Adoptive parents say agency cheated them

Date: 1987-12-20

Author: DIANE STEINLE

CLEARWATER - All they wanted was a baby to love.

As Florida couples who chose to adopt, they were happy to accept children who were born unwanted and often into impoverished circumstances in foreign countries.

To obtain those children, the couples contracted with Children's Services International (CSI), an adoption agency headquartered in Atlanta with a regional office in Orlando.

Their stories, for the most part, don't have happy endings.

The couples are frustrated and angry at CSI, which they say misled them, denied them information, took their money and failed to deliver the babies as promised.

Complaints against the agency and its representatives are so numerous that investigations have been launched by the state of Georgia and the Central American nation of El Salvador.

El Salvador investigators charge that an attorney who worked on CSI cases and his wife may have paid Salvadoran women to give up their babies for adoption. Investigators also are checking into allegations that some children were grabbed from their mothers' arms on the streets of El Salvador.

Two CSI clients who live in Central Florida got their babies out of El Salvador within the last three weeks. They say they did it by bypassing the adoption agency and dealing directly with the government of El Salvador and U.S. diplomats there.

But other couples who spoke to a Times reporter say they won't get the children they wanted. After months of red tape and payments of thousands of dollars, they have only empty arms and broken hearts.

She learned to walk only three weeks ago, but already she loves to run.

She adores applesauce, the family dog, her big brother and going for rides in the car.

A smiler with dancing black eyes, she turns when she hears ''Katrina,'' though she has had that name for less than a month.

Before, she was known as Johana, and her home was in El Salvador. Now home is in Palm Harbor with her adoptive parents, Lisa and Scott Brown, both 28, and her adoptive brother, Jason, 6.

Katrina, now 14 months old, is tiny - at 11 months old, she weighed only 14 pounds. But even before she arrived in the United States, she had a massive impact on the Browns and their family life. The Browns had to fight for Katrina. One of their adversaries turned out to be the adoption agency they selected to help them obtain a foreign-born child.

In July 1986 the Browns contacted CSI, which specializes in foreign adoptions, after they decided they wanted to adopt a daughter. El Salvador was the country they chose because a CSI worker told them they could get a child in about four months.

In November 1986 the Browns received photographs of Katrina and the news that she was the baby who had been chosen for them.

But in June, when the Times did a story on the Browns' problems with CSI, Katrina still was in El Salvador, even though she had been legally awarded to them in May.

The already laborious process of getting Katrina to the United States stopped abruptly in August, when Mrs. Brown learned that the Salvadoran lawyer who handled adoptions for CSI and his wife had been jailed and accused of baby trafficking.

The lawyer was arrested after Salvadoran authorities found 11 unidentified babies, many of them ill, in a house with two women. Although the Browns had been required to send money to El Salvador for individual foster care in a private home, Katrina was among the babies the authorities found in the house.

She was suffering from anemia and was so malnourished that she had to be hospitalized. Doctors told the Browns that she showed signs of withdrawal commonly exhibited in babies who do not receive enough love.

Barbara Deveau of Babson Park near Lake Wales, another CSI client who had been waiting for her child for more than a year, heard the same distressing news about her child in August.

Ms. Deveau, a single woman who at age 42 wanted a child and decided to adopt, had been working with CSI since March 1986. After months of paper work and waiting, a caseworker called in November 1986 to tell her that a baby boy had been born in El Salvador, and asked what to name the child. Ms. Deveau chose Christopher William.

Like other CSI clients, Ms. Deveau received photographs of the baby. She carried the photos with her, showed them to everyone, and prepared her house for the arrival of her son.

But there was more paper work, requests for money and weeks of frustration. Then the word came that Christopher had been found with the other babies, had been taken into government custody and was being placed in a state-run orphanage until investigators could determine whether he was truly an orphan.

For the Browns and Ms. Deveau, the adoption process stopped. They contacted CSI for information and help, but they say they got none.

They appealed to Nicholas J. Ricciuti, the U.S. consul general in El Salvador. Ricciuti, a father himself, assigned investigators from the consulate staff to look into the cases, and he helped shepherd paper work through the Salvadoran courts.

There they received another blow. The Salvadoran judge who had to give final approval for the children to leave the country was aware of the allegations of baby stealing. He demanded to see the children's original birth certificates and to talk to their birth mothers.

But the birth certificates were with the CSI lawyer, Roberto Parada, who had disappeared after his release from jail.

Brown and Ms. Deveau spent four days trying to find a way to get the children released. Then, knowing he couldn't bring her home, Scott Brown went to the orphanage to play with Katrina. Ms. Deveau went to the local hospital, where Christopher was being treated for pneumonia.

''I felt like my heart had just been cut out,'' Ms. Deveau said. ''I cried. I think I cried all the way home on the plane. I'd just be sitting, and tears would come to my eyes.''

But Ricciuti found people who were able to testify that the babies had been given up for adoption. He had the babies footprinted to make sure they were the right babies, and then he notified the Browns and Ms. Deveau to come for their children. By Thanksgiving Day, both babies were on their way to new homes.

Though both babies have endured incredible adversity - a major earthquake in October 1986, guerrilla warfare, sickness, neglect - they are lively, happy children who have no fear of strangers. They like to cuddle with their mothers. They sleep well and wake up smiling.

''She acts like she's been here forever,'' said Mrs. Brown. ''I'm relieved it's over with and we can get on with our lives.''

The Browns paid more than $6,000 in fees to adopt Katrina and last week received another bill for more than $3,000. Getting the child here took 16 months. Ms. Deveau worked 21 months to get Christopher and spent close to $8,000 in adoption fees. In addition, she paid the hospital in El Salvador almost $2,000.

''A month ago, I would have said I'd never do it again,'' Ms. Deveau said. ''But the day I got him, when we were coming home, it was like everything I went through didn't matter anymore. It's like he's always been with me. He's the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.''

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