Utah's safeguards fell short for Tamia

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-22

Allison Hantschel
Daily Southtown

A series of background checks and home visits usually is done before Utah authorities grant an adoption, according to officials in that state.

Those safeguards are supposed to prevent what apparently has happened to Baby Tamia, who was adopted by a Utah couple now accused of possessing cocaine.

Even before the cocaine charges were made public, a Cook County judge ruled that Baby Tamia should never have been given to the Utah couple for adoption.

A Cherished Child adoption agency broke Utah and Illinois law when it flew Carmen McDonald, 20, from Chicago to Utah on Dec. 2, had her sign away her parental rights and flew her back within 24 hours, Cook County Presiding Judge Michael Murphy said last week.

In Utah, an adoption agency seeking to place a child with a couple will conduct a background check and home visit before allowing a child to live with them, said Liz Sollis, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services' Division of Child and Family Services.

Right before a child comes home, a state-licensed therapist is hired to evaluate the family. Usually the adoption agency hires that person, Sollis said.

The results of those evaluations are presented as evidence in court when the couple petitions to adopt the child.

Utah DCFS typically does not become involved in the process unless someone alleges that the agency is not adhering to the law.

"If we get a complaint about an agency not following these procedures, we'll go out and monitor their cases," Sollis said. "Unfortunately, with this agency there was nothing that alerted us before. This doesn't happen often."

Typically a couple trying to adopt will work with an agency for years while waiting for a child so that the agency knows the parents well by the time a child is placed with them, she said.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Caroline Nichols said the Chicago courts are likely to decide what, if any, penalties the adoption agency Cherished Child might face for its actions in the Baby Tamia case.

"They have primary jurisdiction," Nichols said. "But we've never had a case like this. The agencies are supposed to screen their applicants."

Last week, the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ International called on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to investigate the adoption, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

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