Watching this sunny 6-year-old romp with her dog, it's difficult to envision her at the center of a dark story that dominated headlines for weeks.It's not all tidy happy ending, though. Tamia's mother is still mentally ill and unable to care for her. But that doesn't mean it was okay for a for-profit adoption agency to take advantage of that mental illness to take her baby. And Tamia is with her grandparents, which seems like the best place possible for her.
"Baby Tamia" — as she became known — is now a bright, chatty, affectionate, 40-pound ball of energy. The peaceful domesticity unfolding at her Hyde Park home is light-years from the noisy custody battle that began in December 2004, when her mother, while in the grip of bipolar disorder and post-partum depression, put the 3-month-old up for adoption.
Carmen McDonald, then 20, traveled alone to Utah, returning without the baby but with a $600 check from an agency she found in a newspaper advertisement. Carmen's mother, Maria McDonald Dorden, relentlessly pursued her granddaughter and sued to get Tamia from the adoptive parents.
When it was over, Tamia was reunited with her family. The case spurred legislation in Illinois, providing sweeping protections for birth parents and establishing the state as a model for adoption reform
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McDonald flew to Salt Lake City with infant Tamia in December 2004, her ticket paid for by A Cherished Child, a for-profit agency in Utah that advertised in Illinois. McDonald found herself in a motel room, relinquishment agreement in hand. When she tried to back out, she said, she was threatened, including being stranded without airfare home, according to court records.
When McDonald returned, she said Tamia was in Ohio with her father. When the real story tumbled out, the Dordens hired attorneys and sought to reverse the adoption in a lawsuit experts said they had little chance of winning.
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On March 23, 2005, Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ruled the Utah agency mishandled the necessary paperwork for adoption in Illinois. One day later, McDonald picked up her daughter at O'Hare, calling it "the best moment in my life."
A Cherished Child is now closed. The agency's former director could not be reached, but she no longer works in child welfare, Utah authorities said.
The Illinois Adoption Reform Act was signed into law in August 2005, requiring adoption agencies to be licensed and tax-exempt, taking commerce out of the equation.
And this doesn't promise a happy ending for other birth families -- Tamia is fortunate that her grandparents had the resources to hire lawyers to fight for her return. That isn't the case in many families. And Tamia is fortunate that the courts handled the case with dispatch. One of the biggest problems with returning children to birth families is that even when a court FINALLY decides that the adoption was illegal, years pass in appeals and then there will be a "best interest of the child" hearing to ask whether it's best to simply leave the child with the adoptive parents, the only parents they've ever known. . . .