Would-be parents tell of broken hearts
Author: DIANE STEINLE
CLEARWATER - The collection of ballerina bears marked with the name Caitlin is packed in a box and hidden away on a closet shelf at Debbie Carlisle's house.
The pillow embroidered with the same name is packed away, too. The photographs of a dark-eyed baby girl are in a drawer. And the room that was to be a nursery is bare.
Mrs. Carlisle doesn't like to talk about it.
''I don't think people realize the pain I feel, because the child was never here,'' she said. ''My 4-year-old son doesn't understand what happened. He still expects to get a baby sister named Caitlin.''
Mrs. Carlisle and her husband, Pat, are among a number of Florida couples who contracted with an Atlanta adoption agency, Children's Services International (CSI), to adopt a baby from a foreign country.
But the baby they were told would belong to them, a girl they were allowed to name Caitlin Rebecca when she was born in El Salvador, won't be coming to live with them.
Authorities in El Salvador can't find a child by that name. The woman who supposedly is the baby's birth mother has disappeared. They don't know if the child in the photographs ever was available for adoption.
Mrs. Carlisle blames CSI and a lawyer who handled CSI cases in El Salvador, Roberto Parada. The Carlisles and other Florida families who probably will not get children say that CSI refused to communicate with them, threatened to give their babies to other people if they caused trouble and took their money without delivering promised services.
''I want to get them out of business,'' Mrs. Carlisle said. ''I want to warn people. There's much more involved here than money. It's very difficult to get this child out of your mind. This is the little girl who was going to fit into our family.''
Regulatory agencies and the U.S. State Department have received so many complaints about CSI that they now are asking questions about the agency.
The Division of Regulatory Services of the Georgia Department of Human Resources is investigating the agency. That investigation is expected to be finished by early next month.
The government of El Salvador and the U.S. consulate there also are investigating several CSI cases and Parada. In August, both Parada and his wife, Ilkea, were arrested on suspicion of baby trafficking.
''The Parada adoption fraud case has now grown to encompass 13 Salvadoran children and 11 adoptive American citizen families,'' states a cable from U.S. Consul General Nicholas J. Ricciuti, who has assigned consulate staff members to investigate and is working with government authorities on behalf of several American families.
''Evidence . . . clearly demonstrates that the Paradas and at least one female associate have engaged in the illegal purchase of children for the purpose of arranging their overseas adoption.
''Evidence developed does not yet establish that CSI had prior knowledge of the Paradas' illegal activities,'' the cable continues, ''although it is clear from conversations with CSI officials, American adopting parents and (El Salvador) officials that CSI has systematically distorted events, misinformed its American clients and exaggerated its relationship with influential Salvadoran personalities.''
Patricia Johnson, who recently became director of CSI after several years as an agency social worker, said she was aware of the investigations, but would not comment.
''We cannot comment because of the confidentiality of our clients,'' she said.
But she added that she is confident the agency will be cleared of all charges.
CSI clients contacted by the Times said adoption shouldn't be so traumatic.
Michelle Ackerman, a CSI client who lives in Jupiter on Florida's east coast, contacted the agency in November 1986 because she and her husband, Harry, can't have children and want a son.
In April, they received word that a baby boy born in February in El Salvador would be given to them. They were sent photographs that Mrs. Ackerman had enlarged and displayed on the walls and mantel and beside her bed.
Then the Ackermans learned that the Paradas had been arrested. And although their child, named Alexander, was legally awarded to them more than two months ago, he won't be allowed to leave the country until authorities can determine whether he was kidnapped or was legally surrendered for adoption by his birth mother.
That investigation could take more than a year, authorities have told Mrs. Ackerman, and chances are good that Alexander may never be released. CSI has not been helpful, Mrs. Ackerman said, so she is working directly with the U.S. embassy in El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Alexander is in an orphanage, where he suffers from chronic diarrhea and has a problem with his foot that needs to be corrected surgically.
''It tears you up. I'm so angry at CSI,'' said Mrs. Ackerman, who already has paid CSI $5,600 and recently received a bill for more. ''We have asked for our money back since they haven't provided any of the services they promised. No one should have to go through this. This is not what adoption should be about.''
Palm Harbor residents Wayne and Donna Mori carried their frustration into court.
They contacted CSI in August 1986 and wanted to adopt a baby from the Philippines. They went through a home study, medical examinations, studies of their finances and psychological checks. They paid the required fees.
''We were told we were the perfect couple and we should have a baby in about four months,'' Mrs. Mori said. ''But we just kept on getting stalled and stalled.''
First a letter came from the agency stating that it would take much longer than four months to get a child. Then they learned their paper work had not gone to the Philippines, Mrs. Mori said. They said they called CSI, didn't identify themselves and inquired about adopting a baby from the Philippines.
''They said CSI had no Philippine program,'' Mrs. Mori said.
In February, after hearing complaints from other couples who had attempted to adopt babies through CSI, the Moris asked for their $1,600 back. CSI refused, so the Moris went to small claims court.
Mori had no lawyer to represent him. CSI did. The lawyer immediately filed for a change of venue. When the judge refused the request, CSI's attorney argued that the adoption agency was in effect a government agency because it was licensed by the state and therefore could not be sued because it was protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
The judge continued the case and advised Mori to get a lawyer.
Although the Moris realize they may pay more for an attorney than they will recover, they have decided to proceed with the case. Other families considering legal action are watching with interest, he said.
''For us it becomes a matter of principle,'' Mori said. ''If we contribute to the demise of the agency, a lot of people will have been served.''
Several families intend to lobby in the Florida Legislature for stronger laws regulating private adoption agencies. Ricciuti, the U.S. consul general in El Salvador, has called for stronger federal regulations concerning international adoptions.
Couples note that not all cases of foreign adoptions end in heartache, and they don't want to discourage adoption of foreign children who need homes so badly.
The odds of a happy ending are better, they say, if anyone considering foreign adoption checks out the agency and the agency's relationship with foreign countries by calling the U.S. State Department, state regulatory agencies and American diplomats serving in other countries.
''You can't go into it blind,'' Mrs. Carlisle said. ''You can't let your emotions take over. A lot of money has been lost, and a lot of hearts have been broken. It can happen so easily.''