Adoption firms may face new hurdles
By DAVID RYAN, Register Staff Writer
As Napa police work to file criminal charges against the leader of a defunct adoption firm, state lawmakers are taking steps to ensure a copy-cat company won't be able to set up shop in California.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee will soon take up a bill to strengthen regulation of adoption facilitators, a largely unregulated arm of the adoption industry.
Napa adoption facilitator Yunona USA used photo listings of foreign orphans to lure more than 100 clients across the country into paying thousands of dollars to adopt children who were not available for adoption. Yunona-owner Ivan Jerdev was arrested in his native Russia in January on child trafficking charges.
Unlike adoption agencies, the state's estimated 30-50 adoption facilitators have no training requirements and are not watched over by state regulators. They can set up shop with only a business license and a $10,000 bond.
SB 1758, sponsored by State Sen. Liz Figueroa,D-Fremont, would require firms to post a $50,000 liability bond, would ban orphan photo listings and set in motion a process for adoption facilitators to be part of a registry where they would be required to have a minimum two years of experience studyng or working in the adoptions field.
"We are leaving a very vulnerable group of people susceptible to fraud and manipulation," Figueroa said in a written statement. "A change is definitely due for the way we regulate this industry."
Figueroa, who is running for lieutenant governor, said she decided to propose legislation after reading local news reports about Yunona USA.
"It was the Napa Valley Register story which described the fraud committed by the adoption facilitator Yunona," she said. "And the more we researched this the more we came to the conclusion something needed to be done."
Napa Police Det. Ron Appelalso testified before a Senate committee, along with adoption industry officials like Lynne Jacobs, executive director of the San Francisco-based adoption agency Adopt International.
Napa Police Sgt. Tim Cantillon said Appel did not take a stance on the issue.
"We have not taken a position, we were specifically asked what might be a better way to do business," he said.
Jacobs did take a position, saying the arena of adoption facilitation is wide open, with the unscrupulous and inexperienced making it harder for honest, experienced facilitators to do business.
"If we're going to have facilitators then we need to have some oversight," Jacobs said, adding potential clients often don't ask crucial questions about adoption firms, necessitating the state to oversee adoption facilitators for them.
"(Prospective clients) should be asking how many birth mothers I work with and how many international adoptions I work with," she said.
Jacobs said any system reform needs to have minimum requirements of education and adoption experience in place, plus an agency to make sure business is conducted properly. She said increasing the liability bond is only a minor impediment to firms like Yunona, and other steps should be taken.
"For a facilitator that's going to disappear, $50,000 is certainly better than $10,000, but they're still going to leave," she said.
Figueroa's bill faces no opposition in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is due to take up the matter later this month.