State delivers adoption stress-buster

Relates to:
Date: 2005-08-21

Chicago Sun-Times

The adoption reform legislation Gov. Blagojevich signed last week closed a gap that had allowed predatory adoption agencies to prey on vulnerable young women in much the same way predatory lenders have exploited the elderly. Inspired, in part, by the "Baby Tamia" case, a bungled adoption that gained national attention when our Mary Mitchell broke the story, the new law gives broader oversight responsibility to the Department of Children and Family Services to monitor out-of-state adoptions.

Although adoption should be a gift of love between biological and adoptive parents, the Baby Tamia case demonstrated how the process has been corrupted by agencies motivated by profit. After young, pregnant women answered newspaper ads, the rush adoptions were set up primarily through telephone calls. Questionable practices were allowed to flourish because most birth mothers were not aware of their rights. Many mothers made decisions without consulting relatives, the baby's father or friends.

As the Baby Tamia case revealed, what an out-of-state agency passed off as counseling was, most often, a conversation in a motel room. Birth mothers are often misled about the prospective adoptive parents as well. Baby Tamia was nearly adopted by alleged drug users. Had the baby's grandmother not launched a legal challenge to the adoption, which forced Illinois agencies to review the paperwork, the adoption would have been finalized. Instead, the infant was returned to her mother.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), an adoptee and the bill's House sponsor, worked with adoptive and birth parents to craft a bill that protects children, birth parents and adoptive parents by ensuring a transparent process. The legislation establishes a Bill of Rights for Biological Parents and Adoptive Parents and requires that agencies disclose policies and fees, as well as share information about the placement and prospective adoptive parents before the child is adopted. DCFS must license all agencies that provide "adoption services" in Illinois, including placement services, for compensation.

Illinois cannot prevent birth mothers from traveling to states with lax adoption laws like Utah, but this law raises the standards for out-of-state adoptions. Hopefully it will ensure that mothers, their children and prospective parents are treated with the dignity this process deserves.

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