I have been doing this search thing for a long time. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget not everybody knows their way around this stuff. I think it’s important for everybody out there who is searching or planning to search to know some basic facts. I remember when I began my search I didn’t have a clue. We tend to go into search with that “attitude of gratitude” we’re so proficient at due to the very nature of the task. This thanks to society deeming us somehow UNgrateful for wanting to get our very own identities back. It’s important to shift that mindset if you are embarking on a search.
Some things to keep in mind:
If you are using a state run intermediary service the law usually allows for contact with either parent first. If both parents either refuse contact or are deceased YOU MAY HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONTACT YOUR SIBLINGS! Assuming they are adults of course. They have to be over 18. You have to read the law yourself. You cannot count on your confidential intermediary (CI) to TELL you your rights.
There are great CI’s and there are AWFUL CI’s just like in any business. Do your homework. Ask around! Get some references before hand and REQUEST a CI that has a good reputation!!!
When you HIRE an intermediary service THEY WORK FOR YOU! You hire them to do a job. If they fail to do that job properly you need to hold them accountable. You hold them accountable as you would any other service provider that fails to do the job they were hired to do. When you pay an attorney you expect them to provide you with legal service right? Not SOME legal service but ALL the legal services you are entitled to under the law. That’s their job.You don’t expect to have to know your rights that’s why you hire THEM! Not so for CI’s. You must know the law yourself. Protect your own rights.
Agency rules for searching vary vastly. They can pretty much make up their own rules. Keep this in mind if you choose an agency search over a state run intermediary program. Agencies don’t HAVE to do anything. As always they pretty much have free reign to lord over us as they see fit when it comes to our information.
Intermediary services are only as good as the people doing the work. If you get the sense that the person who has your file is opposed to contact you need to ask for a new intermediary. This happens less in the state run programs then it does in the agency programs. There are good and bad in both though. Remember, they are the ones who will be making that all important first contact. If they handle it improperly the damage can be irreparable. You wouldn’t use your obnoxious opinionated neighbor to call a long lost relative would you? I had an amazing CI. Not everyone has been so lucky. I could tell you horror stories that would make your hair stand on end of poorly handled cases both with state run and agency CI’s. You must be comfortable with your CI.
Ask questions and TAKE NOTES!!! Write EVERYTHING down, save every single correspondence. You can ask the people you talk with yes or no questions. Most often they will answer you. For example you could ask “Is my mother married?” They will most likely answer you because that is not identifying. If you ask “does my mother live nearby?” and they say “no” you have a clue. If they say “I cannot answer that” take it as a “most likely”. See how that works? Even if you don’t get a yes or no answer you may get clues for future reference in the event your search doesn’t end in contact. Don’t stop asking questions. They are human and thus not infallible. You never know when they may “accidentally” (or on purpose) let something slip.
Do not let a CI pressure you to close your case. They have an allotted amount of time to keep your file open. Often a CI will ask you if they can close your case early if the primary search has been completed. I guess this is an attempt to either A. unclutter their desk or B. get paid. I’m not entirely sure why they do this. Do not allow them to close your case until YOU are ready. You may be denied contact from your mother and feel like you want to give it all up. However you may feel completely different three months down the road and wish to have your father searched for, or a sibling. It doesn’t hurt to give yourself the time. Take it, you paid for it.
If you used a state run intermediary service and you feel your case was not handled properly do something about it. Stand up for your rights! Even if your case has been closed you can contact the head of the service and bring to their attention that you did not receive proper service. I know of cases that were reopened at no further cost (or minimal cost) to the searcher because of failure to provide ALL of the services in which they were entitled. If you don’t KNOW you are entitled to the service how are you going to protect your rights? If you hire someone to build you a garage and they skip the roof you’re going to say something aren’t you? If you hire a CI to make contact and they fail to make every effort to do so they have skipped the roof.
If you have a NAME to search with please don’t waste your money on a private investigator. I search for free. There are TONS of others out there who do the same. We are taken advantage of by the system in so many ways and a private investigator will promise you the world to get your money. If you don’t have a name chances are they won’t be able to find anything and they do not give refunds. There are cases where a person can be found without a name but that takes extensive information that could lead you in the right direction. This information usually comes from your non-identifying information which every single adoptee should have. You get your non-id from the agency involved in your adoption. This costs….big surprise huh? If your adoption was private you would have to contact the attorney’s office to see what (if anything) they are willing to share with you. Non identifying information usually means just that but NOT ALWAYS. Sometimes there are enough clues to work with.
Take charge of your search. This is the most important thing you are likely to do in your life. Don’t leave the results up to fate. Do everything in your power to ensure a successful outcome. If you have any questions ask me or someone you can trust to provide you with the proper information. Someone who doesn’t stand to gain anything from you.
If you decide to search you need to sign a release form to be placed in your file at the agency (or attorney’s office). You should also check back with them yearly to make sure it’s still in your file. All natural parents wishing to be found MUST do this as well, so if your adult child contacts the agency involved your release form will be there waiting for them. DO IT TODAY!
Get your non-identifying information from the agency that handled your adoption.
Learn your rights. Believe you HAVE rights because you do.
Get involved and STAY involved even if you have reunited successfully. We may not have completely won the battle to our constitutional right to identity YET but that doesn’t mean we have to be victims. Not to unscrupulous private investigators, not to agencies and not to state run intermediary services. Be careful out there. We are a group of smaller fish in a lake of sharks but we are a LARGE GROUP! We must ban together because there is power in numbers. Over five million of us right here in the US to be exact. Get involved, make a difference. We do this for ourselves but we also must do it for the millions of children to come that deserve equal and just treatment under the law.