Adoptions from Ghana dropped by rescued agency

Date: 
2009-11-03

By Brian Caldwell

Jeanette and Jesse Martin will always have a place in their hearts for two little girls in Ghana.

But after months of worry, confusion and frustration, they are almost ready to accept that twin sisters Grace and Destiny will never be part of their family.

“I have no idea what the future holds for them,” Jeanette said. “They’ll probably grow up and not know anybody wanted them or fought for them.”

The Elora couple was among more than 400 families stunned this summer by the collapse of Imagine Adoption, an international adoption agency based in Cambridge.

Most still have hope after clients overwhelmingly voted last month to save the agency from bankruptcy by paying an extra $4,000 and bringing in new leadership.

But that plan won’t cover 23 families who signed on with Imagine to adopt children from Ghana.

The agency’s new board of directors decided this week to cancel the program there because of obstacles stemming from suspicions of child trafficking and corruption.

“The whole thing just caved in,” said Susan Taves, a bankruptcy trustee overseeing the transition to new management.

While not a complete surprise, the decision was devastating for the Martins, who paid $13,000 to Imagine and were told they had been matched with twin girls more than six months ago.

They made an emotional connection through photographs of the sisters — who will turn a year old in a few days — and fretted after being told they were near death when brought to an orphanage.

Their own two sons, three and five years old, already called them their sisters.

“It’s hard to look at them and then say, ‘Well, we have to leave it at that,’ ” said Jesse. “But at the same time, if there are no options, there are no options.”

Adoptions from Ghana have been the most in doubt since serious problems at the non-profit Cambridge agency first came to light in July.

Imagine worked closely there with Hands of Mercy Christian Outreach International, an Ontario charity that ran an orphanage.

The orphanage was shut down and adoptions were suspended after the Canadian government raised concerns about possible child trafficking at the facility.

Officials in Ghana found no evidence of children actually being bought and sold, but they did determine some had been taken away without the full understanding or consent of their parents.

Ted Giesbrecht, a Kitchener lawyer hired by bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody, reviewed the situation and concluded it would be too costly and time-consuming to still try to complete adoptions in Ghana.

In addition to the trafficking allegations, Giesbrecht said in a report that a “culture of expecting gratuitous payments” and other problems make Ghana a difficult country to deal with.

Families in the Ghana program can either walk away from their investments or have their files transferred to Ethiopia, where Imagine does the bulk of its work.

It has yet to be determined where they would be placed on the waiting list or if they would have to pay additional fees.

The Martins, who were motivated to adopt overseas by their strong Mennonite faith, are at a loss what to do next.

One option is travelling to Ghana and trying to complete the adoptions themselves, but the chances of success appear to be slim to none.

The twins were among children believed to have been improperly placed in the orphanage and have since been returned to their mother in a small town near the capital of Accra.

“We’re not trying to take kids away from their mother, that’s for sure, but at the time we were trying to adopt them, they were in rough shape,” Jesse said. “That’s how we got so emotionally involved.”

They’ve tried to find out, but still don’t know for sure if their mother still wants the girls or is able to properly care for them.

They hope to get some answers this weekend. Friends are doing missionary work in Ghana and plan to visit to see if the twins are OK.

“We just want them to be well cared for,” Jesse said. “If they’re happy and healthy, then I guess we will be satisfied.”

Waterloo Regional Police launched a fraud investigation into allegations that more than $300,000 in questionable expenses were charged to Imagine by senior executives.

In the wake of its failure, the provincial government has made financial scrutiny part of the licensing process for international adoption agencies.

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