More detail on new adoption law
Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday signed a new law that's intended to make it easier for adoptees to access their birth records. Here's my story with details highlighted about how the law works, how old you have to be to apply for the records and so on ...
SPRINGFIELD - State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz has served in the General Assembly since 1995, but despite her clout in state government, the state won't let her see her birth certificate.
Feigenholtz is adopted. And under state law her birth records, like those of thousands of other adoptees, remain secret unless the birthparent agrees to allow access.
That would change under a proposal Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, has pushed for years at the Capitol that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Friday.
"In the eyes of government I'm either a perpetual infant or potential stalker," Feigenholtz said in pressing approval during a recent House debate. "I want the true document of my birth and I need to be trusted with it."
Now, a yearlong, nationwide informational campaign begins to spread the word that adopted children could access birth certificates and the rights afforded parents who gave up their children for adoption. The campaign would include public service announcements, postings on state and adoption agency websites and notices in vehicle registration renewals.
"Adoptees born prior to Jan. 1, 1946, will be able to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate immediately," said Feigenholtz. "Anyone born after 1946 has to wait for this 12-month campaign to complete itself and allow all birth parents to come forward. ... And then an adoptee can apply for their birth certificate and if there's no preference form that says do not release my identity, then they get the copy of their birth certificate, if there's no denial filed."
The new system essentially puts the burden of keeping information confidential on the birthparents. All adoption records are currently sealed, though all adoption agencies and services have outreach programs. This new law creates a system where the birthparents can opt how much, if any, information they want shared, should the child who was adopted seek that information after turning 21. For instance, the form birth parents will be asked to file contains a checklist that starts with full release of all information and providing contact numbers, moves to restricted release and contact and concludes with no release of any information. The birthparents simply check which option they prefer.
If no form is filed blocking access, the records will be available once the publicity campaign ends.
Many adoption advocates backed her proposal.
Naomi Jakobsson is a Democratic state representative from Champaign who's adopted six children.
"I can attest to the fact that's there's a growing body of evidence to allow my adult adopted children access to their original birth certificates," Jakobsson said. "This is something I want for all of them."
Again, many, but not all, adoption advocates back the proposal.
Keith Sommer is a Republican state representative from Morton and has adopted two children. He fears birthparents will never learn of the new law, which could lead to problems as adopted children seek out their parents later in life.
Sommer noted that less than 2 percent of birthparents come forward under existing laws to unseal birth documents, numbers that he said suggest they may not want the documents unsealed.
On the other hand, a group going by the name Adoption Reform Illinois criticized the new law as not going far enough, saying any adult should be able to obtain unredacted birth records. "Any proposed change that does not recognize adult adoptees as having the same rights and responsibilities of every other Illinois resident is unacceptable," the group says in its opposition message.
The proposal passed the Illinois House 74-39 cleared the state Senate 36-16.
But some lawmakers expressed concerns that the proposal crosses into troubling areas. For instance, if a birthparent doesn't want the records turned over, then that parent would have to take action to ensure the information remains confidential. If the birthparent fails to do so, it'll be treated the same as if the parent had agreed to release the information.
Consent by lack of action could be a dangerous precedent, some lawmakers warned, especially when many people may never hear about this new law or the new requirements it imposes.
If a birthparent requests that the information remain confidential, an adoptee can petition for appointment of a confidential intermediary to search for the birth parent once five years have elapsed since the denial was filed.