Imagine Adoption families group meets with Ont. minister over adoptions bankruptcy

Date: 2009-07-29

By Pat Hewitt (CP)

TORONTO — Families whose adoptions were left adrift after an Ontario-licensed agency went bankrupt two weeks ago were buoyed Tuesday with news the Ontario government is taking steps to try to help them with their adoptions.

Representatives of the Ontario families left in limbo by the July 13 bankruptcy of Kids Link International Adoption Agency met for an hour Tuesday afternoon with Ontario Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews.

"Today was a significant first step," said David Cotter, a spokesman for Families of Imagine Adoption, a group representing the families who had each paid thousands of dollars to Kids Link - which operated as Imagine Adoption - based in Cambridge, Ont.

Cotter said Matthews understood the gravity of the situation and had assured the families that the government was working with bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody to make sure whatever agency comes out of the bankruptcy maintains the licences that are necessary to complete the adoptions.

However, he said the minister couldn't commit that all the families would be able to complete their adoption process and he said the families recognized that might not be possible.

Saying he was "really quite pleased" with what he heard from Matthews, Cotter added the time frame for completing the adoptions depends on BDO Dunwoody, which is holding the first meeting for creditors of Imagine Adoption in Kitchener, Ont., on Thursday.

"BDO's staff have said it's their intent to help the province bring it (Imagine Adoption) out of bankruptcy," said Cotter. "I think it's quite likely that we'll be able to continue on with Imagine in the future."

Matthews agreed the creditors meeting is crucial and said "hopefully coming out of that we'll have something more tangible to look towards."

Calling the situation "an absolute heartbreak" for the families, Matthews said her ministry is taking "clear action" to help them.

"We are doing absolutely everything we can to facilitate the completion of those adoptions," said Matthews.

Among the steps, the ministry will quickly consider licensing requests if a reconstituted agency emerges from bankruptcy. She also said the ministry has not pulled Imagine Adoption's licence, to facilitate adoptions. Prospective parents who completed home study evaluations by Imagine Adoption will be able to transfer those to other adoption agencies, she said.

Matthews said she has been in contact with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to expedite Canadian visas for children who've completed the adoption process.

She said at least nine Ethiopian children have received their visas and are on the way to or have arrived in Canada. Another 36 Ethiopian children have been matched with Canadian parents and are being cared for in a transition home in Ethiopia.

Matthews also defended the province's adoption agency licensing process, saying the licence means that the agency complies with Ontario law and the international adoption law. She said it does not guarantee the financial viability of the organization.

Matthews estimated about 400 children are in various stages of the adoption process, with 46 who are matched or adopted and living in transition homes. She said about 170 families in Ontario are in the prematch situation.

"I would say the past two weeks have been probably for all families an emotional rollercoaster," said Ellen Kalis, who has been trying to adopt a child from Ethiopia.

Kalis added the only thing keeping her and husband going and having any hope is the huge amount of support not only from other families impacted by Imagine Adoption, but from strangers as well.

That support includes a petition with about 8,000 signatures on it from across Canada and internationally that supports the families' cause. The families had planned to present the thick stack of paper to the minister but instead said she had seen an electronic version.

About 400 families across Canada have paid thousands of dollars to adopt children from Ethiopia, Ecuador, Zambia and Ghana.

According to financial documents from BDO Dunwoody, the agency owed $800,000 to 400 families. The agency's assets were $723,004 - $363,000 less than its liabilities.

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