2 couples say they paid adoption agency, didn't get babies

Date: 1987-12-22

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
Gayle White Staff Writer STAFF

State officials are investigating complaints by two Florida couples who attempted to adopt Salvadoran children through an Atlanta adoption agency that specializes in foreign adoptions, a Department of Human Resources (DHR) spokeswoman said Monday. The Florida couples complained that Children's Services International (CSI), an agency licensed in Georgia since 1980, promised them Salvadoran babies and accepted money, but failed to deliver the children. The founder of CSI, Lya Sarano, Monday blamed her organization's problems in Florida on a manager in its Orlando office who was replaced earlier this year.

State officials are investigating complaints by two Florida couples who attempted to adopt Salvadoran children through an Atlanta adoption agency that specializes in foreign adoptions, a Department of Human Resources (DHR) spokeswoman said Monday.

The adoptive parents "are very unhappy and have filed complaints with us," said Jewel Norman, DHR assistant commissioner for public affairs. "We do not have any complaints from Georgia."

The Florida couples complained that Children's Services International (CSI), an agency licensed in Georgia since 1980, promised them Salvadoran babies and accepted money, but failed to deliver the children.

The founder of CSI, Lya Sarano, Monday blamed her organization's problems in Florida on a manager in its Orlando office who was replaced earlier this year.

Ms. Norman said Georgia officials have not been contacted by investigators in Florida or El Salvador.

"Our main contact has been with the parents," Ms. Norman said.

"We don't know much now," she said. "We are following up. If the complaints are substantiated and are serious, there is a chance the agency could lose its license."

Salvadoran investigators, reportedly looking into operations of the agency there, say an attorney who worked on CSI cases may have paid Salvadoran women to give up their babies. Investigators also are checking into allegations that some children were grabbed from their mothers' arms on the streets.

CSI Executive Director Pat Johnson confirmed that an attorney who has represented the agency in El Salvador was jailed in August, but said he was released two days later.

"We have no knowledge of any charges being brought against him," she said.

The allegations of baby-snatching and baby-buying came from a mother who at first gave up her infant for adoption, then changed her mind, went to police and charged the lawyer with kidnapping to get him back, said Ms. Sarano.

The case has undergone "enormous exaggeration," she said.

The lawyer, a citizen of El Salvador, has resumed his practice and operations in El Salvador are back to normal for the agency, Ms. Johnson said.

According to Ms. Sarano, the problems in Florida were the fault of the former manager of CSI's Orlando office.

"The woman who headed up the agency last year and the first part of this year gave people some very unrealistic expectations," she said.

She said she believes the Florida office is now operating more in line with the philosophy of the agency.

"In the past several months, we have had several adoptions finalized," Ms. Johnson said. The most recent were "just a couple of weeks ago, I believe."

Two children recently arrived in the United States and are with their adoptive parents, she said.

Ms. Johnson refused to discuss particular cases, citing clients' rights to confidentiality.

Atlanta officials of the agency acknowledge that in contracting for foreign adoptions they are often at the mercy of professionals and officials in the other countries.

"There's always a lot of red tape," said Ms. Johnson, "and it may take longer than we would want."

CSI placed about 120 children from six Latin American countries, Korea and the United States in 1987, she said.

The agency, last licensed in Georgia in December 1986, is due for a license review within the next few weeks, state officials said.

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