LAWYER IN 1999 ADOPTION FLAP

Date: 2003-12-20

The Miami Herald
Author: CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND ASHLEY FANTZ, cmarbin@herald.com

Correction: A Dec. 20 story about a Boca Raton adoption agency, Adoption Advisory Associates, left unclear that substantial allegations against the agency were dismissed on June 13, 2000, by an administrative law judge. The judge recommended that the agency's director, Cheryl R. Eisen, be relicensed by the Department of Children & Families. Then-DCF Secretary Kathleen A. Kearney accepted the recommendations of the administrative judge, and acknowledged the remaining violations concerned ``documentation, and a misunderstanding'' that did not ``put children at risk.'' Eisen's license to operate an adoption agency was reinstated by the Department of Children & Families. In 2002, Eisen, an attorney, chose not to renew the license, and Adoption Advisory Associates is no longer in business. The story, published in some editions of The Herald, also incorrectly reported that a Maryland couple paid $7,500 for an adoption that fell through two years later after a home study. The details of an alleged incident involving the Maryland couple were confused with other cases.

An attorney who represents the Coral Springs adoption agency suspended by the state amid an international baby-smuggling investigation ran her own agency that lost its license four years ago after several South Florida couples complained they were cheated.

Cheryl R. Eisen of Boca Raton also represents a Bradenton adoption agency that is taking over the pending adoptions of International Adoption Resource, which was told by the Florida Department of Children & Families to cease its operations Dec. 5.

Eisen's agency, called Adoption Advisory Associates Inc., was accused by DCF in July 1999 of violating 12 state regulations. The allegations stemmed from seven complaints from families, records show. After DCF announced it would not renew Eisen's license, it received another complaint, this one from a mother seeking to give up her baby.

Among the allegations: failing to properly screen potential adoptive parents. ``This violation could [affect] the health or safety of an infant,'' child welfare authorities wrote.

Eisen called any link between her former adoption agency and IAR's troubles ``a silly innuendo.''

``I had a matter with DCF once upon a time and they lost miserably,'' Eisen said. ``I didn't do anything wrong and it was all very bland compared to allegations in this case [IAR's].''

Ultimately, Eisen said, her 1999 dispute ended with a slap on the wrist because she failed to file an audit in a timely manner, and failed to document her continuing education in adoption. ``You will read allegations that amounted to nothing,'' she said.

Records show Eisen appealed the denial of a new license to an administrative law judge, who recommended the department dismiss eight of 12 violations.

In a Sept. 25, 2000 order, then-DCF Secretary Kathleen A. Kearney agreed to grant Eisen a provisional license, under the condition that she submit to DCF a plan for bringing the agency into compliance.

Marilyn Munoz, a DCF spokeswoman in West Palm Beach, said the adoption agency never did follow through, and the license was allowed to lapse.

Adoption Advisory Associates' battle with the state began on July 15, 1999, when DCF announced it would not renew the adoption agency's license in Florida. The complaint listed 12 violations, including:

* Failing to properly screen employees or conduct criminal background checks, failing to perform yearly audits, and failing to screen or make monthly visits to the home of prospective adoptive parents whose adoptions were not yet final.

In one case, records show, a 29-year-old woman complained to DCF that Eisen's agency was planning to place a Romanian child in the home of her father. The woman ``was very upset about this possible adoption as she stated....that she suffered `horrifying abuse by her father'.''

Though the woman contacted both immigration authorities and Eisen's agency, a report states, she says ``she felt `blown off and ignored'.'' Eisen's agency's failure to notify federal authorities of the ``history of abuse'' was in violation of federal law, the report states.

The licensing record shows Eisen's agency gave an infant to an adoptive family before finishing a home study. Though the record does not specify what the finished home study found, it concludes: ``This violation could have materially affected the health or safety of an infant.''

In one case, a Maryland couple paid $7,500 for an adoption and waited two years before the agency realized that both parents had arrest records, including a July 1997 arrest in Boca Raton in which the husband was charged with domestic violence after he pushed his wife out of a car.

* Identifying the company as a not-for-profit when officers had not yet obtained such a designation from federal officials.

* Failing to provide clients and the state with ``adequate documentation'' of their costs. Several couples, the state said, complained that they had been charged thousands of dollars, though they never received the baby they had been promised.

After DCF decided not to renew the agency's license, a birth mother, identified as L.K., told child welfare officials she was misled into believing she could continue to have contact with or knowledge of her child after an adoption was finalized.

The birth mother, whose allegations were ``substantiated'' by DCF, said she surrendered her baby for adoption in February 1998 with hopes she could continued to receive reports on the infant as he developed. ``She stated she has had numerous problems dealing with AAA during the last two years.

``Most recently, she has been unable to receive pictures of her child through the agency,'' the report said.

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