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Ex-drug addict mom wins custody battle

March 9, 1999
Web posted at: 10:56 a.m. EST (1556 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- A judge in Chicago has ordered a 3-year-old boy away from his politically powerful foster parents and back to his formerly drug-addicted mother.

The boy, identified as Baby T, would be better off with his black mother than with the white couple who had cared for him since he was 8 days old, said Judge Judith Brawka.

Chicago Alderman Edward Burke and his wife, Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke, wanted to adopt the boy, and the state had recommended that the child stay in their care. But the mother, Tina Olison, challenged the adoption, saying she was off drugs and had found religion.

Brawka ruled in Olison's favor, ordering the Burkes to transfer the boy to his biological mother over a 12-month transition period.

"I am joyful in my heart, and I just thank God to have a chance to be able to have a relationship with my child," Olison said after Brawka's ruling.

Brawka, a white judge from suburban Kane (Illinois) County, said that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was wrong to deny the importance of black culture in the boy's upbringing.

"Unless the position of the department is that there is no such thing as African-American culture, this issue deserves more attention than to check a box that says not applicable," the judge said.

The boy's attachment to his 8-year-old brother also had a bearing on her decision, Brawka said. The older boy has been cared for by his grandmother, and is also being returned to Olison's custody.

But Brawka warned Olison not to treat Baby T as a "prize you have won after battle."

"You are neither a devil nor a saint, a villain nor a hero," she said. "And neither are the Burkes."

Accordingly, the custody transfer could be halted at any time it appears the transition period isn't working, Brawka told Olison.

"Just as your addiction lasted for years, I must tell you this case may not close for a significant period of time," she said.

Last November, Brawka denied the Burkes' attempt to have Olison declared an unfit mother. The couple could not be reached for comment.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has 30 days to appeal the case. A spokeswoman for the department said it would comply with Brawka's order to immediately begin unsupervised visitation for mother and child.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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