KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox She feels 'Susan' is not ready to raise her child

Dear Annie: My 26-year-old niece, "Susan," has been involved with illegal drugs for 10 years. Last summer, Susan gave birth to a drug-addicted but otherwise healthy baby girl. Instead of placing the baby in foster care, Susan asked me to take the child and raise her. (The biological father is not in the picture.)
I have been married for 12 years and have a good career. My husband and I are unable to have children of our own, and "Baby Ella" was a godsend. We joyously took her into our home and became her permanent legal guardians.
Since giving birth, Susan has been off street drugs, although she is on controlled withdrawal medication. She also has a minimum wage job and no driver's license. We've allowed Susan to live with us for five months so she can get to know her daughter. Now she has decided she wants to take Ella back.
Obviously, we feel Susan is not ready to raise Ella. She loves her daughter, and we don't want to deny her the chance to be a mother, but she still has so many issues to resolve. We're afraid Susan will take Ella and go back to the druggie life.
Ella is almost 7 months old, and we love her completely. We want to convince Susan that her daughter would be safer and more secure with us. How long is it fair to us to wait and see if Susan "straightens out"? Just Say No to Drugs
Dear Just: There are legal issues involved, and we cannot guarantee the outcome of a custody battle. Susan has lived with her daughter, in your home, for most of Ella's young life. Also, Susan is trying hard to stay clean and make a life for herself and her child. This will count in her favor. Without your ongoing help, it's possible Susan would revert to her old ways, and there's no way to know when.
Although it may be a big emotional gamble for you, for the sake of the child, is it possible for you to continue the arrangement you have now? The longer Susan stays clean, the better chance she has of making it, and the longer you can influence Ella's upbringing. Please discuss the idea with Susan.
Dear Annie: My friend, "Betty," is 13 and has an abusive father. She's been putting up with this abuse for many years. Yesterday, I told Betty that I was going to tell a teacher if she didn't do it herself.
I know that the abuse has gotten worse lately, and I'm afraid that Betty's life might be in danger. I may lose her friendship if I report him, so do I mind my own business or say something? Idaho Student
Dear Idaho: First give Betty the phone number of the child abuse hotline, (800) 422-4453) (childhelpusa.org), and encourage her to tell the school counselor. If she is too afraid, let her know you will talk to the counselor on her behalf. It might cost you the friendship, but you will never forgive yourself if you don't speak up.
Dear Annie: I am always grateful when someone offers to bring a dish to a gathering at my home. But what do I do when the guest arrives with just the ingredients and has to prepare the food ("Where's a cutting board? Do you have a mixing bowl? A platter?") at the party? This drives me crazy.
Is there a way to ask that the food be prepared ahead of time without sounding rude or ungrateful? E.C. in Boston
Dear Boston: Some people don't mind the extra chaos in the kitchen. Since you do, however, speak up. When someone offers to bring food, say, "That's so kind. Please be sure to label your serving platter, so I will know to whom it belongs." If the person says the food will be prepared at your house, reply, "Oh, I can't possibly supply the counter space. Too bad, because I would have loved the dish."
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