Just divine: Baby Tamia leads to curbs on out-of-state adoptions

Relates to:
Date: 2005-08-14

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

Sometimes, God has to remind us that he can use anyone. In the case of Baby Tamia, the African-American child who was given up for adoption by her young mother in Utah, God used just about everyone in sight to bring the baby home. When the baby's birth mother changed her mind about leaving the baby with a Utah couple, and the adoption agency refused to send the baby home, that could have been the end of the story.

But at 9:30 a.m. today at Sweet Holy Spirit Church on the South Side, Gov. Blagojevich will sign into law a sweeping adoption reform bill that is designed to prevent future "Baby Tamia" cases. The reforms will make it tougher for out-of-state agencies like Heart-to-Heart and A Cherished Child to get around adoption laws in Illinois.

The law becomes effective immediately, and within two years, all child welfare organizations that provide adoption services must be 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organizations, any agency that provides adoption services for a fee must be licensed, and unlicensed companies can no longer advertise adoption services.

The new law will likely benefit hundreds of young women who are considering giving their babies up for adoption. Out-of-state adoption agencies will no longer be able to lure birth mothers by paying them cash, buying them airline tickets, and paying their rent without disclosing the arrangements to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

"We want to make adoptions commercial-free," said Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the bill's House sponsor. "We want the highest standards set, and a system that works for everyone no matter what economic status they are living with."


The Baby Tamia case was just the tip of the iceberg.

Families -- black and white -- are desperately trying to get children back from Utah adoption agencies. Some families claim that the birth mothers were duped into surrendering their parental rights or that the agency violated the fathers' rights when they failed to seek their surrender.

For example, a family in Minneapolis is trying to help their 16-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Illinois, get her 4-month-old boy back from a Utah adoption agency.

"My granddaughter was under the impression that she would get her son back after she finished school. She thought she was making a wise decision; however, nothing was explained to her. She was not counseled, and none of the family was informed about this pregnancy or the adoption," said Vera Harris, in an e-mail she sent to me asking for my assistance.

"This reform bill is the first step in terms of tightening controls on the adoption agencies," said Baby Tamia attorney Robert Fioretti. "I still think it has to be dealt with on a national level. Maybe Congress has to address the issue uniformly. I think Baby Tamia has focused a lot of attention on the adoption arena."

Who could have imagined that the plight of a tiny brown baby with a pink bow in her hair would be used to highlight the greed that has corrupted what is supposed to be a loving and sacrificial process.

Without divine intervention, Baby Tamia might still be in the home of a couple who were later arrested for allegedly possessing drugs. Without divine intervention, a lot more young birth mothers might still be under the false impression that every adoption agency is looking out for the welfare of the children involved. Without divine intervention, a lot of young women who are caught up in this situation might still think the only way to get help is to take their babies to Utah.


But God used Carmen McDonald, an emotionally unstable young mother, to put a face on postpartum depression, a mental condition that can drive mothers to abandon their children or do themselves harm.

He used Maria McDonald, the baby's grandmother, as a warrior. At a time when black mothers are often portrayed as neglectful or abusive, Maria reminded us that black mothers are often the strongest link in their families, in their neighborhoods and in their churches.

He used Fioretti, a media-savvy lawyer with a flair for bringing attention to himself and his firm, as a mouthpiece in a courtroom where the odds against him were stacked sky-high.

He used Bishop Larry Trotter's desire to be a major player in Chicago's civil rights arena as the well from which the McDonalds could draw spiritual and financial support while they fought for the return of Baby Tamia.

He used Feigenholtz, herself an adoptee, to pull together segments of the population that needed to have input in this reform, including adoptive parents like Barbara Sereda, founder and president of Adoption Advocates of America, so the reform would benefit everyone involved in the adoption process.

And he used the media to keep the focus on Baby Tamia until every piece of the scheme that allowed out-of-state agencies to run amok in Illinois was exposed.

Sometimes we forget that God can use anyone.

Baby Tamia helped us believe.


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