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The Negative Buzz on an Adoption Battle

November 29, 1990|BOB SIPCHEN

Can a rich white woman be a good mother to an abandoned and abused black infant? Or are children invariably better off living with foster or adoptive parents of their own race, regardless of the circumstances?

In a deeply moving story in the December/January Buzz magazine, author Tracie Hotchner examines a recent adoption battle that seems to hinge on that very issue.

Child custody disputes are always complex and painful. This one, as told with great passion and conviction by Hotchner, is enough to make caring citizens storm the Los Angeles County child custody system and liberate all its young charges.

One reason this story is so gripping, however, is because it's Hotchner's own sad tale. And therein lies the rub.

As told here, "This is the story of how the Department of Children's Services spent thousands of tax-payer dollars and hundreds of personnel hours to deprive one baby of the only home she had ever known, where she was welcome forever, and sentenced her to the legal limbo" that is shared by the more than 7,000 other children available for adoption in the state.

According to Hotchner, she and her live-in boyfriend, hot-shot producer Frank Yablans, fell in love with Gracie while Hotchner was a volunteer at MacLaren Children's Center. Told that no one would want to adopt this emotionally and physically injured child, the couple offered her a loving home, where she lived off and on as her case worked its way through the system.

But instead of encouraging the couple to take permanent custody of the child as foster or adoptive parents, the Department of Children's Services decided Gracie would be better off with a black family--even though there was scant hope that a suitable family would ever appear, Hotchner writes.

In Hotchner's telling, Gracie's subsequent bureaucratic abuse by the child custody system is as convoluted and absurd as any of Kafka's bleak horror stories.

No one will doubt that the power struggle Hotchner describes here occurred. Her descriptions of smarmy, authoritarian social workers, attorneys and judges ring true. But by the same token, Hotchner's reportage inadvertently displays an arrogance in herself that is guaranteed to trigger the sort of hostility among beleaguered functionaries that she alleges.

The question remains: Is Hotchner's condescending manner and her sometimes silly definition of a good life--she finds it imperative, for instance, that the child summer at an Italian villa--reason enough for social workers to scheme and lie and ultimately subject a child to a life of being shuffled between crowded foster homes? Of course not.

Unfortunately, another question clouds the discussion: Is this would-be mother's story credible? Or were there other reasons she was denied custody?

Who knows? Although Hotchner is meticulous in naming names, she does not give the many people she maligns opportunity to tell their side of the story. Consequently, only one aspect of Hotchner's whole sad tale is above suspicion: the fact that all too often children in the custody system suffer while adults play games.

REQUIRED READING

* In 1966, the cover of Time magazine asked the delicate question "Is God Dead?"

Apparently not. Because 24 years later, the cover of the December Life magazine asks: "Who is God?"

Unfortunately, Life doesn't provide a definitive answer. It does, however, offer a variety of opinions on the subject by a diversity of people, including Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser and a couple of murderers.

Speculations on God range from the banal to the inspired.

Cody Faircloth, a 70-year-old farmer, has a garden-variety perspective: "From here I can look at the old house and see my mother's rosebushes. She's gone, but the roses keep right on blooming. That's how it is with God. He's here now and will be when we're gone. He'll just go on and on, blooming right along, like them roses."

Fourteen-year-old baseball fan Rakesh Shah, on the other hand, puts 25 pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses into a sort of "pitching rotation," praying to them as they come up: "It would be pretty boring sticking to one god every day and doing the same thing over and over. If you have more than one, you can have more fun."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa says that God has "a deep, deep solidarity with us." Ramon Correa, a 21-year-old murderer from Colombia's slums, says that "He is that bit of goodness inside us . . . . You can rob and sometimes you even have to kill, but when suffering moves you--that's the God inside." And Angeleno Chan Meier, 17, envisions a God who bears a distinct resemblance to Woody Allen: "He's witty. Not sarcastic, but witty. And sharp. Very, very sharp. If He were to say something, it would be a one-liner. Just perfect."

In his own observations, Life editor Roger Rosenblatt quotes Baron Montesquieu: "If triangles had a god, it would have three sides."

And so it is that these folks--Moslems, Jews, Christians--all tend to anthropomorphize God.

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