Meet Seymour Kurtz, He'll Find You A Baby in the Name of God and $14,000

Date: 1984-02-26

By Margaret N. O’Shea
The State (Columbia, SC)

The clerical work involved in adoption can be some pretty expensive bookkeeping—God’s chosen families pay $14,000 to Friends of Children to adopt a child, and God does not choose families who don t have the cash.

The $14,000 is just what the agency collects. It does not include additional cost that must be borne by the adoptive family—lawyers' fees in their home states, the costs of home studies in states like South Carolina that do not accept those done by Friends of Children, and any other costs associated with meeting legal requirements to bring an adopted child home from Georgia, where Friends of Children has offices in Atlanta and Columbia.

The agency’s proximity to South Carolina has made Friends of Children a force to be reckoned with in the field of adoption.

Beaufort have adopted babies through the Georgia agency and at least five from Hilton Head Island alone are beginning the process.

They pay a $1,500 application fee, which guarantees nothing and is usual not returnable. The remaining $12,500 is due when they receive a child.

The impact of such costs is relative. According to literature from Friends of Children, annual incomes of the 24 families who applied for babies in September 1988 ranged from $17,000 to $500,000. Agency fees and other costs would mean a full year’s income to the family at the bottom of the scale but only a slight inconvenience, if that, to the five families on the list with incomes above $100 000.

Kurtz says Friends of Children and his Chicago agency, Easter House together placed more than 200 children in 1983-a volume that translates to more than $2.8 million gross income from adoptions. As late as 1980, Kurtz also held controlling interest in Casa del Sur, a Mexican adoption agency; Stichting Susu a mail-drop referral service in the Netherlands; Suku, a for-profit paperwork processing corporation in Delaware; and Tzyril, another referral entity in Chicago.

Applications to Easter House would be routed through Stichting Susu which was described as an organization with affiliates around the world for the location of adoptable babies. Stichting Susu connected some adoptive families with Casa del Sur for Mexican adoptions. The papers, including translations and negotiations with immigration offices, would be handled by Suku Corp., and the adoptive home study would be handled for a fee by Easter House. The function of Tzilil was to refer applicants to Stichting Susu or Casa del Sur.

The complicated mix of profit and non-profit corporations with their loans referrals and transfers of money, created a confusing financial web.

Kurtz says today those other corporations are not operational and he is concentrating his energies on Easter House and Friends of Children.

The babies come primarily from unwed mothers—"little heroines", Kurtz calls them, who have the dignity and courage to go through with a pregnancy, then assure “the best” for their babies.

(Told about a South Carolina judge who considers those same mothers "a bunch of welfare bimbos" who get more consideration for their rights than they deserve, Kurtz remarked, "lt's a good thing he wasn't a judge 2000 years ago when Joseph led the burro tp Bethlehem”)

For an unwed mother anywhere in South Carolina the initial link with Friends of Children is only as far away as a telephone. The agency pays for call-forwarding service from most South Carolina cities, which allows callers to dial a local numbers without cost. Advertisements in the Yellow Pages alert pregnant women to Services available through Friends of Children:

Beginning "Dear Mother-in-Need," the large ad in new directories in Columbia is a letter from Mary Ann Zahner, assistant executive director of Friends of Children.

It says, "I am a caseworker who works with girls who have similar problems as yours. Believe me, I understand the hurt and pain you must be going through I want you to know that you are not alone. I would like to help you let your baby live and grow into a happy, healthy, secure child. Before you consider abortion think about placing your child in a home with long-waiting couples who can give him love security and a good future.

"I will help you find a doctor and hospital. If you have no place to stay I can help you find a home with nice, family-type people. I will take you to your doctor’s appointments, and if your funds are limited, we will pay for your prescriptions medical and hospital fees, as well as your housing expenses. Also I will take you into the hospital, and even go into the delivery room with you—if you like.

I will help you make the right decision—if you will let me. . .· . I know that you already have a bond of love for the child you carry. I would like to help you give your child a start in life .... "

Part of the money the adoptive family pays handles the cost of such advertising and services, although unwed mothers who happen to have maternity benefits are encouraged to use their own medical insurance, and some spend only the last days of their pregnancy in Georgia.

On the other hand, some mothers decide not to place their babies for adoption either, and the financial trade-offs even out, according to Seymour J. Kurtz executive director of Friends of Children, who claims he has lost money on adoptions and is involved in them only because he’s a sucker for making people happy.

Kurtz’s assessment of himself varies widely from his national reputation as does his estimate of the financial rewards in adoption.

Kurtz was reared an Orthodox Jew and educated by Jesuits at LoyoIa. Both Jewish and the Catholic traditions hold that it is a moral obligation not only to preserve life also to reproduce it. And Friends for Children advertising stresses adoption “so a child may live.”

But Kurtz’s position is, “It is not so much that we are opposed to abortion: We are against a pregnant woman being forced to abort her expected child only because she has no decent place to live, no adequate clothing, food, counseling, medical laboratory and hospital facilities and, yes, care and concern.

And, he says, There are several kinds of faith. One is the kind you wear on your sleeve and use to sell insurance to other members of your congregation”

He views himself as a victim of malicious media and jealous State agencies, of hatchet-jobs an conspiracies.

Kurtz is one of the few nationally recognized adoption moguls who operates through an agency framework-the others are lawyers who specialize in expensive adoption and charges run about even with Friends Of Children. In some circles there is an air of respectability attached to agencies contrasted with an air of furtiveness about other types of private adoptions.

But the agency approach requires licenses for child placement in most states, and Kurtz has run into extensive difficulties getting licensed. That means some families have problems have problems getting their final adoption decrees in their home states, and in some cases are not allowed to bring their babies home from Georgia, a difficulty that adds foster-care charges to the cost of adoption.

Despite heavy criticism from other quaters, most people who know Kurtz personally describe him as a charming man of deep principle and conviction. And most couples who have adopted through his do not complain They have babies.

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