Adopted children can spend their entire lives wondering where they came from and who their parents are. Ahwatukee Foothills resident Debbie Sullivan says there's nothing more rewarding than helping to answer those questions.
Sullivan is part of a the Confidential Intermediary Program, which was started in Arizona in 1992. The program, one of 12 in the nation, certifies individuals to help facilitate contact between parties of an adoption, such as parents who have put their child up for adoption, children searching for their biological parents, adoptive parents searching for biological parents of their children or siblings searching for siblings. The certification gives confidential intermediaries (CIs) the power to open adoption records that are closed to anyone else, and find the name and information some people wait years for.
For Sullivan, a real estate agent with Keller Williams who is a CI in her spare time, the process is amazing.
"They contact me and I contact the juvenile court where the records are held and open the adoption case," Sullivan said. "From there I'm able to gather identifying information that nobody else can get. Attorneys can't get it, the kids can't get it, the parents can't get it. That's part of the confidential part of it. Then I have to search through every means possible to try and find who I'm looking for. It's like putting together pieces of a puzzle."
Sullivan said she uses about 20 different websites, including Facebook, to try and piece together a family tree. The process can take anywhere from a day to years. In just over two years as a CI, she has reunited just fewer than 12 families.
Tricia Wauson of Ahwatukee Foothills was Sullivan's first connection. The two met in the CI program while they were being certified. Wauson had been adopted as a baby and was aware of her adoption her entire life, but she could not search for her mother on her own because of confidentiality.
As the two became friends, Sullivan offered to do the searching. She found a match in one weekend. Wauson's biological mother lived 10 minutes away. For years they had been going to the same church, the same gym and even the same Starbucks, but they had never met.
"My story is a fairytale," Wauson said. "There is some risk involved, but if it's something you want to do, then do it. Even though I wasn't ever really confused about who I was, I do feel more confident about myself now that I have my mother. I can't imagine my life without her."
The CI program is available for any birth and adoption that took place in Arizona. The CIs do not have the authority to open adoption records out of state.
"Most people don't even know this program is out there," Sullivan said. "I want people to know the service is out there, that there are services and people that can help them.
"It's just very, very interesting and very rewarding."
The program is confidential. Both parties must agree to exchange information before information is given. Children seeking parents must be 18 years old and when parents seek children, the child must be at least 21 years old.
For more information about the program and to find a list of registered CIs in Arizona, visit www.supreme.state.az.us/cip or call Sullivan at (602) 999-4101.