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THE FAMILY FILE

'90s FAMILY : Adoption Cases Spur Children's Welfare Act

August 31, 1994

While the Baby Jessica and Baby Richard cases moved through the courts and the tabloids, a group of judges and lawyers crafted a model law they hope will prevent similarly agonizing adoption cases.

"The act is radical. It places the welfare of children at its center," said Joan Heifetz Hollinger, the act's drafter and a law professor at the UC Berkeley. Provisions of the Uniform Adoption Act, approved earlier this month by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, include:

* A biological father would have 30 days to make a parental claim after the proposed adoption of his child.

* A birth mother would have eight days to change her mind after giving up a child.

* Adoptions could not be denied on the basis of the race or ethnicity of the adoptive parents or children.

The act goes to the American Bar Assn. for review, then will be sent to each state with a recommendation that it be considered for enactment.

In the Baby Richard case, the now 3 1/2-year-old Chicago child's biological father is attempting to gain custody. The child's mother put him up for adoption and told the father that he had died.

"If we do everything which is reasonably possible to notify and obtain the consent of that biological parent, that's all we can ask of the system. The child's interest in secure and permanent placement becomes at a certain point the most important issue," said Rhoda Billings, a law professor at Wake Forest University and a member of the group that drafted the act.

But Jon Ryan, president of the National Organization for Birth Fathers and Adoption Reform in Punta Gorda, Fla., said the act "does not in any way protect the rights of mothers and fathers and children."

Early Puberty Can Mean Cigarettes, Alcohol

Adolescent girls who go through puberty earlier than their peers tend to take up cigarettes and alcohol earlier than their peers, a study has found.

"At least 80% of all smokers start during childhood or adolescence and the age of initial use has decreased over time, particularly among girls," researchers led by Dr. Darrell M. Wilson of Stanford University said in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

800 Number Available for Gay-Life Questions

In an effort to help Americans deal with the emotions and questions that arise when a relative or friend reveals his or her homosexuality, P-FLAG--Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays--will open a one-day national telephone hot line on Thursday.

Callers to (800) 95-P-FLAG ((800) 957-3524) will receive information about support groups and counseling. The line will be staffed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PDT.

* Compiled from Times staff and news services.

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