Would-be parents seek government help after adoption agency goes belly up

Date: 2009-07-19

By Trevor Pritchard (CP)

TORONTO — Dozens of prospective parents hope the Ontario government will step in and complete the work of a Cambridge, Ont. adoption agency that recently declared bankruptcy.

The parents held meetings across the province Sunday to figure out what to do after Kids Link International Adoption Agency went under July 13.

The agency, which operates publicly under the name Imagine Adoption, was the only one licensed by both the province and the Ethiopian government to arrange adoptions of Ethiopian children to Ontario parents.

In Toronto, some 50 people met in a downtown condo to share their frustrations and carve out potential solutions.

"It's important to make a difference and to stick together," said Shawn Smith, who was trying to adopt a child from Ethiopia with his wife, Alicia.

The $16,000 in adoption fees the Smiths paid evaporated last week when Imagine Adoption's board of directors failed to approve its latest financial statements and the not-for-profit agency filed for bankruptcy.

But for most parents, the primary concern isn't about getting their money back but ensuring their child arrives safely in Canada, said Ingrid Phaneuf, who organized the Sunday meeting.

Phaneuf, 42, decided to adopt a baby girl from Ethiopia after she had a stillborn child three years ago. She and her husband paid the agency $14,000.

According to financial documents from BDO Dunwoody, which stepped in after Imagine Adoption declared bankruptcy, the agency owed $800,000 to 400 families. The agency's assets were $723,004 -$363,000 less than its liabilities.

"We don't care (right now) about money. That's why we spent it," Phaneuf said.

"If they don't complete the files, that's down the road somewhere."

One of the parents' long-term goals, said Phaneuf, is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Deb Matthews, Ontario's minister of children and youth services.

Phaneuf said she was heartened by the fact that representatives from Matthews' office attended the meeting.

"We've gotten some good news in (that) we know that the ministry is on it," said Phaneuf.

"We didn't have a face telling us that before."

Other meetings were held Sunday in Ottawa and London, Ont., as well as in Saskatchewan, B.C., and Alberta, said Phaneuf.

The ministry's representative, Kevin Spafford, told reporters after the meeting that Ontario officials were working with federal immigration officials to fast-track visas for 22 completed adoptions in Ethiopia.

Spafford said a lawyer from BDO Dunwoody was at two transition homes in Ethiopia to ensure the yet-to-be-adopted children were being treated properly.

Matthews was in Newfoundland and could not attend the meeting, Spafford said.

While the majority of parents at the Toronto meeting were in the process of adopting children from Ethiopia, other Imagine Adoption clients across Canada have been trying to adopt kids from Ghana, Zambia, and Ecuador.

Most of the Toronto-area parents had not reached the stage where they'd been given the names, faces, and biographies of their children.


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