Good chance Tamia is coming back

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-23

Chicago judge to decide if she will return to family here

STEVE PATTERSON LINDA THOMSON
The Chicago Sun-Times

Six-month-old Baby Tamia -- who has spent half her life at the center of an interstate adoption battle -- is likely on her way back to Illinois.

But it will be up to a Cook County judge to decide whether the child is placed back with her Chicago family or remains in the protective custody of child welfare officials.

Tamia has been in Utah since December, when her 20-year-old mother gave her to an adoption agency, which quickly placed Tamia with prospective parents.

After the Salt Lake City couple was arrested in a drug bust last week -- and their record of other drug arrests was revealed -- A Cherished Child Adoption Agency admitted Tamia should never have been placed with them.

Agency attorneys filed motions Tuesday revoking the adoption and seeking to find Tamia a new home. After a court hearing in Utah later in the day, agency attorney Richard Van Waggoner said if Cook County Judge Michael Murphy decides it's "in the best interest of the child to go back to Illinois, the agency will comply with that order."

A Utah judge agreed to defer a decision on custody until after today's hearing before Murphy, where Tamia's mother and grandmother, Carmen and Maria McDonald, are fighting to get her back. They claim the agency violated adoption laws in taking Tamia.

Maria McDonald said she was relieved by the Utah court's ruling, but "I'm not going to feel better until I have her in my arms and I know she's OK."

Attorneys for Tamia's family said they also were encouraged, but worry the adoption agency might try to keep custody. "I've got motions to that effect with exhibits from A to UU and we've not heard their position has changed," said attorney Lonny Ben Ogus, representing the family with John Lower and Robert Fioretti.

The adoption agency is being investigated by Utah authorities over its handling of the adoption. Utah's Division of Child and Family Services said the agency has been cited for violations in the past -- such as improper paperwork and not following procedures -- but has taken steps to correct those infractions each time.

In Tamia's case, the agency placed the baby with Stephen Kusaba and Lenna Habbeshaw of Salt Lake City. Last week, the two were arrested at their home on suspicion of cocaine and marijuana possession and endangering Tamia's life.

Awaiting formal charges, the couple showed up at the Utah court hearing Tuesday and insisted they've taken good care of Tamia.

Utah couple speak out

"She was a very special spirit," Habbeshaw said. "We wanted to expose her to everything that was good and to follow her bliss."

Kusaba said "it was crushing" to lose Tamia, who Habbeshaw said "was well-cared for and well-loved and I miss her greatly."

Kusaba said McDonald "brought a really excellent child to us" and there was no coercion, adding "she wanted a mixed-race couple and that's what she got."

Habbeshaw said "we told her she could have more time if she needed more time. Then she handed the baby to us. She was certain. She was not delirious."

Days after McDonald handed Tamia over in a Utah motel room, McDonald was found wandering and incoherent in New Orleans. In a lawsuit filed by the McDonalds, they say the Utah agency manipulated Carmen into giving up her baby for cash. That allegation, coupled with previous allegations against the agency and the arrest of the prospective parents, has caused the state of Utah to begin an investigation into the agency run by Ruby Johnston. Johnston did not return calls to her office.

Maria McDonald said she isn't angry with Kusaba and Habbeshaw. "I can't be angry at the parents. I have to be angry at the adoption agency that put her there."

Records show drug arrests

Utah adoption laws, based on the National Child Protection Act, require background checks on all prospective parents "to protect children . . . from individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes or individuals whose conduct or pattern of conduct is contrary to the safety and well-being of children."

Records show Kusaba has a history of arrests for drug charges, all of which have resulted in misdemeanor convictions. He was last arrested in 1991 and has been running a chess instruction agency. Habbeshaw also has a 1990 arrest on drug charges, but no record of a conviction, according to the Utah Department of Corrections.

Linda Thomson is a reporter for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Monifa Thomas contributed.

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