Editorial: Helping children home

Date: 1987-12-25

St. Petersburg Times
Series: EDITORIALS

Waiting has to be the worst part. A couple or individual makes the soul-searching, life-changing decision to adopt a child, and then the red tape stretches for months, or years, or forever.

Several families in Central Florida are living this heartbreak: The children they dreamed for and were promised will not be coming home to them.

These would-be parents contracted with Children's Services International (CSI), an adoption agency with headquarters in Atlanta and a regional office in Orlando, to adopt children from impoverished countries. In some cases, the parents paid thousands of dollars and were sent photos of the infants chosen to be theirs.

In at least two cases reported by Diane Steinle in the St. Petersburg Times Sunday, the adoptions of babies from El Salvador became snagged when the Salvadoran lawyer who was handling the adoptions for CSI was jailed and accused of baby trafficking, including allegations that children were being snatched from their mothers in the streets.

In another case, CSI told a couple that they were the ''perfect'' parents for the child they wanted from the Philippines. They encountered so many delays that they became suspicious and phoned the agency anonymously to inquire about adopting a Filipino baby. They were told CSI didn't have a Philippine program.

The federal government leaves the regulating of such agencies to the states, even though it clearly has a responsibility for children brought from foreign countries. Florida law requires that all child-placing agencies be licensed by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), and that the licenses be reviewed annually.

As pointed out by Nicholas J. Riccuiti, the U.S. consul general in El Salvador who is trying to help several American families whose adoptions have been waylaid, the states are limited in their control over agencies operating outside their jurisdictions. The Justice Department prosecutes cases against such agencies, and the U.S. embassies conduct the investigations in their countries. In a status report to the families he is trying to help, Riccuiti addressed his concern about the author ity being so spread out.

This diffusion of responsibility ''results in the exploitation of innocent American citizen couples and foreign families alike,'' Riccuiti said, urging ''a thorough review of existing federal law and regulations pertaining to foreign adoptions.''

Federal laws regulating adoption agencies should be strengthened, and so should Florida's. As reported by Steinle, parents who successfully adopted their Salvadoran babies did so only after frustrations led them to bypass the state-licensed CSI and seek help through the State Department and Riccuiti. Why couldn't HRS have been more helpful, providing them with more information about the agency they had selected? At the least, Florida should join the state of Georgia in an investigation of CSI.

Nothing can make up for the sorrow of adoptive families whose babies never come home. But others who want to adopt might consider finding joy another way. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department estimates there are 36,000 ''special needs'' children right here in this country who need loving homes. These children may be handicapped physically or mentally, non-white or just older than the more popular infant age group. In Florida, Project CAN - Children With Adoptive Needs - is amo ng the agencies that specialize in placing these children.

In most cases, the wait isn't long.

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