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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Working with a confidential intermediary from the agency that facilitated my adoption was what transformed me from a rather tentative soul, usually respectful of authority, into a passionate advocate for adoption reform.  I signed up for the intermediary system because at that time, I didn't realize I had other alternatives, like going to a volunteer search angel or a private investigator for help.  I had no idea how working with an intermediary would make me feel.

As I've reported in other posts, my intermediary's first question was: "Why do you want to know?"  Closely behind that question was another: "What do you hope to gain from this?"  Immediately, I felt that my motives and my psychological competence were being questioned.  I shouldn't have to explain why I want to know my own personal history and who gave birth to me.  My history and my identity belong to me, and these things should never have been taken from me in the first place.  As an adult, I very much disliked placing my personal affairs into the hands of an unknown party whose competence I had no way of judging.

My intermediary made one phone call to my original mother, and in that one phone call, my original mother apparently said she wanted no contact.  The intermediary reported, "She is a tough nut to crack," or something along those lines.  I didn't know whether I could trust the intermediary's assessment or not.  All I knew is that I had no medical information, no personal history, nothing.  After much soul-searching, I decided to try to make contact on my own, through a compassionate and personal certified letter, and I did meet with success.  Perhaps the social worker scared my original mother off.  I know the agency personnel intimidated and infuriated me: their stance was so rigid, cold and bureaucratic.

My feelings on the intermediary system today are very clear.  It is unfair and unethical for two parties to sign a lifelong, binding contract over a third party who had no say in the matter.  As adults, we adoptees should have the same rights as any other citizen.  Confidential intermediaries are simply another barrier to our desires as adults to manage our own lives.  My original birth certificate -- the legal document recording my birth -- certainly belongs to me just as much, if not more so, than to my original mother.

Here are other reasons I strongly oppose the confidential intermediary "solution":

1.  The adoptee is expected to pay for the service, a reality that benefits the adoption agency financially.  Ten years ago, I paid my agency $400 for an ultimately unsuccessful search.

2.  Our searches are sometimes trivialized by agency personnel as "idle curiosities."  This is what my agency's attorney called my efforts when I tried to convince the agency to forward my personal letter to my original mother.

3.  Some agencies have a long history of opposing adoptee access.  How can they possibly facilitate contact without bias?

4.  Other agencies, according to search angels and investigators, have distorted birth records to suit their own purposes.  Once again, how can these agencies be expected to facilitate contact without bias?

5.  Confidential intermediary programs are costly and often slow.  When expressing their support for a NJ Adoptee Rights Bill in 1992, the directors of Maternity and Adoption Services for the Catholic Dioceses in NJ wrote, "We find this bill to be the most cost-efficient way to meet the needs of the people involved.  We are besieged with requests from adult adoptees and birthparents for intermediary search services."

6.  I am the victim of discrimination when I am forced to submit to the power of others concerning the most personal details of my life.  I am not a child, yet the intermediary process placed me in a child-like position.

I seriously doubt that those legislators who support a confidential intermediary system would tolerate a third, unknown party supervising their own, very personal affairs.  The bottom line is this: I have a right to my own history and identity.  And I am competent to manage my own personal business without the supervision of my government.  For what could be more personal than the relationship between me and my original mother?  It is no one's business except for hers and mine.


  1. You bring up some excellent points that I had not thought of (I'm an AP who supports unrestricted access to original birth certificates).

    One is that of COURSE you had a better chance of success at approaching your original mother -- you have a vested interest in the outcome whereas the intermediary doesn't.

    And this: "It is unfair and unethical for two parties to sign a lifelong, binding contract over a third party who had no say in the matter."

    And, of course, your last paragraph.

    Well said, Susan.

    1. I'm so glad that more adoptive parents are speaking out for adoptee rights. Unfortunately, not too many appear at NJ legislative hearings, and their voices do tend to carry more weight than ours and those of original mothers. I tell every adoptive parent I know, "We need you. The opposition to sensible adoption reform is well-funded, and it has been very successful in fear-mongering among key legislative decision-makers." Thanks for commenting, and I hope you will continue to speak out!

  2. My son found me through a state CI in 2007. He had tried through the state system several times to no avail becasue he was told I had a common last name which would make the search difficult.

    Luckily the last CI was a very compassionate soul, found me, and gave me a copy of his OBC.

    Imagine my surprise when I saw that not only my name and his bfather's name were on the OBC, but also MY HOME ADDRESS at the time of his birth. A home my family still owned! Any idiot could have looked me up in the white pages of the phone book in 5 minutes or less! Why did it take years???? Years we both lost.

    The only issue we have - and it is a big one - has been because his adoptive mother and family have hurt him terribly for having a relationship with me.

    But he is my son and we are so much alike. We are thankfully in a wonderful reunion against all odds.

    1. Angelle,
      It is so sad that some adoptive families still feel so threatened by original family members. It is an insecurity that is so unnecessary once the dynamics of adoption are better understood. I am glad that you and your son found each other and am sorry that his adoptive family cannot understand that he is only widening his circle of people to love. A conditional love -- that is a love that insists on its own way -- is really not love. And adoptees who seek out their original families are not rejecting their adoptive families. We who live adoption have to keep educating people about those realities. Perhaps your son's adoptive mother would read my post, "An Open Letter to Adoptive Parents." It might help, and it might not. Some people are unable to hear the truth when they feel it threatens them in some way.

    2. Today I got a call from my son. The day after mother's day. So when I pointed out that fact he said "well I didn't call (amom) either." I said that was not the point. The point was did he have issues with the term and reality of "mother?" (Obviously he does.)

      His amom's behavior is ripping him apart and I see it so clearly. Hopefully with open and honest discussion he will be able to move forward.

      Since amom thinks I ceased to exist the day he was adopted I doubt she cares about anyone but herself. I am really a mild mannered human being except when it comes to my son. BTW I am in NJ as well.

  3. Susan I wanted to let you know that I linked to one of your posts from my blog today. I hope to give other adoptive parents exposure to your writing. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Dana. I really appreciate it. One of the reasons I write the blog is to help adoptive parents understand the adoptee point of view. And I hope to see more of them speak out for adoptee rights as time goes on. Even though most adoptions are open today, the laws governing adoption are still antiquated and unfair, and that doesn't speak well for the integrity of adoption. Unfortunately, legislators are easily mislead on this issue by lobbies pushing their own ideological or bottom-line agendas.

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The intermediaries strip adopted individuals of the right to make their own choices about owning their identities. And if sounds like you had a particularly insensitive one--putting you on the defensive from the get go. When I spoke out against them at AAC, I felt the adoptive parents in the audience become defensive--or was it because I said APs had in the past opposed open records at every opportunity?

    It sickens me that legislators see CIs a some kind of safety hatch for them to squirm through--as they deny adopted people the right to own their true identities, without restrictions.


    Keep up the good work.

  5. Very well written and I totally agree with you. I decided right off the bat not to go with the CI that was offered to me. I knew that s/he would have nowhere near the vested interest in the outcome that I did and that I wouldn't be able to see behind the scenes to see how much effort s/he was making in the first place. You also can't really know what the CI's mindset is about reunions in general. I think the whole system infantilizes adult adoptees.

    Of course, if that is someone's only option, I'd say go for it. But since I had a lot of identifying information already I decided to hire someone privately. And had results very quickly.

    1. Hi Susan. Great blog. I had the option of a CI in Illinois but it made more sense to use my agency. i had to pay them 500 bucks but my first mom had a unique married name which made it easy to find her. It took a week! I felt infantalized during the process even though the social worker was a really nice person. I wasn't allowed to know what state my first mom lived in which really made me mad. my letter was forwarded to her and because my first mom agreed i was allowed to know her name and have a copy of her letter to me with the address on it. I can definitely believe that attorney said that to you. How did you convince them to send the letter? I'm glad you did. Lynn

  6. Great blog! I'm in NC and its all but impossible to search here! I LITERALLY had to write to my state representatives and complain to them about my county dss in order to get them to comply to the new laws allowing me to have the most up to date non id info. And even though they know that I'm willing to take it as far as I need to get what I'm entitled to they are STILL are making it as difficult as possible!
    Even though I now have my original county of birth, birth date and my non id (parents birth ages, etc) I still am unable to find myself on any birth index, and I'm told that I was born in NC. I swear I believe there's something hinky going on with my records!!

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