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Kathy O. v. Counseling & Family Serv.

OPINION FILED JULY 23, 1982.

KATHY O. ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

COUNSELING AND FAMILY SERVICES ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. RICHARD E. EAGLETON, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Fifteen-year-old Kathy O. became pregnant during her sophomore year of high school. At the suggestion of her family doctor, she became a resident of the Florence Crittendon Home in Peoria for the last four months of her pregnancy, and three days after the birth of her child, she and the child's father, Mark B., signed consents surrendering the child for adoption. About two weeks after returning home, Kathy O. contacted the agency to see if she could get her child back, and after being informed that she could not, she and Mark B. filed a habeas corpus petition in the circuit court of Peoria County. That petition was denied, and this appeal followed.

At the time Kathy O. became pregnant, both she and Mark B. were 15 years old and living with their respective parents. The mother of Kathy O. was shocked when she learned of the pregnancy and recommended that the baby be given up for adoption. Before Kathy O. went to Florence Crittendon Home, her mother and step-father told her that they would help her if she wanted to keep the baby but that they believed adoption would be the best thing for the baby. When Kathy O. arrived at the Home in Peoria, she informed a social worker and Lynn Ebker, her counselor from Counseling and Family Services, that she intended to give the child up for adoption. She continued to state that such was her intention throughout all her counseling sessions. Kathy O. knew that many girls did keep their babies, and in fact one section of the Home was occupied by girls with new babies who were learning parenting skills. Alternatives to adoption were mentioned to Kathy O., but she expressed no interest in them. Lynn Ebker explained to Kathy O. that she would not be able to change her mind once she signed the consent and that the form was final and irrevocable. Kathy O. testified that when she signed she understood that she would have no rights thereafter and that she could not change her mind. Kathy O. also stated that she felt no pressure from Lynn Ebker, but did feel pressure from her mother and step-father.

Kathy O. did not tell the father of the child that she was pregnant, although her parents did inform him. She did not want to talk to him and made no effort to contact him until she had been in Peoria for several weeks. Then she talked to him during a weekend visit to her home, and thereafter they talked via telephone several times. He told her and her parents that he would stand by her and do whatever she thought best. He did not tell his parents until just before he went to Peoria to sign the papers, but he did discuss the situation with his aunt, who told him he did not have to sign any papers if he did not want to. At no time did Mark B. tell Kathy O. that he did not want to give their child up for adoption, but he testified that he did not think it was right. However, he felt that her parents gave them no option, and he made no effort to seek advice or help from any other source. He went to Peoria with the step-father of Kathy O., and met Lynn Ebker for the first time at the time the surrenders were signed. The documents were read out loud and explained to him and to Kathy O. Neither one had any questions, and both signed. At trial, both testified that they understood what they were signing, and both said that they knew they did not have to sign. Mark B. stated that he knew he could either keep the child or release it for adoption, that after he signed he could not change his mind, and that he knew he was giving up his rights to the child. He said his mother and step-father told him they would stand behind him and help him financially if he needed help, but he also said he felt pressured by the step-father of Kathy O. and that he thought he had no choice. According to Lynn Ebker, Mark B. signed first.

When Kathy O. returned home, her next-door-neighbor told her that the parents of Kathy O. had told the neighbor that they would have helped her if she had decided to keep the baby and that she could have lived with her grandmother. The neighbor had given up a child for adoption when she was 16 years old, and she said she would baby-sit while Kathy O. went to school. After being home two weeks, Kathy O. contacted Lynn Ebker, and upon being told that there was no way she could get the baby back, this suit was instituted. At the time of trial, both parents were 16 years old, unmarried, juniors in high school, and Mark B. was employed with two part-time jobs.

Upon appeal, the parents argue that the form of surrenders did not substantially comply with the Adoption Act, that Lynn Ebker obtained their signatures by fraud and duress, that their surrenders were not given freely and voluntarily, and that the statute violates the constitutional rights of minors. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The first issue presented is whether the forms for consent to adoption used by the defendant Counseling and Family Services were in compliance with the statute prescribing the form of consent. Section 10 of the Adoption Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 40, par. 1512) prescribes the forms for consents and surrenders for adoption.

Section 10(C) begins:

"The form of surrender to any agency given by a parent of a born child who is to be subsequently placed for adoption shall be substantially as follows and shall contain such other facts and statements as the particular agency shall require."

The title is to be: "FINAL AND IRREVOCABLE SURRENDER FOR PURPOSES OF ADOPTION."

The following paragraphs from the statute were not included in the document executed by Kathy O. and Mark B.:

"That I do hereby surrender and entrust the entire custody and control of such child to the _____ (the `Agency'), a (public) (licensed) child welfare agency with its principal office in the City of ___________, County of ___________ and State of __________ for the purpose of enabling it to care for and supervise the care of such child, to place such child for adoption and to consent to the legal adoption of such child.

That I hereby grant to said Agency full power and authority to place such child with any person or persons it may in its sole discretion select to become the adopting parent or parents and to consent to the legal adoption of such child by such person or persons; and to take any and all measures which, in the judgment of said Agency, may be for the best interests of such child, including authorizing medical, surgical and dental care and treatment, including inoculation and anaesthesia for such child.

That I wish to and understand that by signing this surrender I do irrevocably and permanently give up all custody and other parental rights I have to such child.

That I understand I cannot under any circumstances, after signing this surrender, change my mind and revoke or cancel this surrender or obtain or recover ...


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