Adoption group gives Guatemalan babies a home

Date: 2002-09-20

The partnership between Catholic Services for Children and Youth and Children of the World Inc. to promote adoptions of Guatemalan babies is going extremely well, said Mary Ann Hoeynck, director of adoption services for the Catholic Charities agency.

Catholic Services for Children and Youth (CSCY) provides home studies for families seeking to adopt through Children of the World, an international adoption agency based in Clayton. The formal partnership between the two agencies began last year.

"Nine families already have formally adopted their children from Guatemala," said Hoeynck. "Five families have assignments of children after completing our CSCY home study. And 10 more families are going through the home study process. Many Catholic families are being helped to adopt."

Hoeynck said, "This is a great resource for area Catholic families."

CSCY is hosting an informational meeting on this and other adoption programs from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury. Families already on waiting lists for non-special-needs adoption are invited, and the public is welcome, but registration is necessary, Hoeynck said.

The director of Children of the World, attorney Rodolfo Rivera, is the author of the Missouri Bar Continuing Legal Education chapter on foreign adoptions and helped write Missouri state legislation on foreign adoptions.

The partnership between Rivera's agency and CSCY specializes in Guatemalan adoptions because that country has many poor, single mothers who wish to have their babies adopted into loving families, said Hoeynck. Guatemalan law allows families to adopt young, healthy babies in a much shorter time than is common in other foreign adoptions, she said.

"We've built a home in Guatemala to house 10 infants waiting for adoption with five caretakers - two infants per caretaker," said Rivera. "The mother has already signed a consent form for adoption when the baby enters the home, which is usually only a few days after birth. And we usually have an adoptive family assigned shortly after the child is born."

The abundance of Guatemalan babies available for adoption is, in large part, a poverty issue, said Rivera. "The birth mother must be unmarried for us to be able to work with her," he said, because of Guatemalan legal requirements on abandonment by married parents. "These single mothers have no infrastructure to turn to for financial assistance, no WIC (Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program), no Medicaid, no government help."

In addition, Guatemalan babies tend to be healthier than babies from other countries, Rivera said. "There is not much drug use, and the children are not coming from institutions, so they don't have attachment disorder problems because of lack of nurturing."

Rivera added that the Guatemalan office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service "has done an incredible job of making things run efficiently and making families feel welcome," Rivera said.

The adoptions take place in Guatemala and the babies enter the United States as American citizens.

The American Embassy interviews all birth mothers to make sure their consent is valid, Rivera said, and that they are not involved in selling their babies.

"And we do a DNA test to ensure the birth mother is really the birth mother and that the child has not been stolen," Rivera said.

Catholic Services for Children and Youth continues working with the adoptive parents after they return from Guatemala, performing three post-placement visits. Their reports are provided to Children of the World, which sends them to Guatemala where they are available to the birth mothers.

"It is really good for us to have an organization like Catholic Services for Children and Youth behind us," said Rivera. "You know the families that have been screened will be good families for adoption. Catholic Services for Children and Youth has a long history and is in it for the long haul."

One adoptive family who worked through CSCY came back from Guatemala last fall with two small babies. And even though the family spent several harrowing days in Guatemala City, caught up in the hectic aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they had only good things to say about the adoption experience.

Ann and Tony Patton, members of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Crestwood, are the parents of Travis, born April 17, 2001, and Gabriella, born May 13, 2001.

"We met Rudy at his agency Halloween party in 2000, started the paperwork in November, went through the home study by CSCY and got our assignment for our little boy in April," said Ann Patton. "Then we decided we didn't want to wait any longer for another child and requested and got our assignment for our little girl."

The original plan was to go to Guatemala over Labor Day weekend, but schedule changes found the Pattons in Guatemala City a bit later, with plans to go to the American Embassy to process their papers on Sept. 12.

Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We panicked," said Ann Patton. "It was very scary being down there on Sept. 11 and afterward."

The American Embassy was closed Sept. 12. But on Sept. 13 it was open - only for Americans seeking visas for their adopted children. "They were wonderful to us at the embassy," she said.

Finding a flight was not easy, but "since we had two infants with us, the airline people and everyone else were really generous and kind" From the foster mothers to the lawyer in Guatemala to the TWA flight attendant, "everyone was wonderful," Ann Patton said.

"And Catholic Services for Children and Youth were outstanding," she said. "They really, really kept us going through the whole adoption process, which can be very overwhelming."

The time in Guatemala was very stressful, Patton said, "but the four of us really bonded because we were together constantly.

"Our babies are the best things that ever happened to us," she said. "They are miracle children, so wonderful, so happy, so healthy."

Ann Patton said, "I highly recommend this to people wanting to adopt."

For more information on Catholic Services for Children and Youth, on the international adoption program or on the Oct. 15 CSCY workshop on adoption resources, call the CSCY Intake number at (314) 792-7411.


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