Witness in adoption center case shocked to see `child not normal'

Date: 1988-03-30

Author: BEASLEY, DAVID; David Beasley Staff Writer STAFF

Atlanta mission worker Pamela Rundle testified Tuesday at a hearing in which the Department of Human Resources (DHR) is trying to prove that an Atlanta-based adoption agency, Children's Services International (CSI), failed to tell prospective parents that the children they were adopting had serious medical problems. Rundle stated that during a recent visit to El Salvador, she stopped at a government orphanage to check on a baby being adopted by a Florida couple and found that the infant obviously was not normal. DHR, citing a list of other violations, has declined to renew the agency's license, a decision that is being appealed before a state hearing officer this week.

An Atlanta mission worker testified Tuesday that during a recent visit to El Salvador, she stopped at a government orphanage to check on a baby being adopted by a Florida couple and "my heart dropped to my stomach."

"It was very obvious the child was not normal," Pamela Rundle sobbed.

She testified at a hearing in which the Department of Human Resources (DHR) is trying to prove that an Atlanta-based adoption agency, Children's Services International (CSI), failed to tell prospective parents that the children they were adopting had serious medical problems, including possible mental retardation.

DHR, citing a list of other violations, has declined to renew the agency's license, a decision that is being appealed before a state hearing officer this week.

The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, citing similar concerns, has also refused to renew the CSI license in that state, said James A. Sawyer, an attorney with that department.

But lawyers for CSI maintain that the non-profit agency which specializes in foreign adoptions hasn't violated any regulations.

In emotional testimony Tuesday, Mrs. Rundle described her horror at discovering that a child adopted by Michelle and Harry Ackerman of Jupiter, Fla., was apparently severely retarded.

"The immediate thought that came to me was, `What am I going to tell the mother?' " Mrs. Rundle said.

Mrs. Ackerman testified Tuesday that CSI never informed her about the child's medical condition other than a minor problem with one of his feet.

"We thought we were getting a perfectly healthy, normal infant," said Mrs. Ackerman.

Complications with the adoption arose last summer following the arrest in El Salvador of a lawyer, Roberto Parada, on suspicion of illegally smuggling children out of the central American country. Parada works with CSI on adoption cases, but the agency maintains he has never been charged with any crimes.

Mrs. Ackerman ended her relationship with CSI and worked through the American embassy to get her son out of the country. Last month, she asked Mrs. Rundle, who goes to El Salvador twice each year on mission work, to check on the child. Only then did she learn that he is likely retarded.

"We were devastated," said Mrs. Ackerman. She said that since the child had a pre-existing medical problem before the adoption was finalized he will not likely be covered under the family's health insurance policy, making it difficult to afford the medical costs of caring for him. It is uncertain whether the infant will be brought to this country, she said.

But CSI executive director Lya Sorano testified Tuesday that the agency never knew about the Ackerman child's possible retardation.

Another witness testified Tuesday that CSI accepted $1,600 in fees for adoption of a Filipino child and refused to refund the money about eight months later when no adoption had taken place.

DHR has accused CSI of accepting fees from clients seeking Filipino children when it had no agreement with the government there to make adoptions.

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