Head of adoption agency knows what she's talking about

Date: 2006-02-26

By: Maureen Houston
The Belleville News-Democrat

Brenda Henn didn't set out to run an adoption agency.

"I was a speech therapist from the Midwest. I went to Hungary to get my child (in July 1993)."

When Russian doctors (Slava Platonov and Yelena Kogan) who had emigrated to St. Louis read her adoption story in a newspaper, they wanted to do something for the orphans of Russia.

The result is Small World Adoption Foundation of Missouri Inc., based in Ballwin, Mo.

"When people come in our little office, they say, `Do you have any other offices?' `No, this is world headquarters,'" said Brenda 49, director of operations. "I have the best job in the whole world. It's the most fabulous experience. I feel like I have 1,500 to 1,600 children floating around the United States."

That's in addition to her 14-year-old son, Alex, whom she adopted when he was 18 months and her two biological children, Ryan 26, and Laura, 22.

How do people hear about your agency?

"Ninety-seven percent find us through someone they know, word-of-mouth; about 2 1/2 percent through the Internet; and 1/2 percent through publications. Adoption is such a personal thing to do, such a heartfelt thing. It's hard to just look in the phone book --- although we are in the phone book.

"We have families in 46 states amd five foreign countries. Of the1,600 children out of Eastern Europe, about half are in the metropolitan Illinois-Missouri area."

How many children are adopted through your agency each year?

"Up until this past 12 months, 120 to 150. At the end of '04, Belarus closed, and was not letting any more leave. Russia rewrote its adoption laws and did few adoptions for six months. Only 68 children were adopted in the last fiscal year. That was very unusual. We will surpass that number in the first four months this year.

"There are close to a million orphans in Eastern Europe."

How unusual is it to adopt three siblings?

"They (the Heimann family of Albers) might be the third family in 13 years. And never, unless it's siblings. It's very stressful. The Heimanns were very, very, very well-prepared. They're such a wise family and so tuned in, I think they will be able to manage."

Is there a home study?

"When we do home studies in Illinois, we work with United Methodist Children's Home. We have a very strict regimen of what people have to do to be eclients. Acceptance hinges on the outcome of the home study."

How long does the adoption process take?

"The normal amount of time is 8 to 14 months. Because of everything that happened last year, the majority took 14 months to 2 years."

Can parents choose their child? "They used to allow parents to look at videos and choose children before they traveled. Most places don't allow that anymore. We work closely with officials. We are careful what children are offered to our clients."

How much does it cost?

"Between $30,000 and $35,000; closer to $35,000."

Cindy Heimann's tips

1. Pick a good agency, one that's accredited.

"We researched on the Internet," said Cindy Heimann of Albers. "We contacted 10 adoption agencies, via phone or e-mail."

After they received information packets, they narrowed their choice to Small World Foundation of Missouri Inc., based in Ballwin, Mo., and Life Link, with an office in O'Fallon, Ill. They chose Small World because they received an excellent referral from Tim's cousin and because Small World was exclusive with eastern Europe. They felt it was more specialized.

The Heimanns signed a contract with Small World on Oct. 3, 2004, and left for the Ukraine July 18, 2005. They were open to either a boy or girl up to 4 years old.

2. Become educated on what to expect, then expect the unexpected.

"No two adoptions are going to be the same."

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