Monday, October 29, 2007

Children Rescue – An Aborted Babylift

On October 25, officials in Chad arrested nine French people on suspicion of child trafficking at Abeche, near the Chad-Darfur border as they attempted to fly 103 African children to France. The arrested consisted of six escorts and three French journalists. Also detained were the seven members of the charter plane’s crew, all Spanish citizens and the pilot, a Belgian citizen.

The French group is from L’Arche de Zoe (Zoe’s Ark), a Paris-based charity who now face charges including child abduction and fraud. The group was formed by motoring enthusiasts initially to aid victims from the December 2004 Asian tsunami. Earlier this year, Zoe’s Ark turned its attention to bringing orphans from Sudan’s Darfur region to France for adoption. Around 300 French families are reported to have paid between 2,800 and 6,000 euros each ($4,000 to $8,600) to Zoe’s Ark to adopt a child from Darfur.

The group chartered a plane scheduled to leave eastern Chad to deliver children to French waiting families. The children were aged between one and ten years old. The group is also alleged to have forged visa documents for the children.

Upon arrest, the charity workers were wearing t-shirts with the slogan bearing the name of the operation: “Children Rescue.” Although Zoe’s Ark had reportedly said the children needed to be evacuated to France for medical reasons, all appeared to be in good health. One official from UNICEF said some of the children were wearing bandages but there were no injuries found underneath them.

Officials from Chad, France and UNICEF have all denounced the operation as a violation of international and Sudanese law. Chad’s president, Irdriss Deby, called the operation “inhuman” and “unthinkable” and that those responsible would be severely punished. He is quoted as saying:

These people ... treat us like animals. So this is the image of the savior Europe, which gives lessons to our countries. This is the image of Europe which helps Africans.

According to the French Foreign Ministry, “Chad, like Sudan – from where the children could have come – are sovereign states that do not authorize adoption. It is currently absolutely impossible for a French family to launch a procedure to adopt a Chadian or Sudanese child.”

In April, Zoe’s Ark had issued a press release saying it wanted to evacuate 10,000 orphans from Darfur. In the statement, the organization said, “We must act to save these children. Now! In a few months, they will be dead.” In August, the French Foreign Ministry had issued a warning about Zoe’s Ark, saying there was no guarantee the children they were helping were orphans. Since the warning, one French diplomat said Zoe’s Ark had stopped saying its aim was to have the children adopted: “They explained that these children would first be housed in France, and we understand that they then explained to the (host) families that there would be a legal battle afterwards to have them adopted.”

The secretary-general of Zoe’s Ark denies the child trafficking charges. Stephanie Lefebvre said, “We never intended for them to be adopted. Our action plan was simple. We wanted to save them from death, by giving them a host family.”

Another Zoe’s Ark representative, Christophe Letien, stated, “this was urgent humanitarian action and not children-trafficking.” Zoe’s Ark website claimed its plan to bring children from Darfur to Europe is justified by the Geneva Convention and international law. It’s reported that Zoe’s Ark gathered prospective adoptive parents from the internet.

A court in Paris is also reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the matter. French police have been investigating Zoe’s Ark’s activities since July.

The prospective families insist they had a right to “save them from death” and planned to protest outside the Chad embassy in Paris. According to one prospective father/host, “local tribal chiefs have guaranteed to the association that each child had lost its entire family and had been abandoned.” One prospective mother/host said she was shocked by how the events were being portrayed, “It is absolutely heinous that the authorities suspect we played a role in child-trafficking. The volunteers at [Zoe’s Ark] are so dedicated. It’s sacrilege to treat them as child traffickers.”

UNICEF officials are attempting to locate the families of the children who are currently being cared for by UNICEF, UNHCR, the Red Cross and other groups. One Red Cross official said that based on its experience in Sudanese refugee camps, there are rarely orphans who are separated from their whole families. UNICEF and the Chadian government said the majority of the children appeared to be Chadian, not Darfurian, and did not appear to be orphans.

Most disturbing are some of the accounts from the children themselves. Some reports state that the children were enticed by candy to leave their homes. One child said:

My parents had gone to work in the fields. As we were playing some
Chadians came and said, "Here are some sweets, why don't you follow us to Adre
and then we'll take you home? We spent seven days in Adre, and I've been
here in Abeche for more than one month. We were well fed by the whites,
there was always food. I would like to go back to find my parents.

Another child said:

A car came with two whites and one black man who spoke Arabic. The
driver said, "Come with me, I'll give you some money and biscuits and then I'll
take you home. We were taken to the white people's house and they gave us
medicine -- small white tablets. I was not ill. All the children
were given pills. They told us that we would no longer be able to go

Another child said:

Whites came and said they would enrol us in school. They came to talk with
our father and he allowed us to go with them. They said they would train us and
that when we are grown up we would get a vehicle.

Social workers treating the children report that they are traumatised, and that the constant flow of visitors and journalists are disrupting the children. And humanitarian aid workers fear being targeted; some cars of aid workers have been pelted with stones. One Chadian social worker sums it up this way:

France and other foreigners made us (Chad) sign a convention on children's
rights. But to our surprise, it was the French themselves who came to take our children, even though they know the law. They didn't respect us. They came in silence to set up their office and kidnap our children.


Chad to charge French with abduction: prosecutor, Washington Post, October 29, 2007

'Charges near' in Chad child row, BBC News, October 29, 2007

Ordeal of Chad children in 'kidnap' row, BBC News, October 29, 2007

Profile: Zoe's Ark, BBC News, October 29, 2007

Prison 'likely' in Chad child row, BBC News, October 29, 2007

Adoption workers accused of luring Chadian children with candy, International Herald Tribune, October 29, 2007

Belgian pilot arrested in Chad accused of trafficking children, People's Daily Online, October 29, 2007

Europeans risk kidnapping charge over Chad 'adoptions', Yahoo!News, October 28, 2007

French charity blamed for child smuggling, ArcaMax Publishing, October 27, 2007

Bewildered infants await fate in Chad orphanage, Reuters, October 27, 2007

Questions Over Plan for Darfur Children, Sudan Tribune, October 27, 2007

Chad vows to punish French for child smuggling bid, Reuters, October 26, 2007

Charity adoption workers seized at airport for 'trafficking' children, Times Online, October 26, 2007

Authorities Arrest French Attempting to Fly 103 Children Out of Chad, VOA News, October 26, 2007

French NGO Accused of Trafficking Children, UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, October 26, 2007

UN and aid groups criticise 'humanitarian mercenaries', Guardian Unlimited, October 26, 2007

French group under investigation over Darfur adoptions, Yahoo!News UK & Ireland, October 26, 2007

Questions Over Plan for Darfur Children, Sudan Tribune, October 27, 2007

Chad stops group from flying 103 children to France, Reuters, October 25, 2007

Update in an Indian Adoption Scandal -- Kidnap and Adoption

In 2005 another horrid adoption scandal broke in India. In May 2005, the Central Crime Branch of the Chennai police arrested several people for allegedly kidnapping and selling about 350 children to the Malaysian Social Service agency. Also arrested were the director of Malaysian Social Service, P.V. Ravindranath, his wife Vatsala and their son, Dinesh Kumar who were booked under the criminal penal code provision for kidnapping.

Malaysian Social Service placed children for adoption between 1991 and 2001 or 2002. Several of these children had been sent for adoption abroad. Police investigations showed that records relating to children at the agency, specifically the surrender affidavits, bore signatures of false witnesses. Several affidavits didn’t even have signatures. Malaysian Social Service Agency previously lost its license in 1998 after some children who had been reported missing were identified as those that they agency had made adoptable. The agency’s license was restored a few months later and revoked again after the scandal in 2001.

After the news broke, the police were besieged by scores of parents looking for their stolen and missing children. The details about how the children were allegedly abducted over a decade varied. M. Habib said that in March 1998 his wife came to Chennai with their 3 year old son, Amaruddin. While his wife was trying to see the number on the bus, her son was kidnapped. Another woman, Sivakami, said that in 1997 her 1 year old son, Subash was playing outside their house in Pulianthope when he disappeared.

Only a few parents were able to recognize their children from photos seized from the orphanage. Not only had they been given new names by Malaysian Social Service, but reports indicate that the agency did not take pictures of the children when they took them in.

An in-depth report by Frontline in May 2005 of this and other scandals in Chennai traces the root of the problem, of course, to money:

“Foreign adoptive parents pay their local agencies, which send the sums as
‘grant-in-aid’ to their Indian counterparts. It is difficult to find out how
much each parent in the foreign country has paid – but, according to some
estimates, it ranges from $10,000 to $50,000. There is, however, a clear link
between inter-country adoptions and foreign contributions. In fact, many
agencies admit they cannot survive without doing intercountry adoptions.”
Following the arrests, a few parents filed court actions demanding the return of their children. One petitioner said his son Satishkumar was taken in March 1999, another said his four year old son was abducted by a gang in an autorickshaw, and a third said that his 1 year old child had been missing since February 1999.

Last month, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court ordered an immediate investigation by the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation into all three cases. A special team has been formed to probe these cases. According to one senior CBI official, “We have already collected the case details regarding the adoption racket case. There are a minimum five to six cases that we will be investigating with regard to the illegal adoption of children. The case details show that the children are sold to various parts of the world.”


Adoption monitoring agency ‘should be given more powers’, The Hindu, May 15, 2005,

Parents can’t identify missing wards, The Hindu, May 9, 2005

Missing child’s photograph identified, The Hindu, May 6, 2005

Police bust child abduction racket, The Times of India, May 16, 2005

Behind the facade, Frontline, by Asha Krishnakumar, Vol. 22, Issue 11, May 21-June 3, 2005

The Big Racket of Small Babies,, by Ambujam Anantharam, June 12, 2005

Chennai lady waits for kidnapped son,, June 30, 2005

Adoption: CBI registers three cases, The Hindu, by K.T. Sangameswaran, October 4, 2007

CBI to register case in child adoption racket,, by K Praveen Kumar, October 3, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vietnam: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Announcement: Changes in Vietnam Adoptions

USCIS Update - October 25, 2007

Washington - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced that the USCIS office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam will have sole jurisdiction over all Form I-600s, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, filed on behalf of a Vietnamese child on or after October 29, 2007.

In response to growing concerns about irregularities in the methods used to identify children for adoption in Vietnam and the resulting difficulties in classifying those children as orphans, USCIS will centralize processing of I-600s in Ho Chi Minh City. USCIS encourages prospective adoptive parents to file the I-600 directly with USCIS in Ho Chi Minh City before traveling to Vietnam. This will enable USCIS or Department of State officers to determine whether a child identified in the petition qualifies as an orphan as defined in Section 101(b)(1)F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This is important because irregularities that may affect the eligibility of the child for classification as an orphan are becoming apparent only after the adoption has taken place and while the parents and child are awaiting resolution in Vietnam. These circumstances have proven difficult to address or overcome for all parties involved.

Prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to file the Form I-600 with the required supporting evidence, other than the adoption or custody decree, by mail or courier with USCIS, Ho Chi Minh City, as follows:

Filing by mail:
United States Consulate General
Ho Chi Minh City
PSC 461 Box 500
FPO AP 96521-0002

Filing by courier:
United States Consulate General
4 Le Duan Street
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The petitioner will receive a notice of receipt when the USCIS Ho Chi Minh City office receives the Form I-600 and supporting evidence. USCIS will then review the petition and supporting evidence to determine whether the child qualifies as an orphan. In certain cases an administrative field inquiry or a request for evidence will be necessary to make that determination. USCIS anticipates completing most determinations in 60 days.

Once a determination is made, USCIS will notify the petitioner, who may then travel to Vietnam to proceed with the adoption. In cases where it appears the child may not qualify as an orphan, the petitioner will have an opportunity to respond to those findings through established procedures.

USCIS will forward all Form I-600s received in domestic USCIS field offices on or after October 29, 2007 to its Ho Chi Minh City office.

After November 16, 2007, USCIS will not expedite the processing of the Form I-600 solely because the petitioner is in Vietnam. If a petitioner chooses to travel to Vietnam to file the Form I-600 after November 16, 2007, the petition and supporting documents will undergo the same process as those filed and received by mail.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Announcement, Ethica, 25 October 2007

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Announcement, American Immigration Lawyers Association, 25 October 2007


Regulation and Protection in Intercountry Adoption – Workshop 4.1 Hague and IAA

Revised information for ordering an audio CD of the presentations is here.

Ethics and Accountability Conference
Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007

Trish Maskew, founder and President of Ethica, Inc.
Thomas D. DiFilipo, President & CEO of Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Katherine Monahan, Chief of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention Implementation Unit of the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues
David M. Smolin, Professor of Law at Cumberland Law School, Samford University, and Director, Center for Biotechnology, Law and Ethics

Opening Remarks:


Smolin’s comments centered on the areas he is fearful that Hague implementation will not address parents whose children have been taken through improper processes:

1) There is no control over the money

  • The regulations only require a limit of those amounts that are “customary” within that sending country’s adoption community. For example, if $22,000 is typically what’s paid into Guatemala in the form of adoption fees, the regulations are met if that’s the custom. This is a huge hole in the regulations; if you don’t control the money, you will not stop the misconduct.

  • The itemization of money in terms of exactly where it goes is not clear enough. Itemizations that simply detail “foreign” fees is not enough, instead we need to know exactly where the money is going. There are approximately 90 JCICS agencies operating in Guatemala, each averaging $18,000-22,000 to Guatemala per adoption. Smolin pointed out that at the UNICEF session, Tom DeFilipo acknowledged that agencies could not account where all the money goes and could not account for what goes on at relinquishment. The lack of accountability is an “open invitation to trafficking.”

2) The Hague regulations contain a gaping hole with respect to the responsibility of U.S. agencies over their foreign partners

  • Tort liability of agencies was scrapped from the 2003 version of the draft rules to the 2006 final rules, leaving agencies not responsible for a trafficked child.

  • A US agency can use a facilitator who is not a supervised provider if the agency has document verification. Verifications make little sense when one can buy documents in countries like India, Nepal and Vietnam for very little money.

3) Another difficulty with Hague implementation is its peer review approach

  • A peer review approach is based on the idea that things are generally fine with the exception of a few bad apples. But agencies put more money in countries than they can handle. For example, India currently has a $3,500 cap on fees with no donations permitted. A survey of agencies reveals it is difficult to find any agency that abides by CARA’s rules. The overwhelming majority of JCICS agencies charge fees well beyond these limits. If a system is created that produces a price tag over the head of a child, that incentivizes trafficking.
  • COA accredits agencies based only on agencies reviewing themselves when these agencies are among those themselves involved in a broken system.


  • Language is an important tool. There is no such thing as a “JCICS agency.” Organizations choose whether to join JCICS as a “member.” JCICS has no responsibility for its members and does not believe all its members adhere to ethical practice.

  • One important point to remember is that the Hague will not make a broad impact. Many large sending countries are not parties to the Hague, e.g., Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and South Korea. China has ratified that Hague, but the impact of the regulations there will be nil. The majority of the impact is in Guatemala. JCICS advocates that all adoptions adhere to U.S. Hague standards regardless of whether the sending country adheres to the Hague.

  • DeFilipo is concerned about implementation of the Hague in other countries. Its impact has been to restrict corruption, but has done so by simply minimizing the number of adoptions done. It’s not enough to end corruption, if you end corruption and end the child’s ability to find a permanent family, what have you accomplished? It’s THAT behavior that is unethical.

  • The Hague Guide to Good Practice calls for transitional implementation of the Hague Convention, not instantaneous implementation. Many of us would be pleased if the Hague was implemented transitionally in countries like Guatemala.


Her remarks were not recorded. She noted that the Department of State intended to deposit ratification to the Hague by the end of this year.

Discussion Among Panelists:
DeFelipo addressed Smolin’s point about controlling money. DeFilipo agrees if that if we can’t control the money, we can’t control corruption. Some agencies argue that controlling money is anti-free trade, but this is not trade. In fact, most agencies would prefer a low volume of dollars going through sending countries.

Monahan acknowledges that corruption is a large problem, but there are so few ways to fight corruption in these countries. She raised an example of an adoption service provider who wanted to give $10,000 for a child who needed a heart operation. Shouldn’t that be okay? The Indian government authorities are very concerned about these issues and said there will no longer be a $3,500 and no donation rule, but rather, all donations will be pooled.

In response, Smolin pointed out a recent report in the last two days concerning Preet Mandir, an Indian orphanage. By way of background, India is the second largest country, but places only 300 to 600 children per year and those numbers are going down. Yet India is still ripe with adoption scandals: Andhra Pradesh has been closed since 2001 and Dutch and Danish authorities are very concerned about scandals out of Chennai. 40% of all children are from orphanages in Maharashtra, 25% of all children are from Pune, and a significant portion of those children are from Preet Mandir which keeps getting relicensed despite significant and documented instances of corruption. News is now surfacing about a claim that Preet Mandir paid the hotel bill of the head of CARA. Therefore, trust in the situation of India is not large because corruption seems to start at the head of the government authority and go down. Smolin is not opposed to special surgeries, but would like to find ways to help families keep their children. He personally feels that humanitarian aid should address helping a child stay in his or her family for only $100-$200 instead of helping the child through thousands of dollars.

DeFilipo responded that JCICS is in complete support of orphan prevention, but handing someone a one time payment of $100 is not going to allow them to keep their child. It’s disingenuous to make it sound that easy. If agencies are involved in ICA, how does the fact that they are not involved in all aspects of child welfare somehow negate what is done? It’s the government’s responsibility to prosecute Preet Mandir, not JCICS or any of the agencies.

Smolin replied that a U.S. agency is responsible when IT links to Preet Mandir. He has seen NO consequences to U.S. agencies when they linked up to agencies in Andhra Pradesh or Preet Mandir and he doesn’t see the DOS or JCICS address it. Under domestic and international law, a child is eligible for adoption only after adequate preservation efforts have been made. This is basic social work. If a doctor saves a life by amputating a leg instead of prescribing antibiotics, we’d say that’s malpractice and not commend them. When you take a child from a mother and could have kept the child with his mother, and you were involved in taking the child, you HAVE been involved, you did the amputation, therefore, you must make sure the amputation was necessary. This is the responsibility of agencies.

Audience Participation:
DeFilipo asked stated that U.S. agencies working in India interface with placing agencies NOT birthparents. In the face of this erroneous statement, I jumped up and pointed out this is NOT the case, there ARE U.S. agencies with facilitators on their payroll who interface directly with birthparents in India. Later, DeFilipo clarified that he meant under future rules, U.S. agencies will not be permitted to interface with birthparents in India.

A representative of Spence Chapin in New York City wanted clarification on humanitarian aid. First, she noted that their vast development programs were in countries not placing children for adoption, for example, Moldova, Bulgaria and areas of China where they don’t work with specific orphanages. She agrees 100% that increased transparency is needed, but asked for suggestions given that it is a difficult and complicated task to supervise representatives from foreign countries who are monitored by the government of that country itself.

  • Monahan responded that the solution lies not only in setting fees since money will always go under the table in these countries. In Guatemala, they are looking at ways to make sure that the intake of children is done by social services representatives, not by anyone who stands to make money off the situation. This way there won’t be “trolling” for children and it will be more transparent what social services were done for the child.

  • Smolin thought that if agencies didn’t get involved in bidding wars for children with foreign partners, that would help. Agencies should make their own determination of what are reasonable payments, and only extend that amount even at the risk of not being allotted children to refer for adoption.

Joan Hollinger addressed the issue of accountability by U.S. agencies for behavior of facilitators in other countries. She said the State Department had to confront what is central to the Hague: the ultimate responsibility for determining the availability of the child is that of the sending country. However, U.S. responsibility could be addressed if the child’s immigration and visa application were not approved unless the consular officer and USCIS officer make the determination under Hague applicable standards (e.g., orphan definition) were complied with.
Monahan noted that there are a lot of concerns around the foreign supervised provider provisions. She said the DOS didn’t give up on oversight, the regulations are extensive in this regard. Also, under Section 96.46, verification will require more than just “looking at a document.” There will be other appropriate steps.

Joan Hollinger also addressed the Hague’s provisions on waivers by prospective adoptive parents in adoption service agreements.

  • Smolin noted that the proposed Hague regulations would have forbidden blanket waivers. The final rules are somewhat ambiguous, but generally allow waivers. Even Holt, often held as one of the more reputable agencies, came out in favor of waivers.

  • Lucy Armistead of Kentucky Adoption Services said that the Hague requires “limited and specific waivers.” There are limits to what an agency can be expected to be accountable for. Armistead herself is a COA peer reviewer. When she reviews an agency, she looks to see if their contractual waivers are limited and specific, and if they are not, she will not pass those contracts. In a litigious society, agencies are fearful and ICA is an endeavor that is fraught with liability.

Carol Rauschenberger asked whether the Hague would address the umbrellaing problem which she hears is going on in Vietnam again. DeFilipo responded that the Hague does address umbrellaing. For example, if one agency is licensed in a country and give another agency use of the license without disclosing that to families recruited from a third state, that would not be allowed under the regulations.

Carol Rauschenberger also asked whether the Hague will address what goes on in relinquishments, for example, what is going on in Guatemala. Monahan replied that a key issue of the Hague is to make sure a child is adoptable. The principle of subsidiarity feeds into that. Protections at point of relinquishment are critical to ensure a child truly needs a permanent family he doesn’t already have. The U.S. will become partners w/ other countries and will review each partner. For example if profiteering partners scoop up children without processes that the Hague prescribes, such as counseling, the DOS and CIS will decide whether the country is meeting its Hague obligations and whether it will be able to process adoptions with that partner. This obligation will be taken very seriously.

Johanna Oreskovic asked if in fact, we can’t operate ICA ethically in a foreign country, but we can operate with a foreign aid program ethically where that program doesn’t do adoptions, then why are we doing ICA where we can’t be accountable? Also, what kind of redress does a family have when an agency’s liability is waivable? Monahan said that although the Hague does not provide for tort liability, an agency can still be put out of business in working with other Hague countries. DOS is supportive on these issues and hopes people will pick the right agencies.

I asked for an explanation from the DOS of how Section 96.46(c) of the Hague regulations are in accord with the legislative intent and statutory language of the Intercountry Adoption Act.

  • Monahan replied that the DOS said this is a question it has been grappling with for some time and their lawyers are considering it. Hague accreditation was set up to make agencies accountable. It’s an elaborate system and it makes the primary provider responsible for everything that goes on under them. The whole purpose of the law is to require transparency and accountability – so to the extent people are arguing there is one small provision of the Hague regulations that is going to blow everything out of the water, that’s not going to be possible because the intent of the law is to not make that happen.

  • DeFilipo pointed out that the Hague regulations reflect compromises after political negotiations.

David K expressed frustration that in trying to dialogue with the DOS and COA, PEAR is only being ignored or receiving form letters. Therefore, he finds the outreach offers from the DOS difficult to swallow.

Closing comments:
Smolin: We can’t let corruption happen so systematically. This is a conference about ethics and accountability. He is still not clear who is accountable to make sure these kind of things don’t happen systematically.

DeFilipo: All agencies aren’t the same. We are all responsible including the DOS and CIS who process visas they know are not valid. JCICS has fallen down on job. In addition, prospective adoptive parents who despite warning after warning, moved from agencies who stop processing applications for Guatemala to those who will are also responsible.

Monahan: Wanted to end on a positive note. The Hague Convention is the best we got. She has a lot of hope for it and thinks it will make a difference.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Accountability to Families of Origin: Workshop 1.1--Birth Sibling Placement and Contact

Note: The following are detailed notes. They do not constitute the exact words of the speakers, but a--hopefully accurate--summary of the ideas of these presentations and questions. If any of the panelists or attendees take issue with any of these summaries, please let me know so that I can correct them.



To order a audio CD of this presentation please click here: Purchasing Audio CD's of the Ethics and Accountability Conference

Ethics and Accountability Conference
Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007

Panelists (for more detailed info on panelists, click on their names):

David Brodzinsky, Ph D, is Professor Emeritus of Developmental and Clinical Psychology and past Director of the Foster Care Counseling Project at Rutgers University. He is the author of five books and was a founding director and 10 year member of the Board of Directors for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Joyce Maguire Pavao, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, is the Founder and CEO of Center For Family Connections, Inc. of Cambridge, MA and New York. She is also an author and an adjunct faculty member in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Nancy Golden, LCSW, is the Co-Director of Midwest Adoption Center.

David Brodzinsky

  • Research on sibling relationship is recent; most has been done in the last 15 years.
  • What is so special about sibling relationships?
    • Sibling relationships are among the longest lived human relationships, forming early in life and continuing through the end of life. Sibling relationships generally run longer than relationships with parents, spouses, and children.

  • Sibling relationships, whether positive or negative, form lasting influences on children
    • Positively, siblings:
      • Can be companions and playmates
      • Can be models for appropriate attachment
      • Can be sources of cognitive stimulation; models for appropriate development; impetus for linguistic development
      • Can teach conflict resolution strategies, positive and negative
      • Can model for cultural relationship (socialization); model to how to relate to wider world (especially peers) in way that parents can't
      • Foster identity development (cultural, racial, gender, familial,etc.)

    • Negatively, siblings:
      • Often fight with each other; teach each other bad relational patterns
      • Can be sources of conflict,
      • Can, at the extreme, be sources of trauma and even abuse
      • Can model negative behavior (early sexuality, drugs, drinking)
      • Can model negative conflict resolution (physicality, torment, etc.)

  • Today virtually all major placement agencies have policies stating that siblings should be placed together. Despite this, siblings are too often not placed together. Why? What are the barriers keeping siblings from being placed together?
    • Sibling placement policies are not always well articulated
    • Problems in the translation between policy(on paper)and practice(in the field)
    • Lack of staff understanding/training in regard to the importance/role of sibling relationships
    • The belief that sometimes, when there is a history of difficult sibling relationships, it is a bad idea to keep siblings together
      • But keeping siblings apart also teaches conflict avoidance rather than conflict resolution
    • Lack of available families to foster/adopt sibling groups. Many feel they can't handle the responsibility of parenting large sibling groups with multiple children coming into the family simultaneously
    • Lack of training for parents who might consider larger sibling groups
    • Regulations about child placement that inadvertently preclude siblings from being placed together
      • Regulations regarding how many children can be placed in one family
      • Regulations about housing size in relation to number of children
      • Considering how important sibling relationships are, these rules should perhaps be bent

  • The separation of sibling groups is rightfully viewed by professionals using a "loss model"
  • Whatever WE think about the child's various losses, the child experiences his/her losses as major and significant.
  • Sibling loss must be viewed in the context of the larger context of the multiple significant losses a child has experienced. Foster/adoptive children have lost:
    • Parents, relatives, extended families, etc.
    • Significant non-biological relationships like foster families and foster siblings
    • Other positive relationships including caregivers, teachers, friends, community,etc.
    • Social "status"--foster/adoptive care carries the stigma of being "second best." No one wants to be in foster care or to be in a position where they need to be adopted.
    • Biological Origins. Adopted children, especially, lose genealogical continuity. They are cut off from their relatives, their biological origins, their genealogical identity, and from knowledge of relatives/ancestors. [No one who has not lost these things themselves can understand the significance of this loss.]
    • Identity. In many senses of the word
      • Loss of identity is especially prevalent in transracial adoption. The child loses his or her ethnic, cultural, and racial identities.
      • The transracially adopted child also suffers an inevitable and chronic loss of privacy. When a child doesn’t look like his/her parents then the fact that the child is being fostered or is adopted is no longer a private truth--the fact of "care" becomes public knowledge, available even to strangers.

  • Sibling loss is a serious loss for children of all ages, even infants.
    • Infants too young to be aware of their separation from siblings, do not escape sibling loss. Infants grow into children who ask questions and want to know about their lost siblings.
    • Older children also suffer from the loss of their infant sibling despite the fact that they have not had the chance to get to know them

  • It is a measure of the importance of the sibling connection that a sibling searches are often the first searches undertaken by those searching for their biological roots.
    • Sibling searches are considered "safer" searches. Siblings are perceived as less apt to reject the adoptee than parents.

Joyce Pavao
  • Began by discussing her own status as an adoptee who had six non-adopted siblings. It was a huge loss not to have known her siblings for all of their mutual lives.
  • Those who haven’t lost siblings can’t really understand the gravity of sibling loss
  • Siblings hold a huge amount of value and import to us. Sometimes sibling relationships are good; sometimes they are bad; but they are always very important
  • There are two recent books and a movie that artfully speak to the importance of sibling connection for adopted persons.

  • Placement decisions should not only take into consideration immediate concerns, but must also, and more importantly, take into consideration the lifelong importance of sibling relationships.
  • In the opening panel of the Ethics and Accountability Conference, Oronde Miller talked eloquently about loss of contact between the siblings in his family and the resulting loss of a medical history. That loss nearly meant the loss of life for one of his siblings. It was only finding each other that saved his sibling from an untimely death.
    • The surgeon general of the US talks about the need to know our family medical information, but how can fostered and adopted persons have that info if we do facilitate their keeping in touch with their families of origin?

  • There are numerous reasons why it is important that siblings remain connected to each other and that adopted persons should be allowed to retain connections with their families of origin.
  • There are numerous reasons why we must understand the value of sibling connections. It is incredibly important that people have an understanding about the importance of siblings. It is incredibly important that we discuss this importance with others (and share the information with the general public). This information has many practical day-to-day applications and implications.
    • For example, a child who is the only child in an adoptive family talks about his/her other siblings, and the uninformed teacher doesn’t understand--she thinks the child is "crazy" because, from her point of view, the child HAS no siblings because there are no siblings in the adoptive family. She doesn't stop to consider that the child's family connections extend beyond his adoptive family.

  • Incredibly, even today siblings and even twins are still being separated and some "professionals" are still supporting that separation.
  • Programs to preserve sibling relationships are needed--especially programs that can serve as models to be replicated elsewhere. It takes a lot of work to ensure that sibling connections are maintained when children are placed in different families.
    • If three families are raising three siblings, these three families may not have anything in common beyond the children they parent. Families may be culturally very different; they may have vastly different values and ways of doing things. It is hard without help to build relationships across all these difference.
    • Families who essentially have nothing in common but their children's connection to each other, may not WANT to build relationships. Without support and help to do so and a thorough understanding of the importance of sibling connections, the sibling connections may not be seen as worth the effort--and may get lost.
    • The adults (parents) involved need a chance to talk out and work out their differences in a way that honors and respects each other; they need understand how to agree to disagree about all sorts of things. There will inevitably be culture clashes between individual families and their own ways of doing things, seeing the world, etc.
    • Issues arise that don’t allow relationships to develop
    • Families need to be helped to understand boundaries and how to maintain them in the face of huge differences
    • Families need to be helped to find ways to make sure that relationships happen. Relationships must surmount values differences, geography differences, cultural differences, and surmount time pressures--all sorts of issues that don’t allow relationships to be valued enough to grow
    • Relationships can’t be legislated, but they must be given space to grow
    • This facilitation does not mean supervised visits most of the time, but might often mean clinical supervision of relationship between families.
  • What is a sibling? It is different to everyone and it is important to realize this and make allowances for these differences. Those who are siblings may include:
    • Biological siblings
    • Adoptive siblings
    • Foster siblings
    • Extended relatives
    • Others who are reside in the home for a time

  • We must give siblings of all sorts a place in order to help kids feel whole because we must realize what a huge and important impact siblings have on each other.

Nancy Golden
  • Sibling searches are the second most requested search in her practice. Requests for sibling searches typically come from adoptive parents of minors and/or from adult adoptees.
  • The single largest info exchange is the exchange of information between siblings
  • Ongoing sibling relationship may be represent complications for AP's, but sibling relationship is important to adoptees.
  • Sibling relationships are a matter of valuation.

(from those present at Workshop 1.1)

Question 1. Can you speak to how kinship foster and kinship adoption affects sibling placements?

  • Honesty is extremely important. We have to help kids and adults understand their changing roles and responsibilities. People are playing roles different from their normal ones. [For example, a grandmother or an aunt or an older sister might function as a mother; others may also take on different roles too]
  • Secrecy is biggest problem
  • Kinship fostercare/adoption can be problematic because of the good sister/bad sister kind of dynamics that inevitably develop. There can be a lot of imposed guilt and shame.
  • In order for it to work, support is needed. And yet, generally, fewer services are available for kinship placement than for other placements.

  • There is great complexity in kinship placement,but many times it provides the best opportunity to maintain sibling contact, even if children are placed in different kinship families. [Those families are naturally going to see each other simply because they are FAMILY to each other. Children placed in different kinship homes have multiple opportunities to relate to each other in a extended family setting]
  • It is true that services offered for kinship foster/adoption are much less, and that is a big problem. We definitely need to strengthen these services to support kinship placements.

Question 2. How do we balance between birthparent privacy and birthsiblings' need to know?

  • Birthparents need to understand exactly what they are agreeing to in regard to privacy; the language needs to be clear
  • As important as privacy is, not enough is done to help birthparents understand importance of other aspects of connections. Birthparents might make different decisions if they understood the importance of connectedness.
  • Perhaps there might be ways for a birthparent to maintain privacy but also take care of the child’s needs for connectedness

  • This brings up an important question. How do you help a child when you don’t have the info you need to answer the child's questions and concerns. What do you say when the child asks, "Do you think I have siblings?"
    • Therapists are trained to not answer questions, but to explore the child's reason for and meaning in asking the question. Therefore they ask the child, "What do you think?" and explore the reasons the child is asking the question--what is in his/her head.
    • In IA often there is a dearth of information, so parents can't answer questions. AP's need to be taught how to talk to their children in situations where information is missing.
      • Must affirm normality of child's questions
      • Must affirm child’s feelings as appropriate; his/her feelings are not right or wrong
      • AP’s often simply say "I don’t know" to child's questions, and the conversation stops, but the conversation often needs to continue. Again it is important to understand what the meaning of the child's questions are. There is a need to know what's going on in the child's head.

  • Everytime anyone comes for therapy, we do a three generation genealogy for the adoptee. One third of the time we find that AP's know information that the adoptee doesn't. That means that 1/3 of the time AP's are keeping information secret from the adoptee. We end up spending time helping parents begin to tell adoptees the whole truth about what they know.

  • What do you know that you haven’t shared? Is it the existence of siblings or a birthparent's name. Parents are afraid to tell their adoptive children. They are afraid that they'll "put ideas in the child's head."

  • Parents should know that's there's a "continuum of connection." AP’s of minors should know that there are other ways to connect other than visitation. Contact can begin slowly. For example letters or emails can be exchanged first. Contact does not have to mean only visitation or physical contact--we can have a more sophisticated idea of openness.

Question 3: Can you speak to the situation when there is infant or toddler who is being adopted and the AP says well, the baby doesn’t know his/her sibling-—but yet they are not taking into consideration that older child already knows the younger child.

  • The baby will get older and will appreciate it if the siblings were kept connected; you can benefit from a sibling relationship at whatever age. It's not just important to keep siblings together who are old enough at the time of placement to be aware of each other. Sibling relationships are ongoing throughout life.
  • The reason why sibling are often not placed together is that it is too hard to find a family who will take both. Or sometimes it is that the professionals don't want to have to provide the additional services it would take to place the children together. More effort is required of both the caseworkers and the AP's if children are to have ongoing contact. But this is not OK. The needs of the children and the importance of ongoing sibling contact must remain at the forefront.

  • People want things to be clean and easy, but sibling contact is often messy
  • Caseworkers don’t get training; supervisors don’t help; People get nothing but on the job training.
  • Still, it is important to understand worth of sibling connection. There is a term that I've heard--siblings who are connected through their mothers are "wombmates." That connection is incredibly important.
  • Adoption isn't just the needs for a moment in time; it is a moving picture, for a lifetime; not just for right now, but forever. We have to think in terms of metavision--in terms of a lifetime--not just for the needs of the moment
  • It is possible to maintain sibling connections even when one of the children is severely affected. It may mean extremely supervised visits, but children should be given the opportunities even in these circumstances.

  • If there is an unaware child--too young to know about siblings-- we use rationale that the child doesn't know the sibling anyway; we forget to think about down the line. Easy decisions in the shorttem come back to be more complicated in the longterm

  • We should also think about sibling relationships in regard to alternative reproductive technologies. [This is another situation in which the short term decisions seem easy, but the long term consequences are more complicated]
  • We forget to think about these kids and their future need for needing to know about their genealogical heritage and their biological siblings; we need to have the info to give to them later
  • In terms of International Adoption, we had assumed that these kids would never have a connection with their birthfamilies, but there are now DNA studies from China and many adoptees have found siblings with DNA matches; We must recognize the importance of having those connections

  • When agencies have a child who comes into foster care, it is important to identify other any siblings the child already has in the foster care system.

Question 4. which is a comment:
  • AdoptUS kids has studied what increases a child's chances of being adopted and surprisingly, one thing is being a part of a sibling group—-the idea that siblings can’t be placed together is a myth. Things are changing in this regard and others.
  • In fact, a young caseworker recently told me that she had heard that "in the old days" siblings used to be placed in different homes. "The Old Days"... The younger caseworkers and professionals definitely have the ideal of placing siblings together.

Question 5. Can you tell me about assessment tools—for sibling evaluations?"

  • It isn't so much tools that we lack as it is a lack of education of the professionals. If children are siblings, they are siblings. What assessment needs to be made?
  • An assessment of the professionals and other adults involved is more germaine. The adults have to be educated as to the value of ongoing sibling relationships. Especially, supervisors need to understand what they are doing and why.

  • Assessment does become important with history of past sibling abuse.
  • No formal assessment tools exist. Caseworkers and professionals have to apply other abuse models in these cases. The principles of contact should be the same as those applied with parents--children SHOULD be placed together with their siblings UNLESS traumatization would occur. If further traumatization is likely to occur, then the children should still have ongoing contact with the appropriate safeguards.

  • It may not be best in some cases that children not be placed together, but you still need to maintain contact between the children

  • The same models apply to sibling contact when there is abuse as to parent contact in the case of abuse. We should be following the usual rules of therapeutic contact between the two. We assess both the victim and the victimizer. The victim must accept responsibility and the victim should not be blamed for the abuse. Supervised and therapeutic contact occurs and the victim is kept safe.

Question 6: We have developed a multi-disciplinary team to take each sibling group and look at issues together. If it is necessary for the children to be placed separately, how can we best support the parties to build contact for a lifetime?

  • Again, contact doesn’t have to begin with physical contact. Contact can be through email, letters, etc.

  • When a physical meeting does take place in the context of past abuse, it needs to be structured--carefully orchestrated and closely supervised--so that children feel safe together. [They can be doing something structured together.] As much as possible it's also important to know any possible trauma triggers and to avoid them during the meeting.

  • There are no good assessment tools in these situations, so we try to think in terms of models—-attachment models, traumatization models, etc. We use these to try to understand what is going on in life of child and in these relationships.

  • Sometimes the professionals are the ones who need to cultivate an open mind in these situations. We don’t understand the important value siblings have to each other. We shouldn't limit the solutions by the beliefs and bias which we bring to the situation. [Who are we to say that there is no value in contact between siblings in certain situations?]

Question 7: Any advice regarding the importance of International Adoption sibling placements?

  • Well, the adoptive parents (AP’s) get it, but professionals don’t. Most of the kids are NOT orphans. They have families. They have siblings.
  • In fact, I hate the title of Elizabeth Bartholet's book, NoBody's Children. Children NEED to know that there are people related to them IN THE WORLD. Eighty percent of the time kids have people related to them. It is rare that they don't.
  • There are many countires where open adoptions are happening; many countries where searches have been successful. Children can find their relatives.
  • Agencies need to have different ideas and an openness to these things. Yes, there can be language barriers and other barriers to contact, but we should not discount sibling/relative contact. We should not be pretending that the child's relatives don't exist. Anywhere--not even in IA.

  • Many internationally adopting familes don’t recognize that openness may be possible in the long run. We need to build and maintain the infastructure to facilitate it.
  • Even when all efforts to put the child in contact with relatives fail in an IA context, it is an important to maintain a dialogue, an openness with the child.
  • Communicative openness is predictive of better outcome in whatever context. The more open and honest, the better the outcome. It fosters healthier adjustment.

  • We also need to think about the impact on the other siblings(not just the adoptive child)left behind. To have opportunity to know their sibling is very important to them.

Question 8:(from US placement agency) How do we educate overseas partners who think that sibling connection is not important?

  • To some degree as the Hague is implemented in various countries, this will take care of itself. The Hague mandates that training/education must be provided to partners. When people get a longer view, they understand the importance of sibling and family connections. Right now they simply don’t understand the lifelong issues of adoption. Can they be blamed? The kids they place disappear and they don’t see what happens to/with them. Slowly education is changing things. Regulations will make a difference.

Friday, October 19, 2007

America: Waiting Angels Prosecution, Part I: The Story

It's as sensational as the story line of a TV crime show. And the characters--at least as they appear on TV--are every bit as colorful.

But unfortunately, it's real life.

A night club dancer turned "adoption professional" and her business partner "hang out their shingle" as Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. and begin facilitating adoptions from (well, where else, but) Guatemala.

Their clients?

According to a local TV station: "Desperate would-be parents." Some of whom, profiled by the TV station, longed for a baby after lengthy struggles with infertility. Parents who were so eager to have a baby in arms that they took out second mortgages on their homes, forked over their life savings, signed contracts with, and then placed their hopes in the hands of these same Waiting Angels "adoption professionals."

Lest you think these parents didn't do their "homework" in checking out Waiting Angels Adoption Services before signing on, think again. Prospective adoptive parents (PAP's) recently testified in criminal court that they had asked Waiting Angels for (and received from the same) client references--the email addresses of satisfied former Waiting Angels' clients.

How were these PAP's to know that the email addresses of these "satisfied clients" were apparently (according to allegations in criminal court) owned by one of the adoption agency principals, Joe Beauvais? And that the replies they received--glowing recommendations for Waiting Angels--were allegedly, according to evidence presented recently in criminal court, simply Joe, pretending to be several former clients?

As if that isn't enough to turn your stomach, an undercover investigation by a local TV station using a hidden camera, reveals a peek, in sordid detail, into the alleged way in which at least some "adoption professionals" procure Guatemalan children who are then offered for adoption here in the U.S. The descriptions come from the couple's own lips, captured on tape for all the world to see. It's not pretty. Like seeing the proverbial way sausage or laws are made. Not for the faint of heart or those who want to preserve their adoption-is-an-absolute-good belief system.

Despite this procurement system and for reasons, at this point, known only by agency principals, Boraggina and Beauvais, Waiting Angels apparently failed to deliver babies to many waiting PAP's. PAP's allege they were given many technical reasons for the failure of their children to "come home" and that, as a result of their complaints, more promises were made and, for whatever reasons, those promises too were allegedly broken.

The trail of adoptive parents with broken dreams, empty savings accounts, and second mortgages for which they had nothing to show but payment books and empty nurseries, allegedly grew.

Refunds of adoption fees, like the promised babies, allegedly also failed to materialize.

In publicly available legal documents, prospective adoptive parents allege a pattern of increasing unresponsiveness by Waiting Angels to their requests and questions.

Eventually, in 2005, a class action law suit was filed against Waiting Angels by several families.

But, as we all know, the wheels of the justice system turn slowly.

Meanwhile, the children that eager families had hoped would be their own, continued to grow and and develop. Babies outgrew layettes they never wore. Tiny babies promised to adoptive families, babies with whom some heart-sick PAP's had previously bonded on trips to Guatemala and with whom others had bonded through photos and video updates, grew into toddlers without ever seeing the dream nurseries their would-be parents had lovingly and lavishly outfitted months, and now years, earlier.

Monthly payments on second mortgages served--and continue to serve even now--as painful reminders of what does not lie behind closed nursery doors where dust gathers on dead dreams.

A local TV station's investigative team had earlier taken up the cause of the weary, teary-eyed, and empty-armed PAP's. In a series of investigative reports, it explored and then made public the case against the agency and its principals.

Evidence mounted and finally, in the face of sympathetic public outrage, law enforcement moved in with search warrants against Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. and its principals, Simone Boraggina and Joe Beauvais.

The local TV station covered the raid of the two homes from which Waiting Angels and its principals ran their adoption agency. Footage shows policemen carrying out computer hard drives and crates of paper files--to be gone through and kept as evidence.

But no one was prepared for what turned up in one of the houses.

In one of the two homes of the "adoption professionals," police were astonished to find A HALF A MILLION DOLLARS IN CASH. Indisputably, there it is, caught on camera--$500,000 in cash in neat stacks of bills stored in multiple, neatly sealed zip-lock baggies.

Where did this money come from? Why was it there?

Had Simone and Joe ever sent the money given them to Guatemala to procure the children they had promised the couples? If they had, what was this money?

More generally, why would anyone--and specifically why would Simone and Joe--keep this huge amount of cash in a private residence instead of putting it into a bank?

Only Simone and Joe know where the money came from and why it was there. Only they know what they did or didn't do to procure the children they had promised adoptive parents.

Shortly thereafter, Simone Boraggina and Joe Beauvais--the principals of Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc.--turned themselves in and were arrested as local TV cameras rolled and astonished TV investigators looked on.


News Video That Introduces Allegations Against Waiting Angels:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Shocking Details About Adoption, Channel 4 Detroit,

News Video Announcing Arrest of Waiting Angels Principals:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Arrests Made in Adoption Case, Channel 4 Detroit, arrest and search

New Video Showing Confrontation with One of Waiting Angels Principals:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Karen's Confrontation, Channel 4 Detroit, short confrontation

News Video Detailing Waiting Angels' Alleged Modus Operandi:
Rescue 4 Undercover: The Desperation Behind Selling a Baby, Channel 4

News Video (which is mostly audio) in whichAttorney General Mike Cox Alleges What Joe & Simone were doing and what he intends to do as Attorney General in Response:
Adoption Scam, 9 & 10, 4 May, 2007

Most Recent News Video Showing First Day of Trial:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Waiting Angels Adoption Scam, Channel 4 Detroit, 13 Sept 2007

Law Firm Summary of Earlier 2006 Class Action Law Suit against Waiting Angels: The Quisenberry Law Firm Newswire, Michigan, "Class Action Says Adoption Agency Just Keeps Demanding More Money," 23 October 2006

IBL, Class Action Reporter, Headlines List, alphabetical under W for Waiting Angels (scroll down for a detailed summary), 27 Oct 2007

PDF of Class Action Law Suit Filed Against Waiting Angels with US Court:
Class Action Lawsuit: Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. et al. (Case No. 5:06-cv-00168-RHBter), October 2006 by Fixel Law Offices of East Lansing Michigan in U.S. Federal District Court

PDF of 2007 Lawsuit Filed Against Waiting Angels with US District Court:
Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc., filed 27 March 2007 in US Federal District Court in the Western District of Michigan

Legal Counsel's Summary and Update Page for Waiting Angels Lawsuit: Waiting Angels FAQ: Waiting Angels Litigation, Fixel Law Offices, last updated 12 September 2007

And the Adoption Agency's own website, still up and running and advertising adoption services:
Waiting Angels Adoption Agency Website

America: Waiting Angels Prosecution, Part II: The Legal Cases

Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc., an American adoption agency out of Michigan, and its principals, Simone Boraggina and Joseph Beauvais, have been and are now the subject of several lawsuits, including:

  1. A Federal class action suit brought by at least ten named plaintiffs
  2. A civil lawsuit brought in US Federal District Court by at least six adoptive families
  3. And finally a criminal case currently being actively pursued by the Michigan State Attorney General.

1. The Federal Class Action Suit

The essentials of the class action suit, Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. et al. (Case No. 5:06-cv-00168-RHBter), filed in October 2006 by Fixel Law Offices of East Lansing Michigan in U.S. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of "ten named plantiffs" (all adoptive parents who were clients of Waiting Angels), is explained in the legal publication, Class Action Reporter, as follows:
"The suit specifically alleged violations of the federal
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, 18
U.S.C. Section 1961, and various other Michigan statutes and
common law doctrines.


"The suit alleges the adoption agency defrauds vulnerable, would-
be foster [surely using the word "foster" here is a typographical error?] parents by demanding extra money for unspecified fees,
and threatening they will never get their babies unless they
Class action suits have their own special procedures beyond the usual ones for most law suits:

After the complaint is filed, the plaintiff must file a motion to have the class certified. In some cases class certification may require additional discovery in order to determine if the proposed class meets the standard for class certification.

Upon the motion to certify the class, the defendants may object to whether the issues are appropriately handled as a class action, to whether the named plaintiffs are sufficiently representative of the class, and to their relationship with the law firm or firms handling the case. The court will also examine the ability of the firm to prosecute the claim for the plaintiffs, and their resources for dealing with class actions.
It is not clear from public documents (at least those that we could find), what exactly the current legal status of the Waiting Angels Class Action suit is. If anyone has any information on this, especially in a publicly available form, we at Fleasbiting would certainly like to know.

Barring any real information, one could speculate that either the process to certify the class is ongoing or else, the plaintiffs failed to convince the court to certify the class so that the case could proceed as a "class action suit."

A link to the actual text of the Class Action suit as it was filed with the Federal Court is available both below and also here at Class Action Lawsuit: Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. et al. (Case No. 5:06-cv-00168-RHBter), October 2006 by Fixel Law Offices of East Lansing Michigan in U.S. Federal District Court

2. The Federal Civil Suit against Waiting Angels Services, Inc.

Whatever happened with the 2006 Class Action Suit against Waiting Angels, this much is clear: A Federal civil lawsuit was brought by the same plaintiffs plus an additional family which joined shortly after filing, using the same lawyers, on March 27, 2007. This second suit seems to be one and the same case in a slightly different incarnation, for certainly the cases have the same court case numbers and the texts of the complaints are almost exactly the same.

The families allege that they "have all been victims of fraud, misrepresentation, and various violations of Federal Laws." According to court documents the defendants are being charged with four counts (two against Waiting Angels as an entity, one against Boraggina and Beauvais as persons; one against both Waiting Angels and Boraggina and Beauvais) of a scheme to defraud, solicit bribes, extort, and defraud under the Federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations)Act; one count of unjust enrichment (Waiting Angels, Boraggina, and Beauvais); one count of conversion; one count of civil conspiracy; one count of concert of action; one count of fraudulent misrepresentation; one count of innocent misrepresentation; and finally one count of exemplary damages explained thus: "Defendants Waiting Angels, Boraggina and/or Beauvais representations were made intentionally and maliciously and have caused suffer humiliation, outrage, indignation, sleepless nights, and emotional distress.

As to the current status of this suit, the law firm maintains a public web page to apprise Waiting Angels families and the general public of the status of the law suit. This website explains the current status law firm that brought the suit on behalf of the families involved:

"After the police raid in April 2007 and while criminal charges were pending, the Plaintiffs in this lawsuit (6 families) were granted a Stay of Proceedings placing the lawsuit on hold until the completion of all criminal proceedings."
A PDF of the 2007 Civil Lawsuit Filed Against Waiting Angels in US Federal District Court is available online at Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc., filed 27 March 2007 in US Federal District Court in the Western District of Michigan

3. The Michigan State Attorney General's Criminal Case Against Waiting Angels Services, Inc.

The allegations that resulted in the criminal case are easy to understand if you take the time to watch the four linked videos at the end of this blog post.

Anyone who wants to understand just how unprotected and at the mercy of entrepreneurial adoption agencies adoptive parents are in the current under- and un-regulated adoption climate in the US should definitely take the time to watch them. As the saying goes--a picture is worth a thousand words.

The latest video from the Detroit's Channel 4 Investigative Team gives the latest update on the criminal proceedings. Although the prosecutor on this video mentions a few of the crimes with which Boraggina and Beauvais are likely to be charged, to my knowledge no comprehensive list of these crimes has yet to be published (again someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

According to an update to the lawsuit information page referenced earlier, the status of the criminal case as of October 16, 2007 was as follows:

"Preliminary Hearings were held for Joe Beauvais and Simone Boraggina on September 10 & 11, 2007. The Michigan Attorney General's Office was successful in convincing the Macomb County District Court that probable cause exists and Joe & Simone were bound over to the Macomb County Circuit Court to face criminal charges. Details are not yet known but there will be an arraignment hearing later and a future trial date will be set."
Of interest, in the last Channel 4 video update was Simone's lawyer's plea to the judge to please let Simone, as she awaits criminal trial, forego her court ordered house arrest and tether, so that she could "return to night club dancing" as that was her only means to support herself now that she had lost her only other means of support.

The unsympathetic judge said, "NO WAY."

What I want to know is why the Waiting Angels Services, Inc. web site advertising Simone and Joe's business is still up on the internet. Are they still fielding adoption inqueries from PAP's?


News Video Announcing Arrest of Waiting Angels Principals:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Arrests Made in Adoption Case, Channel 4 Detroit, arrest and search

New Video Showing Confrontation with One of Waiting Angels Principals:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Karen's Confrontation, Channel 4 Detroit, short confrontation

News Video Detailing Waiting Angels' Alleged Modus Operandi:
Rescue 4 Undercover: The Desperation Behind Selling a Baby, Channel 4

News Video (which is mostly audio) in which Attorney General Mike Cox Alleges What Joe & Simone were doing and what he intends to do as Attorney General in Response:
Adoption Scam, 9 & 10, 4 May, 2007

Most Recent News Video Showing First Day of Trial:
Rescue 4 Undercover: Waiting Angels Adoption Scam, Channel 4 Detroit, 13 Sept 2007

Law Firm Summary of Earlier 2006 Class Action Law Suit against Waiting Angels: The Quisenberry Law Firm Newswire, Michigan, "Class Action Says Adoption Agency Just Keeps Demanding More Money," 23 October 2006

IBL, Class Action Reporter, Headlines List, alphabetical under W for Waiting Angels (scroll down for a detailed summary), 27 Oct 2007

PDF of Class Action Law Suit Filed Against Waiting Angels with US Court:
Class Action Lawsuit: Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc. et al. (Case No. 5:06-cv-00168-RHBter), October 2006 by Fixel Law Offices of East Lansing Michigan in U.S. Federal District Court

PDF of 2007 Lawsuit Filed Against Waiting Angels with US District Court:
Heinrich et al v. Waiting Angels Adoption Services, Inc., filed 27 March 2007 in US Federal District Court in the Western District of Michigan

Legal Counsel's Summary and Update Page for Waiting Angels Lawsuit: Waiting Angels FAQ: Waiting Angels Litigation, Fixel Law Offices, last updated 12 September 2007

And the Adoption Agency's own website, still up and running and advertising adoption services:
Waiting Angels Adoption Agency Website

Thursday, October 18, 2007

(Usha's) Impressions of the Ethics and Accountability Conference

I wore many different hats at this conference, but all the views I express in this post are my own and do not represent any organization with which I am involved.

I would make a rotten journalist having to abide by reporting deadlines. I prefer to let thoughts simmer and settle before writing. This and exhaustion by way of explanation of why my comments about the Ethics and Accountability Conference are coming now, the day after the conference ended. I’ll begin with some notes from some of the sessions I attended and end with some personal comments.

Accountability to Families of Origin
Alexandra Yuster is Senior Adviser, Child Protection at UNICEF, New York. Her presentation included the following points:

  • UNICEF is not pro-institutionalization.

  • The U.S. government and the European Union could be doing a lot more by way of aid to other countries, but money alone is not enough.

  • In many countries and cultures, informal adoptions are prevalent. For example, in the Philippines, “assimilated adoptions” take place where families find formal adoptions too complex and too expensive. Some families simply have fake birth certificates created identifying the child as a biological member of the family. It’s a problematic practice to be sure, but it also demonstrates the difficulty in tracking the numbers of these adoptions and difficulty in disproving notions that families don’t adopt domestically. Another example is in African nations where family members take in AIDS orphans without legal process or support.

  • UNICEF will be releasing a report on the numbers of institutionalized children worldwide shortly. A conservative estimate puts this number at 2.3 million. However, this number does not necessarily represent “orphans.” For example, in countries like Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka, 80% of these children are estimated to have one living parent. In countries like, Uganda, it’s estimated at least 70% have one living parent. The majority are placed in institutions because of poverty and no family should have to relinquish a child for adoption because of poverty.

  • UNICEF had previously released an estimate of orphans worldwide at 135 million. However, the VAST majority of these children are “single” orphans where only one parent is dead. Even of the orphans where both parents have died, these children are often cared for by others in their family. Infants by far are the smallest category of orphans.
    Increasing numbers of ICA has not reduced the numbers of institutionalized children. Adoption fees tend to reinforce the system. It is possible to support ICA AND local alternatives.

  • UNICEF, in conjunction with Holt and the Ministry of Social Welfare in Liberia have prepared a report summarizing findings of interviews with families whose children have been adopted. Currently, fifty cases are being investigated of families being told that their children would return when they turned 18.

Brenda Romanchik is a therapist and director of Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support. She discussed language used in the adoption process. She drove home the point that women who are pregnant are not birthparents. They are expectant parents. And she prefers to use the language of women facing an unexpected pregnancy and who are considering a range of adoptions for their child as being in “crisis.” She also covered the concept of “informed consent” as defined by the NASW, APA, CWLA and ABA.

Jini Roby is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Brigham Young University. She discussed original data collection in “sending” countries:

  • Three years ago she researched how kin adoption works in Uganda. In Uganda, Holt sponsors a family preservation program. Out of 331 families they work with, Roby interviewed 315 of them. She notes that it is more cost-effective to provide assistance directly to families than to institutionalize children. In fact, she finds that institutionalization is 3-10 times more costly than institutionalization. Cost-effective direct assistance to families include: education on adequate housing, maintaining clean drinking water (e.g., sometimes education consists simply of advising families to store water high on a shelf), building outdoor latrines, food security and educating children through secondary school. Of the families interviewed, 98% of the families felt they could stay together until the child reached adulthood. Of the children interviewed (without the presence of other family members), 94% said they expected to stay within their families until adulthood and were happy and loved. All these findings and more will be released in Families and Society.

  • Ms. Roby recounted a story out of Mozambique where the benefactor of an orphanage died resulting in the dissolution of the orphanage. 80% of the children were returned to their families.

  • Ms. Roby discussed the cultural differences around the concept of adoption. Adoption as a legal severance of biological ties is specific to Western culture. In the Marshall Islands, she interviewed 73 mothers who had relinquished children at least one year after relinquishment. 82.7 percent believed they were giving children to other families to raise and that the children would return. For these reasons, dual representations by agencies is problematic.

Oronde Miller is the Director of Systems Improvement Methodologies at Casey Family Programs in Washington, DC. He recounted his personal story of being relinquished into foster care, experiencing a disrupted placement and then being placed into an adoptive home. Fortunately, he and his brother were placed together which was important for many reasons, not the least of which was that he could be a bone marrow donor to his brother who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mr. Miller critically questions the concept of termination of parental rights (TPR). Can’t children who need it be placed with another family to raise without severing all ties to their original parents?

Protection of Vulnerable Families
Sania Metzer is the Director of Policy for Casey Family Services. She covered the TPR process and how it is fraught with insufficient legal representation for parents. She cited that there are 129,000 legal orphans in this country where there has been a termination of parental rights without permanency. She discussed how disproportionate the representation of these children are in the system. For example, for families with income of less than $15,000, their chances of having an encounter with the child welfare system is 22 times higher. She finds it problematic that children of color are “automatically” considered special needs. In 2005, research shows that 26% of children in foster care are African American and only 30% of this group were actually adopted. For the Native population, 2% were eligible for adoption and only 1% of them were placed. She also discussed movements in some states like Nevada where children have brought petitions to have their parents’ rights reinstated.

Dr. Tesi Kohlenberg is a developmental pediatrician and child psychiatrist. She spoke about problems in Guatemala and contrasted how power disparities, poverty, laws and institutional care differ between domestic and international adoption. She knows about 500 families who are in contact with their children’s original families in Guatemala. She says most of the mothers who have been found by this group say they chose adoption, but at the same time acknowledged her growing awareness that this is not always the case. I was struck by how Tesi speaks as eloquently as she writes.

Annette Appell is a professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada. She spoke about enforceable post-adoption agreements. Twenty states have some form of laws covering post-adoption agreements. There has been little litigation thus far challenging these kinds of agreements to date.

Marketing of Children for Adoption
I presented at this conference and discussed marketing techniques specifically with children from India and compared them to photolistings employed by corrupt facilitators like Georgia Tann as written about by Barbara Raymond in The Baby Thief to show that these problems are not limited to the past. Common solicitations for placing Indian children that I have received don’t only include photos and other identifying information about the child, but also personal health and social information. I covered other troublesome aspects in an example of a specific solicitation received recently that many prospective adoptive parents new to the process would not necessarily be aware of including a foreign fee listed for infants far in excess of what CARA permits. I also discussed how typical marketing of Indian children on agency websites tends to be full of cultural stereotypes and racism leading people to believe they will be adopting a child who was deliberately abandoned or relinquished which is a lot easier to justify than a child who is missing or stolen or kidnapped or whose parents were coerced into relinquishing. NO agency website I know of discusses this possibility.

Sarah Gerstenzang is the Assistant Project Director of AdoptUSKids. She discussed best practices with respect to photolistings including respecting privacy and disclosing “honestly but not brutally.” She feels strongly that children themselves should participate in developing their presentations, including having the choice not to market themselves. She cited research that shows that siblings who are photographed together are more likely to be placed together than when they are photographed individually.

Dr. Jerri Jenista is a pediatrician at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital had comprehensive materials about issues she faces in her practices and was candid in pointing out the following realities: adoption is a business, children are not the clients, clients are prospective parents and agencies, children are the commodity, all children are not of equal value and the best interest of the child is rarely the deciding principal. Dr. Jenista advocates for the marketing of prospective parents, not children.

UNICEF Session
The session was civil. I commend UNICEF for requesting to be at this conference and inviting dialogue both during and after the conference. The representatives were disarming and at this session and a previous one, some representatives disclosed their own personal connections to adoptions. I joined the UNICEF delegation for dinner both evenings and found them personable and engaging. I posed nearly all the myths I had heard and felt their responses were genuine and certainly educational.

At the session, Dr. Manuel Manrique, director of UNICEF-Guatemala began by saying that UNICEF is widely accepted in all other areas they support, so he questioned why adoption is the one area that is perceived so differently. He clearly stated, “WE SUPPORT ADOPTION” after there are no other possibilities for that child. He indicated that 30% of mothers who relinquish are repeat cases. Why is that?

Out of a population of 30 million people, 5,000 are adopted out of the country, 437,000 are born each year, 51% are born in poor living conditions and 15% are born to extreme poverty (surviving on less than 1%) per day. He has met a father who said he earns 750 quetzals per month, therefore, he and his wife are thinking of having another child. Read between the lines there. He invites us to read Hojas de Ruta which contains a road map of suggestions for lawmakers to improve the lives of children. UNICEF’s recommendation is that indigenous children should be the priority. He is stymied about the rumors of UNICEF offering bribes and invites any questions to show how money is handled. Offering bribes is unethical and contrary to principles of their mission and an organization that “is a part of humanity.”

Another UNICEF representative spoke about $4.2 million being given for technical and financial assistance to 12 Guatemalan partners whereas they have set aside only $60,000 for adoption-related issues. UNICEF focuses on family-based care. For example, foster care in Guatemala is unregulated with minimal supervision and training. UNICEF is working on training for foster carers. Many Guatemalans would like to adopt but find it impossible when the priority is so clearly in favor of ICA. The representative pointed out that there is a waiting list of 35 Guatemalan families which sounds small, but they represent a determined and persistent group who arrived at the Secretariat in sheer force. This in an environment where there is NO public awareness or campaigns or promotions around domestic adoption. I was told that these families do NOT make specifications with respect to race or color, but do tend to specify children from ages 0-3. Sound familiar?

In response to Kevin Kreutner’s comments that the Ortega Law is cookie cutter to similar legislation in other Latin American countries, Dr. Manrique commented that there would be article by article debate and that U.S. citizens and the U.S. government can contribute to providing social welfare assistance. UNICEF is not out to end adoptions and UNICEF is NOT the Guatemalan government, though they do bring influence, the level of which varies depending on the administration. Finally, Mr. Manrique insisted that there was never a statement issued by President Berger to not process pending cases.

The above is simply a summary of some of my notes. I would urge anyone who is interested in more details about the individual sessions to check out the recorded sessions on CD. Information is available here.

Personal Comments

At the Meet the Bloggers session, the sound system was terrible, but I felt those who wanted to listen did listen. For the most part these were the other bloggers and it was a new experience to de-lurk to other bloggers. I promised to send Marley Greiner info she unknowingly contributed to on India’s version of safe havens and I told Suz that I wanted to be first in line to buy her book that she ought to write! Bernadette Wright, President of OriginsUSA made some kind remarks to me about my brief blogger introduction; later I mentioned to her my desire to see more bridges between domestic/international and adopter/mother alliances to fight abuses.

Most of the people I wanted to meet I had either heard of or knew of from on-line. Elizabeth Larsen was one person I hadn’t known before, and I felt we hit it off after having shared similar experiences of opening our eyes and minds to bigger picture issues than an initial sole desire to parent. I was about half way through her article when we bumped into each other again at the airport and shared some final thoughts before saying goodbye. Her article, “Did I Steal My Adopted Daughter?” is in the November/December issue of Mother Jones magazine.

Huge props go to Ethica for demonstrating more than lip service in seeking a diversity of voices. I felt very grateful for the voices of the mothers at the individual sessions. Grateful because I felt the mothers at the conference gave voice by proxy to mothers abroad who are invisible at conferences like this. I seemed to be at a lot of the same sessions as Claud and she always had something powerful to contribute. For example, at my presentation, she made the excellent point that we were discussing marketing of children, but what about the marketing to expectant mothers???

I was excited about PEAR’s (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform) debut and happy to finally meet fellow AP reform advocates such as David K. and Elizabeth Case and see Desiree and David Smolin again.

My biggest disappointment in the conference was the lack of visible adoptee presence. I was excited to meet Nathalie Lemoine who has been very kind in sending me Indian adoptee-related resources from time to time and Indigo Willing whom I have heard so much about. And I was fortunate to finally meet Jae Ran Kim and have a quick lunch with her and Laura Romano. It was a little jarring in that I had just watched Las Hijas for the first time about two weeks ago and to hear about Laura’s current place in life professionally forced my brain to do some rapid readjusting. While it was a lot of fun to socialize with these women, I would have also liked to have heard from more adoptees on panels and in plenary sessions. For example, Jae Ran’s extensive social work background and experiences as a college-course instructor to future child welfare specialists from (but not limited to) an adoptee and person of color perspective would have been a huge contribution.

I do have to say that I was weary of being asked too many times whether I am adopted or whether I had met my birth family or whether I am in reunion. What does it say when persons of color are typically assumed to be adoptees but not adoptive parents? And at the Town Hall session, Linh Song pointed out Oronde Miller’s observation that he was the only Black male in attendance at the entire conference.

My biggest hope from the conference is to see ACTION resulting from a whole lot of talk, invigorating as all the talk was.