Baby Tamia case takes another sad, strange turn

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-23

Daily Southtown
March 23, 2005

THE ISSUE: Birth mother from Harvey claims she gave her baby up for adoption under duress. Adoptive parents in Utah are charged with drug crimes.

WE SAY: Adoption agency must explain its actions, and courts should expedite reunion of baby and her birth mother.

The disturbing case of Baby Tamia became even more gut-wrenching Monday.

The 6-month-old is in the middle of a custody battle that's taken place in two states. Her birth mother, Carmen McDonald, of Harvey, gave up Tamia for adoption in Utah three months ago. But she has been fighting to get her back ever since, claiming she signed away her parental rights under duress.

Now comes word that Tamia's adoptive parents have been arrested in Utah on drug charges, putting Tamia in the custody of Utah's Department of Child and Family Services. Meanwhile, Carmen McDonald waits for the legal process here to run its course to determine if she will regain custody. A Cook County judge has ruled the adoption illegal, but further hearings need to take place, including one today, before the baby can be returned. Further court proceedings in Utah could complicate the matter.

Tamia was born Sept. 10 at Ingalls Hospital. Within weeks of her birth, 20-year-old McDonald, who has a history of mental illness, was having doubts about whether she would be a good mother and decided she would put Tamia up for adoption. After responding to a newspaper advertisement, McDonald and Tamia were flown to Utah by A Cherished Child adoption agency. Once in Utah, McDonald had a change of heart and told the agency she no longer wanted to give up Tamia. But she said the agency threatened to leave her stranded in Utah if she backed out of the deal, so McDonald, who her attorney said was suffering from post-partum depression and had a fever of 102 degrees, relented and returned to Chicago without her daughter.

Even before Monday's development, it was obvious the adoption was mishandled. Under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, protection agencies from both states should have been notified before McDonald and Tamia flew to Utah. Had Illinois authorities been notified, they would have demanded a 72-hour cooling-off period before the adoption could have proceeded. The adoption agency, however, claims the law is vague.

According to McDonald's attorney, A Cherished Child preys on vulnerable young black women who are considering adoption and then uses intimidating methods to assure these women won't back out. Such a practice, if true, is appalling. It shows far too little concern about the birth mother and even less concern about the well-being of the child. These bureaucrats come off looking like they treat children more like possessions than human beings.

Equally disturbing is A Cherished Child's placement of Tamia into the home of alleged drug criminals. Parental background checks and evaluations are supposed to be conducted under Utah law before an adoption is granted.

What happened here?

What's more, McDonald, who is black, was assured the baby would be adopted by a biracial couple but said she met with the parents and both were white, her attorney said.

And we certainly have to question the state of Utah's role in this matter. Is the state monitoring its agencies adequately, especially on intrastate adoptions? Is it a common practice that innocent birth mothers are the victims of bully tactics? If state officials haven't done so already, they should launch an extensive probe of A Cherished Child's practices.

There are few events in life as emotional as an adoption. The life of a child is being permanently altered. Those changes, in the long run, are supposed to be for the better. It is up to the courts and legislatures to ensure that happens. The rights and feelings of the parents also need to be considered throughout the process. It appears that was not the case with A Cherished Child's dealings with Carmen McDonald. Though nothing is certain, it appears Tamia and Carmen will be reunited. That would appear to be the correct decision in this case. Anything short of that would be a tragedy. But the fact the Baby Tamia case has reached this point in the first place is a tragedy in and of itself.

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