Bill to aid sibling searches goes to governor
DENNIS MITCHELLCronkite News Service
PHOENIX - At age 11, Christa Drake went into foster care and was separated from her 4-year-old sister.
When the two reunited 15 years later, Drake's sister was eager to learn everything from her sister's favorite flavor of ice cream to her favorite genre of movie.
The meeting "made a huge difference for each of us," said Drake, executive director of In My Shoes, a Tucson nonprofit group that provides mentoring for foster children.
"For people to miss out on that opportunity because they were adopted is really sad," Drake said.
No formal program exists to help adoptees and those placed in foster care reconnect with their biological siblings.
Drake had to obtain a court order before beginning her search, and she has yet to make contact with her biological brother.
That would change under a bill that won unanimous approval Tuesday from the state Senate and is heading to Gov. Janet Napolitano.
HB 2212, sponsored by Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Tucson, would allow adoptees and those placed in foster care to reach out to siblings through a court-administered system similar to one that allows contact between adoptees and birth parents.
It would create a program, the Sibling Information Exchange.
"Later on in life, they want to connect with their siblings. I think this is a healthy process," Hershberger said. "With the Sibling Exchange Program, we try to create balance where we can get people in touch with siblings and protect the rights of the individual."
The program would allow siblings to use a court-sanctioned middleman, called a confidential intermediary, to make contact with a sibling.
A sibling who does not wish to be contacted by an intermediary could opt out of the program by filing an affidavit with the court.
Drake said it's important for those in her position to have the chance to know their biological brothers and sisters.
"It's really difficult to start from scratch with someone that you don't really know because your lives were so different growing up," Drake said. "At least this gives them the opportunity."
While Drake's experience with her sister did not develop into the close relationship she had imagined, Drake said it helped her to answer questions.
"It helped because I don't have to worry," she said. "I know who she is and I know that she's OK. It kind of completed my circle."
Dave Miller, chief executive officer for the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, said, "Those kids need all the help they can get to make the transition to normalcy."