Way is cleared for Baby Tamia's return to Chicago

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-25

Leon d'Souza
Associated Press
The Deseret News

Jurisdictional issues in the case of Baby Tamia -- the child at the center of an interstate custody battle -- have been resolved, clearing the way for the infant's return to Chicago, Utah officials said Thursday.

The Utah juvenile court system approved releasing the infant to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials, who arrived in Salt Lake City earlier in the day. Details of the transfer were being worked out late Thursday.

The child's mother, 20-year-old Carmen McDonald, of Chicago, signed away her parental rights to the child in a Salt Lake motel in December. She had been dealing with A Cherished Child adoption agency of suburban Salt Lake City.

"She was stressed when she arrived in Utah. She tried to change her mind," said Larry Darnell Trotter, one of two bishops from McDonald's United Pentecostal Churches of Christ in East Chicago who flew to Utah Thursday for the transfer.

Trotter said McDonald, who moved in with her mother three weeks ago, wants to go back to school.

"We're very excited to bring Baby Tamia back. We've been waiting for this day," Trotter said. "We feel justice has been done."

Church officials hoped to reunite the family Thursday evening in Chicago, and planned to christen, or dedicate, Tamia on Easter Sunday.

McDonald and her mother, Maria McDonald, sued the agency in January to get Tamia back, charging the adoption agency pressured Carmen McDonald into giving up the baby.

A custody battle persisted until this week when the adoption agency declined to place the girl with prospective parents in Utah after they were arrested on drug possession charges.

Cook County (Ill.) Judge Michael J. Murphy on Wednesday ordered that Tamia be turned over to the Illinois DCFS. The agency then will give the child to either the birth mother or her grandmother, Maria McDonald, Illinois DCFS spokeswoman Diane Jackson said.

"Her ward-of-the-state status will be a very temporary thing," Jackson said of Tamia. "At this moment, our plans are to place the child in the home where the mother and grandmother live together."

Murphy said he didn't consider the arrest of the Utah couple when he ordered the girl returned. The judge ruled last week that the adoption agency violated an interstate law on adoptions. He reassured parents who had adopted children that the McDonald case was unique and hinged on whether laws were followed and not on a birth mother changing her mind after giving up her child.

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.

"We received a complaint and this was one of the violations," said Utah DCFS spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis.

But she 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.

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