ADOPTION investigation involves Maine agency

Date: 
2004-09-02

Child welfare workers associated with a Maine-based adoption agency are being investigated by police in the West African country of Sierra Leone over allegations of illegally removing children from the country.

Authorities say that during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war, destitute families put their children in a center run by Help a Needy Child International, a local aid organization. Some parents say that after the war ended, they discovered their children had been adopted by foreign families.

During the late 1990s, Help a Needy Child worked in concert with Maine Adoption Placement Services. Its director, Stephanie Mitchell, said the organization did nothing wrong.

"MAPS has no knowledge of any wrongdoing on the part of our Sierra Leone staff and are cooperating fully with the investigation," Mitchell said in a written statement. "It is MAPS' hope that we can continue to assist the children of Sierra Leone after the investigation is concluded."

The investigation probably would not affect children who have already been formally adopted, but it could slow down future adoptions from Sierra Leone, said Georgia Leonard, director of foreign adoptions for the Family Network in Monterey, Calif. Several organizations place orphans from the war-torn country with families in the United States and Europe.

According to Inspector General Acha Kamara, leader of the Sierra Leone national police, the director of Help a Needy Child, Roland Kargbo, was arrested last week along with two of his employees in Freetown, Sierra Leone. They were charged with conspiracy to violate adoption laws and released on bail.

The investigation into the organization is ongoing, and the U.S. State Department and the Interpol police agency have been asked to help, Kamara said.

The charges stem from 1998, when Kargbo was running an orphanage near the border with Guinea. The center was abandoned when it was overrun by rebel forces and was not re-established when the war ended in 2002. MAPS has been working since 2001 with a different orphanage that is not an object of allegations.

It is unknown how many children from Kargbo's orphanage were placed for adoption in the United States by MAPS. Mitchell would not answer questions about the size of the organization's operation in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone is recovering from a 10-year civil war that officially ended in 2002.

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