(Chicago, IL) — July 7, 2011. In a legal first, an Illinois mom was able to adopt four of her kids last week.
And she has five more adoptions coming.
The first case in which parental rights were restored to a birth mother whose rights were previously terminated by an Illinois court was completed last week in Chicago, thanks to a new Illinois law creates a process that enables rehabilitated birth parents to resume their rights for their children.
More than 14 years ago, Yolanda Miller, 49, a mother of eleven children, had a chronic substance abuse problem, crack cocaine addiction. Unable to care for her children, DCFS removed 10 of them and a court terminated her parental rights, placing them for adoption with relatives.
After successfully overcoming her drug addiction and after the death of her mother in 2005 who had adopted the children, Miller sought to legally reclaim her the kids, but Illinois law lacked a process for her to reunite the family.
State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) successfully sponsored legislation that would offer birth mothers, whose parental rights had been previously terminated by a court, a legal path to adopt their children.
“This law helps parents whose rights have been terminated and who later turn their lives around take responsibility for their children,” said Feigenholtz at a press conference in Chicago on Tuesday.
“These are parents who have done exactly what society has asked them to do. Now we have a process to help them regain their rights and responsibilities for their children.”
Rights to four of Miller’s children, two minors and two who are now adults, were restored on June 27. Their birth certificates will be changed to reflect Miller as their mother. Five of her other adult children also wish to have her rights to them restored. Another court date is being scheduled.
The new law applies to children who have been adopted though the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services by relatives. Birth parents can petition the court to restore their parental rights if the adoptive parent dies or becomes too disabled to provide care.
Each year, an estimated 500 children who have been adopted through DCFS are left without a legal parent due to their adoptive parent’s death. In many cases, relatives of the deceased adoptive parent readopt the children.
“In these situations, the children do not have a legal relationship with anyone – not even DCFS” said Linda Coon, Miller’s attorney who helped draft the legislation. “Until now, the lawed treated birth parents as legal strangers to their children, and judges were reluctant to return children to a parent whose rights were previously terminated by another judge.”
Coon says the new law spells out a process for helping children who have been adopted by relatives, who have died or who are disabled, to return to their parents if it is in the child’s best interest.
The process includes a DCFS investigation of the birth parent and the home, and approval by both the Public Guardian and a court.
Supporters of the law, PA 96-601, passed in 2009, included: Chicago Bar Association, the Cook County Public Guardian, the Cook County Public Defender, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Center for Law and Social Work, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, and FCAN (Families’ and Children’s AIDS Network).