her legal opinion that the Illinois CI law does not permit CIs to ever release any data that they collect during a search. She did not address the fact that the law as written at that time contained no provisions for completed CI investigations.

The section of the law that Attorney Morrison referred me to states that any CI who improperly discloses information identifying a birth parent shall be “liable to the birth parent for damages and may also be found in contempt of court.” She continued to site the law, which says: “(2) Any person who learns a birth parent’s identity, directly or indirectly, through the use of procedures provided in this Section and who improperly discloses information identifying the birth parent shall be liable to the birth parent for actual damages plus minimum punitive dames of $10,000.” [750 ILCS 50/18.3a.) (Emphasis is Attorney Morrison’s)

Ms. Morrison concluded her letter with this paragraph:

“Ms. Field is incorrect in her assertion that ‘the legal barrier of confidentiality has been lifted.’ In fact, confidentiality continues. Neither Midwest Adoption Center nor any Confidential Intermediary has the right to share identifying information about other people, which may or may not be in the Confidential Intermediary file. The prohibitions and sanctions set forth in Sections 18.3 (a) are intact. The Confidential Intermediary file may not be released to Ms. Field.” [Emphasis is mine]


THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE

Triona’s blogs will describe to you how her Illinois CIs “accidentally” gave out Triona’s personal & identifying information to her anonymous birth mother - without Triona’s permission! I was appalled to hear this. So I went back to reread the appropriate sections of the IL Confidential Intermediary law. Maybe things had changed since I went through it. But there it was, staring me in the face, Section 18.3. (1)

Any confidential intermediary who improperly discloses confidential information identifying a sought‑after relative shall be liable to the sought‑after relative for damages and may also be found in contempt of court.

Notice that only the sought-after relative can claim damages if a CI improperly discloses confidential information. Not the adoptee! And believe me, I looked carefully for any section that might deal with any legal recourse adoptees might have. There is none!

The Confidential Intermediary Law is accountable only to the state and to the birth mothers.

So what happens to Triona? Where are any adoptee protections in this law? We are out in the cold.

“Aw gee, we’re sorry,” they told Triona. But do they really care? OF COURSE NOT. After all, Triona isn’t a sought-after relative.




Yet they continue to call this a law for adoptees. When pigs fly!






CAVEAT EMPTOR


So now I add my caveat to Triona’s. Be very certain of what treatment you can live with before you sign on with the CIs. Ask yourself if you can give up complete control of your search to a third party who is prevented by law from telling you any identifying information about yourself. Remember, your confidential intermediaries will arbitrarily tell you only those facts they want to. And they will arbitrarily withhold from you any facts that they want to. And you can bet the farm that the Confidential Intermediary law itself as well as Midwest Adoption Agency and its lawyers will support all of these decisions!




4 comments:

Mary Lynn Fuller said...

Anita, I don't believe you could have said it any better! I feel blessed that I never contacted the IL CI Program because I do believe that Al Capone was nicer to people. It makes me so angry that Feigenholtz and Mitchell have lied enough to make some believe that the Registry and CI Program should remain intact. Well, many of us are not stupid and we have to win this war so IL adoptees have the human rights that they deserve.

Baby Love Child said...

Great piece!

It's terribly important to document and put out in public direct personal experiences like this with the CI system.

This is why anything short of the full restoration of access to our own paperwork (can you say 'inexcusably lousy bills such as IL HB 4623?') are absolute failures.

Yes, the programs created to 'help adoptees' are in the final analysis anything but.

I linked across to your piece in my blog entry tonight urging people to work against IL HB 4623. More people need to see what CI systems mean in practice. It deserves to be widely read.

Legislators, for example, come to mind, as people who SHOULD be reading about your and Triona's experiences.

Thanks for taking the time to write about what you went through, as well as your insightful analysis of the law. It's invaluable.

Anita said...

Thanks very much. You know, as I was writing it, I was thinking how I would love it if all legislators could be reading our stories. But the only ones they seem to be interested in are the warm and fuzzy successes. And there are some.

The problem, IMHO, is that the leggies don't want to look behind the law itself because they see it as their very convenient alternative to pure open records.

The CI system allows the state to continue to have control over us.

Don't know what's going to happen to HB 4623. It has another extention (its third) until May 31st. That's the official end of the session. I've heard that lots of sneaky and crazy things happen at the last minute of a session, so I'm very fearful that the bill might have even been made worse and they're holding it till the very end so the public doesn't get a chance to see it before the House votes.
Sigh.... I hope I'm wrong.

triona said...

Granny Annie, you and I had the same naive assumption that the CI program was actually there to do us some good. I was similarly dazzled by the CI "super powers" of gaining access to court information, especially after the runaround between my state of birth and state of adoption. I thought anything was better than nothing, even if I had to pay extra for it. I was wrong, and it may have cost contact with my mother and any hope of gaining information on my father. I hope you'll share your experience with our legislators as they discuss HB 4623, the Bohica Bill that intends to keep giving more of the same to Illinois adoptees.

Let me get this straight - Indiana tried to charge you for their own CI just to pass information to the Illinois one? Geez, how many more ways can they find to double-dip us? It's like they know these schemes are never going to hold water so they are bilking it for all it's worth while the blinders are still on.

I'm expanding on this on my own blog at 73adoptee.blogspot.com, because I would really like to know why it is that adoptees like Granny Annie and myself are expected to settle for more halfass compromises when we can plainly see how ineffective and inhumane they are.

Please encourage lawmakers to oppose HB 4623, and to craft true open records legislation in Illinois.