Agencies help area families to adopt babies

Date: 2001-07-26

Submitted on July 26, 2001 Printer-friendly versionSend to friend
Catholic Services for Children and Youth has entered into a formal partnership with an international adoption placement agency to help families seeking to adopt babies from Latin America.

"We are working with Children of the World Inc., which is located in Clayton, to assist people in adopting babies from Guatemala," said Mary Ann Hoeynck, director of adoption services for Catholic Services for Children and Youth, a Catholic Charities agency.

The director of Children of the World Inc. is Rodolfo Rivera, an attorney specializing in international adoptions.

"We have worked with other agencies," Hoeynck said, "but we found, working with Rudy, that the adoptive families are receiving young and healthy babies. And we are impressed with his success and efforts in streamlining the delays that so many times occur in so many international adoptions."

Catholic Services for Children and Youth provides home studies for the adoptive families.

Families are adopting infants from Guatemala who are as young as three-and-one-half months old, Hoeynck said, and travel time is as little as three nights in Guatemala. She attributed these pluses, in part, to the quality of Guatemalan attorneys involved in the adoptions with whom Rivera works.

"Guatemalan attorneys work with the birth parents and legal system," Hoeynck said. "There isn't a really big child welfare system there to work with." Babies are usually given up for adoption by the mother very early, often at birth, go into foster care for three months and are then adopted. The adoptions take place in Guatemala and the babies enter the United States as citizens.

Rivera first got involved in international adoptions as a favor to a co-worker.

"I was born in Puerto Rico and my mother was from the Dominican Republic. I was asked if I knew anything about adoption in the Dominican Republic. I didn't, but I called my uncle's law office in the Dominican Republic, and they knew a woman who was giving up her baby, so we arranged an adoption," Rivera said.

"After that, people kept calling. I figured, 'If I'm going to do this, I better learn what I'm doing,'" he said. He has been specializing in international adoptions for seven years.

Rivera has arranged adoptions of children in other Latin American countries, but said Guatemala has the most babies available.

"Birth mothers in Guatemala are just concerned with finding a good family for their baby," he said. "Many birth mothers live in such poverty. Some of these children would not be alive if they were not adopted. One mother had 11 children and three had died of malnutrition. This is a great relief to the mothers."

Federal and state tax credits are available to help adoptive families with expenses, Rivera said.

Rivera said he arranges between 50 and 100 adoptions a year. Hoeynck's agency formally entered into partnership with Children of the World this spring.

"We don't have the resources to be an international adoption placement agency. There are very few healthy infants available domestically for adoption," Hoeynck said, "and there are many, many babies available in Guatemala. And Catholic Services can provide them with some consistency in retaining their Catholic culture, which is a large part of their Guatemalan identity."

Jeff and Clare Auten are school teachers and members of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in South St. Louis. They are also the parents of Sarah Elizabeth Auten, age 13 months, who was born in Guatemala and was adopted at three-and-one-half months.

"We started talking about adopting in the fall of 1999," said Clare Auten. "We started the process on Feb. 8, 2000, and we picked Sarah up in Guatemala on Sept. 9, 2000. Seven months and a day later. The shortness of the wait was a big factor in our decision."

The Autens contacted Catholic Services, had their home study and were put in touch with Rivera's agency. They received information about their baby when she was three weeks old, along with pictures and a video.

"We left on a Saturday and came home on Tuesday," Auten said. "She was already a citizen, but we had to go to court here to have the state recognize the Guatemalan adoption. This was not a big deal. I think it's just a formality."

Baby and parents are doing wonderfully, Auten said. "Sarah's in excellent health, getting big and our families are thrilled with her. Both sides take turns baby-sitting. I would definitely recommend this for people considering adoption. We had a very positive experience."

Information on the baby's history and birth family in Guatemala is provided to the adoptive family at the time of the child's assignment to them, Hoeynck said. Support groups assist families involved in the adoptions as well.

Rivera has a support group for families he has helped adopt children, and they get together for holidays and other events.

"The adoption experience has been a positive one all round, for the families and the children," Rivera said. "The children are happy they are in a loving home and view themselves more as Americans than Guatemalans, but the parents make an effort to let the kids know where they're from and about their culture."

Families interested in learning more about adopting a baby from Guatemala should call Catholic Services for Children and Youth at (314) 371-0047. A free personal consultation with an international adoption specialist is available.

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