Unlicensed CSI Continues Adoption Work, Court Told
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
But Agency Contends It Merely Offers Advice
Author: RINER, DUANE; Duane Riner Staff Writer STAFF
Witnesses testified Tuesday that a private adoption agency that lost its license in December has never ceased its child-placement activities.
The state is seeking a court order to shut down Children's Services International (CSI).
Among the state's witnesses was Alicia Dennis, 19, who said she called CSI in February, getting its number from the telephone book. Seven months pregnant at the time, she said she inquired about adoption procedures.
She said she was visited in her home by Patricia Johnson, former executive director of CSI who now serves as a consultant to the non-profit organization, and was given a background information form to fill out. She said she made excuses to avoid a follow-up visit by Ms. Johnson after learning the agency had lost its state license.
Another state witness, Denise Edwards of the Office of Regulatory Services of the Department of Human Resources (DHR), said she reviewed random files at the agency's Peachtree Road office in April and found that CSI was still engaged in seven of the eight activities that constitute child-placement service as defined by DHR regulations. She said the activities included recruitment of adoptive homes and discussions with prospective adoptive parents about specific children available for placement.
CSI's attorney, Robert G. Brazier, and agency officials countered that CSI, which began operating in 1980, has not taken custody of a child or placed one for adoption since its license renewal was denied by DHR. Among the violations cited at the time were failure to report the child-smuggling arrest of a lawyer in El Salvador who worked with CSI's clients and taking money from prospective parents for Filipino adoptions that could not be carried out under that nation's current policy.
Both CSI President Lya Sorano and Ms. Johnson testified that the agency now merely counsels prospective parents interested in seeking adoptions in Latin American nations and assists with preparing applications and translating them into Spanish.
They said the agency may refer clients to lawyers or welfare agencies in Latin American countries and sometimes mails applications and dossiers for prospect ive adoptive parents. But it has nothing to do with the actual adoptions, which are finalized under the laws of the nations where the children are born, they said.
Ms. Johnson testified that she has received calls from 35 to 40 pregnant women "in the last several months" and has merely counseled them about their options. She said she tells the callers CSI is no longer an adoption agency and takes no money from them.
She said she did not intend to handle the adoption of Ms. Dennis's child but would have referred her to a lawyer or a licensed adoption agency if she wished to terminate her parental rights and give her baby up for adoption.
The state's final witness, Catalina S. Christian, former Latin American coordinator for CSI, testified that the major change in the agency's operations after it lost its license was that "we were wording things in a different way." She said CSI "let people know we were not an adoption agency."
The hearing, before Fulton Superior Court Judge Osgood O. Williams, will resume today.
photo: Judge Osgood O. Williams is presiding over a hearing on whether Children's Services International should be shut down.