STATE'S LARGEST ADOPTION AGENCY SUBJECT OF DSHS INVESTIGATION
THE SEATTLE TIMES
SPOKANE - The state is investigating Washington's largest adoption agency after complaints by several families that they lost a thousand dollars trying to adopt foreign children with undiagnosed medical problems
One child from India was so troubled that she had spells where she would snarl like an animal and attack members of her would-be adoptive family, and a 3-year-old Korean girl originally described as healthy slipped into unexplained unconsciousness and had head and heart defects, families said.
The parents lost their adoption fees and expenses after deciding they could not keep the children in their homes. Fees charged by the nonprofit agency, Adoption Services of the Western Association of Concerned Adoptive Parents, can top $5,000.
Officials with the adoption agency said they couldn't afford to have a refund policy, and that prospective parents are warned children from overseas can arrive with undetected health problems.
``Everything we have says there is no guarantee about the health of a child,'' said Janice Neilson, executive director of WACAP, which is based in Tukwila.
``When you place about 500 children a year for 12 years, there are going to be a few families who are unhappy.''
``We put out an awful lot of money and got nothing,'' said Joyce Bippes of Spokane. ``They have an awful lot of laws to protect the adoptive children, but no laws to protect the parents.''
The state Department of Social and Health Services has received several complaints against the adoption association from families around the state since August 1986, said Lee Ann Miller, an assistant attorney general in Seattle.
The complaints, which mostly involve foreign adoptions, question the agency's fees and the placement of certain children, she said.
``It is a matter of concern to the department that we have received this number of complaints,'' said Miller, who declined to reveal the exact number. ``The department is taking a look at those complaints.''
The prospective parents of the girl from India, Jan and Earl Herleikson, Spokane Valley residents, said during her spells she would snarl like an animal and claw at other people's faces.
The children turned away by three Spokane families were placed in other homes.
Gary and Mary Singer, of Spokane, said medical reports they were furnished gave no hint of the problem posed by the Korean girl they planned to adopt in 1984.
But, said Singer, it became obvious the child had been sexually abused.
``We agonized and thought and cried and decided we just cannot do this,'' he said.
The Singers lost $3,000 in fees and expenses.
Joyce Bippes said she and her husband, Roger, received inaccurate medical reports about the 3-year-old Korean girl they planned to adopt in 1986.
She said she and her husband had made it clear to WACAP they could not accept a handicapped child, but the child they received had obvious problems, including a heart murmur and parasites. The child later became unconscious twice because of a neurological problem, Bippes said.
``After her second coma in the hospital we just didn't feel we could cope with her,'' she said.
The couple said they were out their $6,000 in expenses.
Neilson said she could not discuss the cases because of privacy reasons.
Authorities say a medical evaluation is required by the U.S. consulate in the child's native country before an immigration visa can be granted.
WACAP has placed more than 4,000 children since 1976, mostly from overseas. It is licensed in Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Utah, and receives children from Korea, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Colombia and Taiwan.
Agency officials said they do their best to provide parents with all information available about the medical and psychological health of adoptive children - a requirement under state law.
Sandy Hallam of Spokane has adopted two foreign children through WACAP, and she praises the organization.
``The miracle is that so often it works out so well,'' Neilson said.