Adoption agency caused nothing but pain, couple says

Date: 1988-03-07

Author: WALSTON, CHARLES; Charles Walston Staff Writer STAFF

Interview with Michelle and Harry Ackerman, who describe their unsuccessful attempt to adopt a children from Children's Services International (CSI). The Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) last month refused to renew CSI's license after a surge of complaints following the arrest of an adoption lawyer in El Salvador last summer. CSI officials say they placed 130 children in Georgia last year and that virtually all of the adoptive parents are happy. The adoption agency has appealed DHR's decision and continues to operate, pending a March 28 hearing.

When their efforts to start a family proved fruitless, Michelle and Harry Ackerman decided to adopt. Four years later, they say, they have endured the pain of parenthood with little of the joy.

"Adoption for us has not been a very pleasant experience, unfortunately," Mrs. Ackerman said. "It's been a four-year process of nothing but heartbreak."

The latest blow came several weeks ago, when they learned that a Central American boy they have been trying to adopt since April is severely retarded and has serious health problems. The Ackermans cannot afford to care for the child, whom they had named Alexander, Mrs. Ackerman said.

The Ackermans blame an Atlanta-based adoption agency, Children's Services International (CSI), for not informing them earlier about Alexander's health. The Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) last month refused to renew CSI's license after a surge of complaints following the arrest of an adoption lawyer in El Salvador last summer.

CSI officials say they placed 130 children in Georgia last year and that virtually all of the adoptive parents are happy. The adoption agency has appealed DHR's decision and continues to operate, pending a March 28 hearing.

DHR cited CSI for seven violations of state regulations, including allegedly taking fees from clients for services that were never provided and failing to notify DHR of the arrest of Roberto Parada, a lawyer who handles adoptions for CSI clients.

CSI officials say the agency has complied with all state regulations, and point out that Parada was released and still has been charged with no crime. But officials at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador believe Parada is involved in kidnapping or baby-selling and say he is still under investigation.

A cable from the embassy on Oct. 28, after Parada was released from jail, said evidence gathered in the investigation "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. The evidence also shows that this practice resulted in the kidnapping of at least one and possibly as many as three other children."

Parada's wife and her maid have been charged with depriving a parent of the custody of a child, embassy spokesman Jake Gillespie said.

The embassy's analysis of the case is disputed by CSI President Lya Sorano, who oversees adoption agencies licensed in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and New Jersey.

Ms. Sorano said she suspects Parada might have been set up by an envious lawyer or that a mother who had changed her mind about adoption told police that her child had been kidnapped.

Parada continues to represent CSI clients in El Salvador, Ms. Sorano said. Gillespie said the embassy has processed some cases that Parada initiated before his arrest but would no longer recommend the lawyer to any U.S. citizen.

Several CSI clients besides the Ackermans have filed complaints with DHR and Florida authorities about adoptions of children in El Salvador and the Philippines. Ms. Sorano said people who complained have lost patience despite warnings from the agency that adoption can be frustrating.

"There are millions of obstacles, tons of red tape," she said. "If you really want a child, you plow through the paperwork, and there are rewards in the end."

In some cases, the paperwork is quicker than nature. John and Ellen Keys waited only six months to adopt a Korean daughter three years ago.

Keys said CSI caseworkers counseled the family about what to expect and provided follow-up counseling for about a year. He said the family is completely satisfied with their adoption experience and that some close friends of theirs recently received a daughter through the agency.

"Many parents are looking to CSI, I think, as their last hope to have children," Keys said.

The Ackermans, who live in Jupiter, Fla., turned to CSI after two attempts to adopt children through independent lawyers failed.

Now the couple is trying to get a child through another agency, Mrs. Ackerman said. Although their adoption of Alexander was finalized in Salvadoran courts last October, the U.S. Embassy has not issued an immigration visa for him, and they are not certain that the procedure was legal. "We have never seen a birth certificate," she said.

At any rate, she said, the couple's insurance will not pay for Alexander's care, and they cannot afford it on their own. Mrs. Ackerman said she feels as if they have lost a son they never really had.

"It is not fair," she wrote to DHR, "that another human being can take advantage of our inability to have children, and make money at it."

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