Families hoping Ont. ministry can help untangle overseas adoptions left in limbo

Date: 2009-07-24
Source: therecord.com

Pat Hewitt
The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Families whose dreams of adopting children overseas have turned into a nightmare after an Ontario-based agency went bankrupt are calling on the province's child services ministry to help them get the adoptions completed.

About 400 families across Canada have paid thousands of dollars to adopt children from Ethiopia, Ecuador, Zambia and Ghana. But those adoptions were halted when Kids Link International Adoption Agency - which operated as Imagine Adoption - based in Cambridge, Ont., and licensed by the Ontario government, posted a bankruptcy notice on its website on July 13.

Six representatives of the families met behind closed doors with officials of the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services Friday afternoon in Toronto, seeking answers and the ministry's help with their adoptions that are now in legal limbo.

"We trust that upon full consideration of this reality and what is truly at stake that all will agree failure to come up with a solution is not an option," said Christine Starr, chair of Families of Imagined Adoption, a group representing the families, following the one-hour meeting.

Starr's own efforts to adopt a child from Ethiopia as a single mother for the past two years are on hold because of the agency's bankruptcy.

Starr, who works as a critical incident management counsellor in Toronto, told a news conference that they had asked ministry officials to work with families who had signed a retainer with Imagine Adoption, to help them get the children to Canada, no matter what stage they were at in the adoption process.

"We're asking the ministry to look outside its normal procedures and maybe even responsibilities and to work in partnership with us to find a viable solution for all families affected by this regulatory failure," said Starr, 39.

The families had also asked the ministry if it would be willing to work with the bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody to develop a transition plan, she said. The plan would see the ministry hold Imagine Adoption's licence while it acted as an interim operational trustee until the non-profit international adoption agency could be restructured.

The ministry was also asked what it was doing to assist families working with St. Anne's Adoption Centre, which has been affiliated with and run by Imagine Adoption, but is not officially in bankruptcy although its offices are in the same building and are closed. St. Anne's arranges adoptions of children from Ecuador.

"We did not receive any answers or assurances from the ministry with respect to these questions today. However we feel confident that the ministry has heard our concerns. And we look forward to meeting with the minister Deb Matthews on Tuesday," said Starr.

But in an interview afterward, Starr said "we need someone to step forward and give us some accountability, and that's the ministry of children's services."

She said the ministry officials were unwilling to make any commitments, and had told the families that they need to work with the bankruptcy trustee to resolve their situation.

"I don't feel we're any further ahead. We didn't learn anything new," Starr said.

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.

"It was a meeting to provide an update on the process of moving forward and some more technical details on the ministry's role, which is in the licensing process. And they had some specific questions about that, that we were able to provide some information on," the ministry's representative, Kevin Spafford said in an interview after the meeting.

He said Imagine Adoption had been licensed in Ontario since 2005, and would have had to provide financial records to the ministry showing that it was holding monies in trust from would-be adoptive parents to become licensed. But he said it would not have had to provide financial records of its expenditures, that might have revealed it was running into difficulty.

Spafford said the next step is a meeting of creditors on July 30.

"And from what we understand from the trustee, that's a point where it will be discussed whether the agency will be able to continue to operate. We've been working with them on a constant basis to look at all the options," said Spafford.

Ontario officials have been working with federal immigration officials to expedite visas for 22 completed adoptions in Ethiopia, he said.

"We understand a good number of those visas have been completed and so those kids are going to be able to make their way shortly home to their Canadian families," said Spafford.

Denise and Ken Salsman, both teachers in Toronto, have been trying to adopt a three-year-old child from Ecuador through the St. Anne's Adoption Centre for the past year and a half.

"We are in limbo," said Denise Salsman in an interview, who added that St. Anne's has not gone into bankruptcy so BDO Dunwoody is not their trustee, however it has seized all of St. Anne's case files.

Meanwhile, the families are in the process of gathering signatures on an online petition that has already been signed by more than 7,300 people. Some of those who signed the petition write they were clients of the bankrupt agency while others just support the cause.

Ingrid Phaneuf, 42, of Toronto, who has been trying to adopt a baby girl from Ethiopia with her husband and had paid the agency $14,000, said the families plan to present the petition to Matthews during Tuesday's meeting.

Sgt. Rob Young said Friday that Waterloo regional police have been contacted by members of the public regarding the operations of Imagine Adoption Inc. and a review of the complaints has been initiated by the fraud branch.

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