Adoption scandal bigger than just Baby Tamia

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-27

Mary Mitchell
Chicago Sun-Times

There were two voice mails waiting for me when I got to my office on Friday. Neither caller left a phone number, but that's not unusual. Sometimes readers just want to rant. As an aside though, I'd be careful about ranting anonymously because most office phones are equipped with Caller ID.

Both calls were about Baby Tamia, and I believe both callers deserve a public response.

Caller No. 1 was a woman:

"Why is this case generating so much publicity?" she asked. "This girl is being rewarded for breaching the contract. I don't think the baby would have been returned had the adopted parents not had drugs. I don't think [Carmen] is that great as a mother. She is saying she is ready to bond with her daughter, but I heard comments that she wasn't out of her mind when she gave her daughter away, and she did exactly what she wanted to do. . . . I think the whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

And then she said something that cut to the heart of Tamia's story.

"When they were interviewing the grandmother, she said 'behooven.' It made the whole thing sound silly."

As readers of this column know, Tamia is the 6-month-old African-American girl whose mother, Carmen McDonald, gave her up for adoption in Utah in December. Carmen, who allegedly suffered from postpostpartum depression at the time, claimed when she changed her mind about the adoption, she was coerced and intimidated.

When Carmen's mother, Maria McDonald, learned that her granddaughter had been put up for adoption, she launched a legal battle for the baby's return. Last week, the McDonalds learned that Tamia's adoptive parents had been arrested on drug charges. On Wednesday, Judge Michael W. Murphy ruled that Tamia should be brought back to Illinois because A Cherished Child Adoption Agency of Utah violated the rules governing interstate adoptions when it placed Tamia with a Utah family before obtaining the approval of authorities in Illinois.

Money wins day in court

On Thursday, Tamia arrived at O'Hare Airport in the arms of Bishop Larry Trotter, pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, the only religious leader in Chicago to rally to this cause.

But Caller No. 1 didn't get it. In fact, she was more offended by the grandmother's English than she was by the bombshell that a licensed private adoption agency placed a child with a couple allegedly using drugs.

That's the attitude that explains why it has taken so long for this story to get any attention.

Frankly, most often people with power and resources aren't interested in giving a voice to people who say "behooven." That's why as much as I criticize our legal system, I'm also grateful for it.

The law doesn't care whether you speak impeccable English or split your verbs. As long as you have the money to hire and pay a lawyer, you are entitled to your day in court. Carmen McDonald won the return of her daughter because her family found a way to pay for a lawyer.

Adoption reform on the table

As for blowing the problem out of proportion, that's just not the case. We've barely scratched the surface.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), a staunch advocate of adoption reform, is the co-sponsor of legislation being drafted in Springfield to address abuses in the adoption industry.

"I've had a few different cases come across my desk," Feigenholtz told me last week. "It's not about black parents. It's about poor people whose lives were not perfect. They still deserve a clean adoption process.

"We are trying to incorporate elements in this bill which would have prevented a case like Tamia's in the first place," Feigenholtz said.

What about the father?

The proposed legislation would address the loopholes that allow Utah agencies to remove birth mothers and their children from Illinois and transact adoptions in hotel rooms in Utah.

"We can't govern Utah," Feigenholtz said. "But we can make it very difficult for Utah to aggrieve our birth parents and adopted parents. We can do our darnedest to make it really, really hard.

And now, Caller No. 2:

"Throughout the whole ordeal, I haven't heard anyone say one word about the father. Why isn't he brought up? I take care of my children, but no one says anything about these deadbeat dads."

Obviously, Carmen McDonald does not have a relationship with her child's father. That's a sad state of affairs and probably why she found herself on a plane to Utah with her baby girl in the first place.

But what is left to be said about deadbeat dads?

They know who they are.

Being a responsible parent is the best protection against predatory adoption agencies. But none of us is perfect. That's why I'm especially thankful today that so many of you cared enough to help Carmen and Maria McDonald fight back.

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