Chicago family says battle with Utah adoption agency not over
CHICAGO (AP) - A Chicago family reunited with an infant at the center of an interstate custody battle said their fight against the Utah adoption agency they say pressured the baby's mother into giving up the child is not over.
They now hope to bar the agency from doing business in Illinois.
"If we can just stop these types of people from coming into Illinois, taking our children out of Illinois and putting them in different states, I've done my job," said Maria McDonald, the grandmother of six-month old Tamia.
Tamia was reunited with her birth mother and grandmother Thursday night at O'Hare International Airport.
"It's the best moment in my life," said Tamia's mother, 20-year-old Carmen McDonald, after the family reunion.
A custody battle over Tamia persisted until this week when an adoption agency in suburban Salt Lake City declined to place the girl with prospective parents in Utah after they were arrested on drug possession charges.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials went to Salt Lake City earlier Thursday to pick up 6-month-old Tamia.
Tamia's mother and grandmother, Maria McDonald, sued the adoption agency in January to get Tamia back, claiming the agency pressured Carmen McDonald into giving up the child.
Cook County Judge Michael J. Murphy ordered Wednesday that Tamia be turned over to Illinois officials who would place her in the Chicago home that Carmen McDonald shares with her mother.
The Utah juvenile court system earlier on Thursday approved releasing the baby to the Illinois child services officials.
"She looks good, she looks healthy," said Maria McDonald, Tamia's grandmother. "She looks like she was taken care of."
Carmen McDonald signed away her parental rights in a Salt Lake City motel in December after working with A Cherished Child adoption agency.
"She was stressed when she arrived in Utah. She tried to change her mind," said Larry Darnell Trotter, a bishop from the headquarters of or dedicated, on Easter Sunday.
"We're very excited to bring Baby Tamia back. We've been waiting for this day," Trotter said. "We feel justice has been done."
The McDonalds' attorney Robert Fioretti said Thursday the lawsuit against the agency continues. He said he plans to seek an injunction barring the agency from doing business in Illinois.
Fioretti said he also plans to seek financial damages for the McDonalds, who will return to court April 7.
Murphy said he didn't consider the arrest of the Utah couple when he ordered Tamia returned. The judge ruled last week that the adoption agency violated an interstate law on adoptions.
In court Wednesday, Murphy tried to reassure parents who had adopted children that the McDonald case was unique and hinged on whether laws were followed.
But adoption agency attorney Richard Van Wagoner told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children - an agreement that is supposed to coordinate the transfer of children across state lines - is routinely violated by adoption agencies.
That compact dictates that adoption paperwork be completed in the state where the child is born, not where the adoption takes place.
"I think it has been the practice of agencies to complete the paperwork when the child arrives in Utah if the child is not born here," Van Wagoner said.
According to the federal law, the state where the child is born must ensure that the legal rights of birth parents have been either terminated by court proceedings or by the signing of their consent. But often, birth mothers struggle with the pain of separation.
"A mother might back out of the decision or make a commitment and not show up," Van Wagoner said. "So, the paperwork ends up being completed on this end. This was a technical violation and the practice is not a secret to the state."
A Utah DCFS official said the agency was aware of the violation.
But Utah DCFS spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis said the transgressions were not a routine matter, and the agency does crack down on violations of the compact.
"If it happens frequently, we're not aware of it," Sollis said.