Baby Tamia looks on as gov signs tougher adoption law

Relates to:
Date: 2005-08-15

Jim Ritter
Chicago Sun-Times

Baby Tamia is not even a year old yet, but she already has inspired a new state law designed to prevent adoption agencies from exploiting parents.

Last year, 20-year-old Carmen McDonald put Tamia up for adoption through a Utah adoption agency. McDonald, who has bipolar disorder and postpartum depression, sued to get Tamia back, claiming the agency manipulated her.

The Utah couple that adopted Tamia later was arrested on drug charges. Last March, a ruling by a Cook County judge cleared the way for Tamia to be returned. Tamia is being raised by her grandmother.

Abuses such as the Baby Tamia case are not widespread, said a Department of Children and Family Services official. Nevertheless, Tamia's case prompted the Illinois Legislature to pass a law that advocates say will provide more protections to birth and adoptive parents.

Other states could follow

"I suspect we'll see these rules adopted all across the nation," said Gov. Blagojevich, who signed the bill Sunday at Sweet Holy Spirit Church, 8621 S. South Chicago.

Tamia, now 11 months old, was the star of the bill-signing ceremony. She wore a white dress and yellow headband, and sat next to the governor on her grandmother's lap. Tamia flashed a bright smile, pounded the table in glee and clapped along with the congregation after Blagojevich signed the 33-page bill.

About one-third of adoption agencies in Illinois are for-profit. Profit-making out-of-state agencies also operate in Illinois.

The law requires all adoption agencies in Illinois to have non-profit status, as defined by the Internal Revenue Service. And agencies will be prohibited from charging "excessive" fees, as defined by DCFS. Fees must reflect actual costs.

For-profit agencies are given two to three years to convert to non-profit status.

'They are not products'

"You don't want to put prices on children's heads," said Barbara Sereda of Highland Park, president of Adoption Advocates of America. "They are human beings. They are not products."

Among the bill's other provisions:

*Adoption agencies must disclose their policies and fees, as well as the rights of birth and adoptive parents. They must file public annual reports that include any license suspensions or civil or criminal penalties.

*Agencies must provide a training program for adoptive parents.

*In placing children, agencies can not give preferential treatment to employees, board members, volunteers, etc

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