Rule of law prevails in Tamia case, but let's not forget all the others

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-24

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

Baby Tamia is coming home. On Wednesday, Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ordered that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services pick up the baby from Utah, and it is expected that guardianship of the 6-month-old will go to Maria McDonald, the baby's grandmother.

The ruling is a victory for McDonald, the traditional Big Mama in black culture who holds a fragile family together with prayer and faith. And it is a second chance for a 20-year-old mother who suffered a mental breakdown when she realized that she could not change her mind about giving her child up for adoption.

But as Murphy noted in court, this case wasn't about McDonald's change of heart.

"This case is not about changing the mind," Murphy said in open court. "This case is about following a law that many people never knew existed."

When A Cherished Child Adoption Agency Inc. flew Carmen and Tamia to Utah and placed the baby with a couple -- a couple arrested last week on drug charges -- prior to getting approval in Illinois, it circumvented rules established to protect children in domestic adoptions.

But low-income pregnant African-American women who consider adoption are easy targets for unscrupulous agencies. They are steered to Utah by classified ads, and representatives at local adoption agencies candidly admit they don't place African-American children.

These women are not only ignorant of adoption laws, many of them are mentally unstable because of domestic violence and unhealthy relationships. It is this population that becomes easy pickings for adoption agencies in Utah, where laws are lax.

Without getting into how Tamia ended up with the likes of Stephen Kusaba and Lenna Habbeshaw, the Salt Lake City adoptive parents who were arrested in their home on suspicion of cocaine and marijuana possession, Murphy opened the door that may let some light shine on this darkness.

Only God can shine that kind of a light.

This case could have ended on a familiar note: a young black mother loses her baby that she gave up for adoption to a white middle-class family because it is in the best interest of the child.

Only God could have revealed Tamia's true circumstances.

A Cherished Child Adoption Agency could have uncovered Kusaba and Habbeshaw's tawdry past through a routine criminal background check. But it took Salt Lake City police officers working undercover to discover the alleged drugs in the couple's home and to find out that Tamia was in danger.

That just has to be mind-boggling to anyone who has tried to be licensed as a foster parent, let alone to adopt a child. And what this shows is that A Cherished Child Adoption Agency is more concerned about making a profit than about the well-being of the children they are placing in homes.

Worse yet, it is just one Utah adoption agency that is transporting babies from Illinois. What about the other agencies? Do they follow the Interstate Compact Agreement or do they violate the rules as well. And are these agencies also handing children to alleged criminals?

Murphy's ruling shouldn't just lead to Tamia's return. It should lead to an investigation of these out-of-state adoptions. Enough evidence was uncovered in the McDonald case to justify such a move, and other families are desperately trying to get children back from Utah because they believe the adoptions were illegal.

Fits the profile

"Is there anything we can do to get my great-granddaughter?" asks Earline Drummond. The Chicago woman has been trying to get Chardonnay Seal back since the girl's mother took her to Utah when she was 18 months old and gave her up to the same adoption agency. The girl is now 4 years old.

"I got so stressed out. I couldn't get nobody to help me," she said. "Is there anything we can do? Is there nobody we can go to now to check into this stuff? There are other babies out there."

The McDonald case is not simply a matter of a young mother's remorse over a bad decision.

Carmen McDonald fits the profile of many of the mothers who have contacted me about Utah adoptions. She was desperate, mentally confused and broken- hearted when she stumbled upon a classified ad that promised to find her child a loving home.

Eula McNulty, 24, was the first woman in the Chicago area to publicly admit she gave her baby up for adoption in Utah and was intimidated when she tried to change her mind.

The boy's father is in a Louisiana jail, and his paternal grandmother has been fighting to get the child back for nearly two years.

Tamia's story will make a difference because there is something terribly wrong here.

God is trying to shine a light on it.

ADOPTION

YOU'LL NEVER SEE AN ADS LIKE THIS

Would you give your baby to us? We are Stephen Kusaba and Lenna Habbeshaw, a Salt Lake City couple with a record of drug arrests. Kusaba has a history of misdemeanor convictions on drug charges. Habbeshaw was arrested in 1990 on drug charges, but no conviction is on record, according to the Utah Department of Corrections.

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