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 or call Sullivan at (602) 999-4101.

(7) comments


Is there no one who feels the outrage that I do with this story? First of all, these are adopted *adults* not children, who have been unfairly discriminated against by having their original birth certificates sealed upon adoption. They were victims of a contract that was made between the state and their adoptive parents, to which they were not party. When they want to know who their original family is-- their heritage, family history, who they are related to for God's sake-- they are denied their birth certificate, unlike any other person who was not adopted who can simply go to Vital Records and get a copy of their BC. To add injury to insult, they are told they *have to* hire a CI like Sullivan for upwards of $1000 for the privilege of having said CI contact mother and ask "Mommy, may I have my personal information"? What BS is this!?!
AZ citizens might also want to know that the office and administration of the CI program costs taxpayers half a million dollars a year in addition to the fees the CIs charge!
You still feeling good about this, Arizona? Get a clue!
AZ needs to join most of the civilized world and the six states in the U.S. that give unfettered access to adult adoptees to their original birth certificate.
Priscilla Sharp, Mother of Loss to Adoption, AZ '64, Reunited '86
Now (FREE) search angel/genealogist/adoptee rights advocate
Mothers of Loss (to Adoption) on Facebook


While I believe the CI program has it's place for those who want to search for a specific person, I believe that adoptees should have the same rights as non adopted people and be able to have their original birth certificate.

When birth certificates are amended, they read as if the child was born unto the adoptive parents, and then many things are removed. The hospital, often time of birth, weight, length, and ethnicity are deleted. This is a legal record of a live birth, and it is falsified in the name of adoption. Sealed records and a false birth cert. was the catalyst for my adoptive parents never telling me I was adopted. I learned via DNA test that I was not biologically related my terminally ill mother, and I was 43.

The CI program cannot give me my birth certificate, therefore it is not enough! And what about all the adoptees who don't want to be reunited, and just want their information? A CI cannot give their birth certificate information!

Adoptees in many states, like AZ, are discriminated against and should be allowed to have their original birth certificate.

Thankfully, there is a growing trend to OBC access; there are now 6 states with unrestricted access, several others with restrictions, and about 8 states with current bills being heard.

The CI program is not the "panacea" for adult adoptees. Join me and many others in AZ supporting legislative change so that we can one day have access to our original birth certificate.



Ms. Wauson goes through the same training and certification but she has to hire Ms. Sullivan at ~$1,000 because the state doesn't think she can handle her own search and reunion. But it's perfectly okay for a total stranger to see the confidential social and medical histories of Ms. Wauson's parents.

So if an adoptee is lucky enough to have been born or adopted in one of the few states that have CI programs, they have to fork over $1,000 and decide (without the benefit of knowing any facts) whether or not they want to pursue contact.

And the state thinks this is fair?


Please let me respond to a couple of concerns. First of all, most CI's don't charge $1000+. It's a very fair fee that I charge and all my expenses come out of the fee. I am lucky if I cover court fees and gas. There is no way that the fee comes close to covering search time.
Ms. Wauson could not conduct a search through the courts in case her birth mother wanted her identity kept confidential, and Ms. Wauson respected that. Until the law changes, I think that the CI program offers adoptees an opportunity that most states do not offer. Ethically, CI's are held to a very high standard. All social and medical information is kept confidential until both parties agree in writing to exchange information.
Let me say that not all birth mothers are open to reuniting and appreciate the confidentiality. Every case is different.
Although I do not know how much the CI program cost, I would be hard pressed to believe its"upward of half a million dollars". How do you put a price on reuniting families? Arizona is luck to have this program.

Joan az

Hi, I have trouble with how the courts are not following their own laws. The adoption laws clearly state that the parents are supposed to get a consent form at the time of relinquishment.
ARS 8-106 Section E. states the following.
*****E. An agency, the division or an attorney participating or assisting in a

direct placement adoption pursuant to section 8-130 shall obtain from a birth

parent, at the time consent for adoption is obtained, a notarized statement

granting permission or withholding permission for the child being adopted,

when the child reaches eighteen years of age, to obtain identifying and

nonidentifying information about the child and the consenting birth parent.

The agency, division or attorney shall inform the birth parent at the time

of obtaining the notarized statement that the decision to grant permission

or withhold permission may be changed at any time by filing a notarized

statement with the court. The most recent notarized statement shall operate

as consent for the court to grant or withhold identifying and nonidentifying


So it is not being followed by the courts. Parents who are reading this, can submit a Notarize Consent for sharing information. And update medical too.
For those that want to be reunited , also sign up with and check at

Also there are local search and support group called Search triad. Check at yahoo for az and other search groups.



<<Arizona is luck [sic] to have this program.>>
Are you serious? *You* are lucky to have this program! Six other states in the U.S. and most foreign countries (UK, Germany, Holland, Australia, Canada) give unfettered access to adult adoptees to their birth certificates with NO government interference or supervision in their personal affairs. And not one complaint that I have heard of from a mother!
No, the AZ government needs to get out of people's interpersonal affairs. If a mother doesn't want to be contacted, she should say so to her own son or daughter -- NOT to some stranger the son/daughter was forced to hire because of government interference!
As a search angel and adoptee rights advocate, I have found families in over 300 searches in the past four years. At no charge! And I would never presume to contact the family -- that is and should be solely the prerogative of the searcher (adoptee or bio family).
Ms. Sullivan, get a life of your own! You and all the other CIs are simply government sanctioned busybodies treating adult people like forever-incompetent children unable to manage their own personal relationships and charging them outrageous fees for the privilege!
Priscilla Sharp
Mother of Loss '64 AZ, Reunited '86
Now search angel/genealogy/adoptee rights advocate
Mothers of Loss (to Adoption) on Facebook

Joan az

Here is another ars 8-121
Section E.
E. An adoptee who is eighteen years of age or older or a birth parent may file at any time with the court and the agency, division or attorney who participated in the adoption a notarized statement granting consent, withholding consent or withdrawing a consent previously given for the release of confidential information. If an adoptee who is eighteen years of age or older and the birth mother or birth father have filed a notarized statement granting consent to the release of confidential information, the court may disclose information, except identifying information relating to a birth parent who did not grant written consent, to the adoptee or birth parent.

F. This section does not prohibit a person from notifying a birth parent of the death of a child that the birth parent has placed for adoption.

Its sad that they aren't allowing an adoptee to put a consent waiver into their court records. they aren't letting them get their non id. IF the court doesn't check to see if that Consent waiver is in their file, then they have nothing. Adoptees shouldn't be denied their medical information. Or their background information. Az needs to follow their own laws.

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