Why Registries and Intermediaries Are No Substitute For Open Adoption Records

I’ve mentioned this before, but since the WICS reporter asked Mary this specific question, I thought I’d reiterate. The reporter wanted to know why Adoption Reform Illinois is not satisfied with the Illinois Registry and Confidential Intermediary (CI) Program as a solution to the question of adoption records.

Registries and intermediaries are NO substitute for open adoption records. Why?

Number-one reason:


  • Registries and intermediaries are expensive.
    Here in Illinois it’s a $95 registration fee plus $200 per search, and that’s with the special “subsidy” (usually it’s $400 a search). Compare this to $15 for a certified copy of a non-adoptee’s birth certificate. Those who cannot afford these rates are locked out of the only procedure currently available for records access.
  • Registries and intermediaries are not accessible to everyone.
    As an adoptee born in one state and adopted in another I had to fight for years to use the Illinois CI program (and now wish I hadn’t). Others are still caught in similar Catch-22s due to paperwork snafus, sunspots, or other silly details. States don’t keep track of how many applications get rejected, so there is no way to know how many get dumped in the circular file.
  • Registries and intermediaries are ineffective.
    The Illinois Registry’s match rate is just 13% through March 2008 (link opens PDF); other states are comparable. And intermediaries have no access to records outside their own state; if an adoption takes place across state lines or information resides elsewhere, their Super CI Powers don’t work.
  • Intermediaries are no better at searching than anyone else.
    You are likely to get better results through a search angel, a volunteer who also has a personal connection to adoption and likely a more vested interest in helping, than an anonymous social worker who may not even be familiar with adoption, much less how to manage search and reunion. (Another example of confusing access with search.)
  • You have no control over your own search.
    These programs will not tell you what steps have been taken on your behalf, so in effect they take control of your search for you. If you have been searching on your own a while, want to see if you can put pieces together yourself, or even just want to verify that you are receiving the services for which you’ve paid, that decision is taken out of your hands.
  • There is no oversight or accountability.
    I mentioned how the Illinois CI program released my identifying information to my birth mother without my consent. I still have no “official” notification, going on two years, and no way for me to formally protest or file a grievance. These programs cloak their operations in the magic word “confidentiality,” which also serves to hide any mistakes they may make. You can’t even find out their standard procedures, or what information they are providing your contacted relative!
  • Open adoption records do not result in increased abortions or decreased adoptions.
    This is another assumption that has been proven false, time and again, as records are opened in more states. See the EBD’s For The Records study.
  • Adults do not need third parties to manage their affairs.
    Adoptees and birth relatives are perfectly capable of negotiating contact with one another without the “helpful” interference of the government.

    In fact, I put forth that intermediaries may actually hinder the process by making it more complicated and overwhelming. If a birth mom is afraid of her secret becoming known, is she more likely to talk to a scary state worker or a gentle volunteer search angel? Keep in mind many of these women were threatened with legal action if they attempted to search. A CI coming along after all these years may resurrect that fear.

  • For those birth mothers who do want privacy, registries and intermediaries force the adoptee to contact them in order to gain information.
    When I signed up for the CI I didn’t necessarily want to find my birth mother, I just wanted information and that is the only way, in Illinois and many other closed-records states, to obtain it. More confusing access with search.
  • Registries and intermediaries pre-penalize adult adoptees for something we haven’t even done.
    Such laws assume ALL adoptees are potential criminals who only seek information in order to stalk birth family members. Could we please get rid of this stereotype? There are existing anti-harassment laws, and adoptees are no more likely to break them than anyone else. Our rights should not be denied to protect against “what-ifs.”

Add to all this, registries and intermediaries are demeaning. How would you like to be told by the state that you are Not Worthy? I personally found the entire procedure humiliating as my life and intentions were combed for hidden meanings, all for a vague chance at the same information others can have without question. As Mary’s experience at Vital Records shows, we’re always on the other side of that locked door.

Let adoptees and birth moms have access to original birth certificates like everyone else. It would save the state oodles of money since they would not have to run those expensive registry and intermediary programs, and it is the only way to restore equality in a system that is far from equitable.

Santa, I’m still askin’. Please send me my original birth certificate!


  1. I agree 100% that registries and intermediaries are no substitute for open adoption records!

    I honestly don’t believe that the IL Registry or CI Program would have benefited me. I don’t recall just why I did not use the Registry. But after my search was completed I did learn that my birth mother had died just a few weeks after the Registry went into effect. Unfortunately there are other adoptees who find deceased birth mothers. I don’t know how a CI would have been of help.

    Meeting up with someone via the Internet resulted in my receiving immense help from her during the latter part of my search. With what information she gathered from a public source and going with my gut feeling my search was finally completed.

    But opening adoption records would lead to all adult adoptees being able to request & receive their OBC. A civil right would be restored to them. Why should adoptees not have dignity? We are first-class citizens when it comes to voting, paying taxes, going to war…

  2. The CI system was passed off to us as a “way station” on the road to open records. But historically, once the CI program was on the books, no one wanted to revisit the situation by trying to get what adoptees really want – unfettered access to their obcs. The program started as a “step in the right direction,” but instead it has become the only step open to adooptees in many states.

    I believe legislators who enact CI systems see them as a SAFE ALTERNATIVE to unsealing birth records to adoptees.

    Thanks for this really excellent blog. It sure does cover so many reasons why it is not the solution. And your number one concern hits the target straight on. That is, obtaining one’s obc has nothing whatsoever to do with searches or reunions.


  3. CIs set the tone of the reunion. They decide if you are capable of being in reunion. That is what scares me more than anything. If a CI doesn’t like either adoptees or mothers, guess what you are screwed. Indiana has one of those. Her name is Kristen Lucas. She is the most hateful woman that I have ever met. Her own prejudices could have potentially ruined two reunions that I know of. The complaints against this woman alone are horrendous.What is ironic is that she stated that she works in Michigan, Illinois, California, and Indiana. She even stated that she had some of Georgia Tann’s records. She is one of six people who has them. My CI is somewhat better than her but not by much. I have heard from other CIs in Indiana that she needs to be run out of town and Indiana. The state of Indiana even knows of these complaints against her but she is doing these reunions.

    For me none of this makes logical sense. The non adopted are not subject to parental permission for their birth certificates. Why are we? Why are we held to a contract that we did not sign? Why are we responsible for the future reproductive decisions of women?