CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation providing sweeping protections for families involved in the adoption process in Illinois, and giving the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) broader oversight of adoption agencies. The measure takes significant steps toward preventing instances such as the recent “Baby Tamia” case that involved a for-profit adoption agency and led to a court order to return an infant to her mother in Illinois.
“Children given up for adoption should end up with families who love them and nurture them,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “With these reforms, we’re making sure that adoptions are about building families -- not making a profit. I’m proud to sign into law this bill that sets Illinois up to be a model for the rest of the regarding adoptions country.”
House Bill 3628 aligns Illinois law with the best international standards and practices aimed at improving adoption practices, including better access to information about the adoption process, which marks this legislation as a model for other states.
The family of Baby Tamia joined the Governor, who signed the bill at Bishop Larry D. Trotter’s Sweet Holy Spirit church in Chicago’s South Side. The “Baby Tamia” case brought the tactics of predatory adoption agencies to the public’s attention earlier this year. The six-month-old Chicago girl was nearly adopted by alleged drug users in Utah after her birth mother, who was suffering from post-partum depression, gave the baby to a for-profit agency doing business in Illinois through newspaper ads. A legal challenge by the baby’s grandmother resulted in a court order returning the infant to Illinois in April.
HB 3628, also known as the Adoption Reform Act, provides basic protections for families including: the creation of a Bill of Rights for Biological Parents and Adoptive Parents; assurances that agencies disclose policies, fees, and any circumstances material to a child’s placement to prospective adoptive parents in advance of adoption; and requirements that the fees agencies charge are reasonable.
Further, the bill requires all child welfare organizations involved in providing adoption services to be 501(c)(3) organizations no later than 24 months after the law becomes effective, moving Illinois to the forefront of protecting families and child against profiteering in the adoption process.
Additionally, the measure bans unlicensed companies from advertising adoption services and requires adoption agencies to disclose their policies, the rights of the birth parents and any fees charged for a child’s placement. The bill also requires DCFS to establish a statewide adoption complaint registry and a toll-free telephone number for the public to access substantiated licensing violations.
HB 3628, which is effective immediately, also closes loopholes in the definitions of “adoption services” by including all types of placement services and requires DCFS to license any entity providing adoption services for compensation.
Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the bill’s House sponsor and chairperson of the Special Committee on Adoption Reform, hailed the Governor’s approval of it as a landmark step for adoption reform. “This legislation aligns Illinois with the best standards to improve adoption practices. It protects children and birth parents, helps to create and sustain nurturing adoptive families, and will ensure adoptions are done in a charitable manner,” said Feigenholtz.
“We’re very grateful to Governor Blagojevich and the entire General Assembly for this passage of law. We feel that’s it’s very imperative that young mothers like Carmen McDonald be protected by laws that would discourage any interstate illegal adoptions. Thanks to the Governor and the General Assembly, a baby is now home in her rightful place, and we will always be grateful for that,” said Bishop Trotter.
“Our mission at DCFS is to protect children and provide for their care,” said DCFS Director Bryan Samuels. “This legislation helps us fulfill our mission and strengthens the adoption process in Illinois. Also, we acknowledge the great job that many adoption agencies already do, and the new operating standards are meant to more uniformly focus the adoption process where it should be – on the children.”
The measure had strong support from child-welfare organizations, public officials, community groups and religious organizations, including: Adoption Advocates of America; Illinois Department of Children & Family Services; Illinois State Bar Association; Childcare Association of Illinois; Loyola University School of Law ChildLaw Center; Child Welfare League of America; Protestants for the Common Good; Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine; The Cradle of Evanston; Family Resource Center; Voices for Illinois Children; Bethany Christian Services; Jewish Children’s Bureau; Juvenile Protective Association; Lifelink Corporation; the Illinois Catholic Conference, and St. Mary’s Services.
Bruce A. Boyer, Director of ChildLaw Clinic at Loyola University’s School of Law, praised the bill. “The Governor’s approval of HB 3628 recognizes that adoption is a service for children and families. This is a child-centered bill that raises the quality of adoption practices in Illinois.”
Barbara Sereda, an adoptive parent and founder and president of Adoption Advocates of America said, “This legislation institutes fundamental protections and safeguards for both adoptive families and birth families to ensure full disclosure and accountability and addresses the horror stories created by those who have taken advantage of the lack of regulation. Allegations of fraud and malfeasance in the treatment of birth families destroy the tradition of adoption and can cast a bad light on adoptive families.”