Hidden away behind locked doors on the first floor of the PTC Building is the most interesting place. It’s full of information regarding births, deaths, marriages, and divorces in Idaho. The intimate details are fascinating, but they are also private and protected.
And that is a detail Kathy Anderson, a program manager with Idaho Vital Records, takes very seriously as she attempts to find solutions for customers and co-workers.
“Our Customer Service Unit processes all requests for copies of sensitive Idaho vital records, such as birth, death, stillbirth, miscarriage, marriage and divorce certificates,” she says. “The Legal Amendments Unit handles any changes that need to be made to those documents, which may be requested for a variety of circumstances, including inaccuracies or life changes.”
She says that business is booming because of the number of people seeking certified copies so they can fulfill requirements for the new Star Card – Idaho’s REAL ID. At the same time, someone interrupts her seeking help with a complicated birth certificate situation for a home birth. Usually, a doctor or hospital certifies a record of birth in Idaho, but this case poses unique challenges for the program’s Registration Unit in establishing a record of this birth and will require extra work in tracking down additional information.
The services provided by the Vital Records Services Program are a critical function of the state. In addition to the recent uptick in certificate orders and corrections because of the REAL ID Act, birth certificates are needed to enroll children in school, and death certificates are needed to help settle estates.
Kathy’s team also manages three registries: the voluntary adoption registry, putative father registry, and abandoned child registry.
Adopted children who want to meet their birth parents can voluntarily register with the adoption registry after turning 18 to see if their natural parents or siblings also registered. Putative fathers – those who believe they may be the biological father of a child – can register as part of a complicated process to claim paternity rights. Under the abandoned child registry, a parent of an abandoned or surrendered child can make a claim of parental rights under the provisions of the Idaho Safe Haven Act.
As soon as Kathy finishes explaining the differences between the registries, it is time for her weekly staff meeting with members of the Legal Amendments Unit to discuss more difficult cases, or those with legal gray areas. The unit supervisor and the technical records specialists present the details of their cases and, collectively, they figure the best way to protect the accuracy of the information as they attempt to fulfill customers’ requests, sometimes in consultation with the division’s deputy attorney general. Their decisions can have a profound impact on peoples’ lives.
Today, a stepdad is seeking to adopt his wife’s child, but the mother’s name appears incorrectly on the child’s birth certificate. The team decides that the mother will have an opportunity to correct the error before completing the adoption amendment.
Next, a birth certificate from 1951 shows an incorrect date stamp for the file date. This is a bureau error from long ago that will require an amendment and explanation to the customer before issuing the certificate.
Lastly, a particularly complicated case presents a problem with the marital status on a death certificate. The informant for this record reported the decedent was never married, but someone claiming to be the decedent’s spouse has come forward almost two years later. They provided proof that a marriage occurred more than 20 years ago but is unable to prove the marriage was intact at the time of death.
“Some of these cases can get quite messy, with lots of emotions involved,” Kathy says. “Our job is to verify the facts to make sure the records are correct, and try not to get caught in the middle.”
After reflecting on the various tasks her team performs, another visitor interrupts Kathy seeking help with a potential match through the adoption registry. This is just another day in the life for Kathy: finding solutions to challenging problems.
By Ryan Soukup
A Day in the Life is a series of stories highlighting Department of Health and Welfare employees and the work they do every day to help Idahoans live their best lives.