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Illinois Adoptees - Almost There

November 1, 2010

CHICAGO - November is National Adoption month, meant to focus on the needs of adoptees and their families. In Illinois, while most residents can simply order a copy of their original birth certificate, more than 200,000 adoptees whose records were sealed many years ago still can't.

However, that's changing. Earlier this year, Governor Pat Quinn signed a new open records law that will allow adoptees to get their birth certificates. State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, herself an adoptee, worked on the bill for 14 years, but she says that's nothing compared to how long others have been waiting.

"We have aging adoptees who at the age of 70, 80, 90 are still walking into agencies and asking, 'Will I be able to see my original birth certificate before I die?'"

Adoptees must wait, though, because of a compromise in the bill that protects the birth parents. The records will remain sealed until November 2011. If birth parents don't request anonymity, the state will assume that the records can be opened, and at that point adoptees can receive another piece of the puzzle, the birth certificate.

Since the 80s most adoptions have been open, but for those who were born earlier, their biological identities are blank. Feigenholtz found her mother years ago and was surprised by her mother's reaction.

"One of the first things my birth mother said to me when I met her was, 'What took you so long?'"

Feigenholtz says her mother had been told that she should never try to make contact and therefore thought that she couldn't.

Birth parents who want to remain anonymous are being directed to a website that explains the various ways they could deny access to their information. However, Ruth Jaiko, director of adoption services with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, says that over the years the attitude of birth parents has become more open.

"For the most part birth parents don't deny. They would like to share their information or would even like contact."

Jaiko recommends that adoptees also use this waiting period to look at the website and learn about the new law.

"They can kind of get some idea ahead of time about what the various options are for birth parents. It may give them a little bit of forewarning that, 'OK, I'm going to request this, but there is a possibility that there will be this denial.'"

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois will be honoring Representative Feigenholtz on Saturday for all her work on behalf of adoptees. The money raised will fund adoption services.

Adoption law information is at www.newillinoisadoptionlaw.com

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL