Baby Tamia adoptions arrests illegal drugs Utah custody case

Date: 2005-03-22

Adoption swamp grows murkier with drug charges

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

The story of Baby Tamia, an African-American child whose mother gave her up for adoption in Utah, gets sadder by the day. First, the mother, Carmen McDonald, suffers a mental breakdown after leaving her 3-month-old baby in Utah with A Cherished Child Adoption Agency Inc. in December. Then, her mother, Maria McDonald, has to put her life on hold to look after her daughter, as well as wage a legal battle for the return of her grandmother.

Now we are being told that Tamia's adoptive parents were arrested in Utah last week -- on the same day the McDonalds were at a court hearing in Chicago -- and charged with possession of narcotics that included marijuana and cocaine.

Rather than in a loving home with loving parents, Tamia has apparently been in the hands of alleged drug dealers. She has been in the custody of child protection services in Utah, the equivalent of Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services, since last Thursday. On Monday, the Utah attorney general's office would not confirm Tamia's whereabouts.

But the attorneys for the McDonalds said they were summoned to Judge Michael Murphy's office Monday afternoon and advised of a letter the court received from the Utah attorney general's office. That letter informed the judge that the agency is investigating the adoptive parents for possible abuse and neglect.

"After the arrest, the baby was taken into immediate custody by the state," Robert Fioretti told me on Monday. "This is the nightmare that we all feared."

Many of us have been lulled into thinking that a child who is born to a unstable single mother is automatically better off being adopted by a married couple. The couple's smiling faces peer out from classified ads and we convince ourselves that a child's life will be worth more in their care than in the unsteady hands of a young single woman.

And in most instances, we are right. But not all placements have a happy ending, especially when a private or state agency fails to adequately screen adoptive parents.

More like baby trafficking

When 4-year-old Rilya Wilson disappeared from a Florida foster home three years ago, her disappearance turned the Florida child welfare system upside down. Geralyn Graham, one of the child's foster parents claimed Rilya was taken by a state worker and was never returned.

But not one state worker noticed her missing for months.

After three years, prosecutors in Florida have charged Graham with kidnapping and aggravated assault in connection with Rilya's disappearance. Florida's child welfare agency did a background check on Graham, but didn't discover her long criminal past or that she had been diagnosed as psychotic.

Due to the state's failure, Rilya, who was born to a young cocaine addict, went from one miserable life to another.

The only blessing is that the child's death forced Florida to take steps to fix its broken Department of Children and Families.

Baby Tamia's life thus far has also been traumatic.

But her placement with a questionable Utah couple gives us a glimpse of the dark side of a process that looks more like baby trafficking than it does adoption.

Shedding light

Luring young, desperate black women to Utah with a plane ticket and a hotel room so their babies can be placed with waiting families regardless of their background is simply wrong. Worst yet, that A Cherished Child apparently turned Tamia over to a couple who is suspected of abuse and neglect is chilling.

Adoption should be about adults showing compassion for abandoned children.

Instead, adoption has become a dirty business that's just a rung above baby-selling. I can't be the only one who finds it obscene that the fees at a lot of adoption agencies charge according to the color of the baby's skin. Babies who have two white parents cost the most and those who have two black ones cost the least.

How do we justify that practice in a land where everyone is supposed to be created equal?

I'm afraid to even think about what happened to some of the black babies who were adopted in Utah when they went from curly-headed infants to nappy-headed boys and girls? And how many of these children were passed off to families as biracial when both parents are actually black? Or were later rejected by their adoptive parents?

Hopefully, Tamia's plight will help shed some light on these repugnant practices and force us to consider the scandal adoption has become.

"It's scary," is how Tamia's grandmother put it.

"I just thought about all of the other kids that A Cherished Child has taken out there," Maria McDonald said. "Where are those kids now. If we were not involved with the courts, we wouldn't know what is going on."

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