Law beefs up adoption rules
The Chicago Tribune
Aug. 15 Seated beside Baby Tamia, the 11-month-old girl who was returned to her family from Utah after a bitterly contested adoption, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Sunday that strengthens state authority over private adoption agencies and prevents them from profiteering from placing babies with families.
Blagojevich signed the Adoption Reform Act before the congregation at Sweet Holy Spirit Full Gospel Baptist Church, 8621 S. South Chicago Ave., where Tamia was baptized on Easter. She was returned to her mother, Carmen McDonald, and grandmother Maria McDonald in March after they filed suit alleging that the Utah-based agency A Cherished Child pressured Carmen to relinquish her daughter when she was dealing with as she suffered from postpartum depression.
"Children given up for adoption should end up with families who love them and nurture them," Blagojevich said. "With these reforms, we're making sure that adoptions are about building families, not making a profit. I'm proud to sign in to law this bill that sets Illinois up to be a model for the rest of the country regarding adoptions."
The act, in the works for more than a year, was designed to close loopholes involved in private adoptions. It provides a "bill of rights" for both biological and adoptive parents that requires agencies to disclose all policies and fees before adoption. As part of the act, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will establish a statewide adoption complaint registry and a toll-free number so the public can access adoption license violations.
The act also requires all private adoption agencies to become non-profit organizations within two years.
"It's about care and not cash," Blagojevich said. "It's supposed to be about love and what's in the best interest for the child."
As Bishop Larry Trotter wound down a sermon about overcoming obstacles and holding onto faith, he introduced Tamia, her grandmother, Blagojevich and his family. Trotter detailed his journey to Utah to help bring back Tamia, then said, "It's our prayer that no other girl, whether black, white or Hispanic, has to lose their child illegally."
Clutching Tamia, who was wearing a yellow satin headband, Maria McDonald expressed her gratitude.
"When this whole ordeal started, I thought I was dreaming," McDonald said. "I didn't think that things of this nature would happen in today's society. I'm just so grateful. It's a miracle that Tamia's back."
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who was adopted as a child and helped spearhead the bill, said it gives DCFS the ability to oversee private agencies, which account for 80 percent of adoptions statewide.
"This bill sheds a lot of light on the agencies that are practicing in Illinois and calls for a lot more authority," Feigenholtz said. "DCFS was the licensing agent. They had a lot of responsibility but very little authority when it came to how these agencies operated."
The bill received support from many adoption agencies statewide. Maggie Gill Bend, clinical director of the Center for Family Building, a for-profit agency in Evanston, said she agrees with the measure, but its requirements add a layer of paperwork for smaller agencies that are stretched too thin.
"We're in complete compliance and we're supporting anything that would make adoption better," Bend said. "But it puts a bigger burden on the smaller agencies. We're in existence because we believe families should have a wide range of choices. Agencies can't be a one-size-fits-all."
Back at the church, Blagojevich kissed Tamia several times, joking that it was nice to be able to kiss a baby while he wasn't on the campaign trail.
After signing the bill, Blagojevich told Tamia, "You just helped change the law," and reached over to touch her ear.
In response, Tamia thumped her hands on the table, clapped them, then smiled.