A Chinese mother trying to regain custody of a 5-year-old daughter put in foster care as an infant once discussed adoption but quickly changed her mind, a court witness said Thursday.
An American couple has cared for the child since a few weeks after her birth in January 1999.
They want to adopt the girl over the objections of her biological parents, who are Chinese citizens facing possible deportation.
Social worker Diane Brower said Qin He, the child's mother, considered putting her baby up for adoption while still pregnant but rejected the idea after the girl's birth.
Mrs. He and her husband, Shaoqiang He, put daughter Anna Mae in foster care because of legal and financial hardships. They have been struggling for four years to get her back.
Fearing they could not support a child, the Hes initially talked with Brower about adoption and still were looking for help after Anna Mae was born.
"I felt like Mr. He was still interested in adoption but Mrs. He was not," said Brower, director of Mid-South Christian Services, a private adoption agency. Jerry and Louise Baker, who volunteered to become foster parents for Anna Mae, contend they had an oral agreement with He to raise the child to adulthood.
Mrs. He, who spoke little English, says she was tricked into signing over custody of Anna Mae to the Bakers in June 1999. She testified in court that she thought she could get her daughter back when the family's finances improved. The couple was strapped for money after He was expelled from the University of Memphis, where he was on scholarship as a graduate student in economics. They have since found work primarily in Chinese restaurants.
The Bakers are in court trying to terminate the Hes' parental rights to clear the way for adopting Anna Mae. A trial on their petition began Monday.
The Bakers say they initially had no intention of adopting Anna Mae. But she is now part of their family and sending her to China with the Hes would not be in her best interest.
Brower said the Bakers, who have four children of their own, had previously served as temporary foster parents with her adoption agency.
"I remember they did say they might be interested in adoption," she said. After the Bakers took Anna Mae into their home, the Hes paid regular visits. But tensions grew over how the child should be raised and the Hes were escorted from the Baker residence by police in January 2001.
They have not been back, and the Bakers contend the Hes have abandoned Anna Mae.
He was expelled from school after a female student accused him of fondling her in 1998. He was charged with sexual assault but acquitted at trial when the case finally went before a jury last year.
The Hes have had two other children, a girl and a boy, since Anna Mae's birth.
Since He is no longer a student, the family has no legal standing to remain in the United States.
An immigration court has delayed a decision on deportation because of the custody dispute. (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)