Adoption agency closing stuns prospective parents

Date: 2012-04-10

Adoption agency closing stuns prospective parents
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
Updated 1:06 a.m., Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A San Antonio adoption agency has closed abruptly, sending more than 30 prospective parents in Texas and around the world into a panic as they assume the worst about whether they'll receive a baby or get their money back.

The closure also might have left an untold number of birth mothers who depend on money from Adoption Services Associates to live and receive prenatal care out in the cold.

The ASA office on Prue Road was closed Friday with no sign alerting visitors of the news. The Police Department has opened an investigation while other adoption agencies in San Antonio and other places in the state have stepped up to try to help the parents rescue what's left of their adoption plans.

ASA, which arranged mostly out-of-state or overseas adoptions, has placed more than 5,000 newborns, infants and toddlers in Texas and around the world since 1985.

The owners sent a brief email Thursday to clients, stating that “economic conditions” made it impossible for the agency to continue.

“With deep sadness and regret, we are forced to cease operations immediately. Our options and funds are exhausted,” said an email from Jim McMahon and his wife, Linda Zuflacht.

The news has devastated Rick Perez and his wife, who adopted an infant son from the agency two years ago. The agency had contacted the Harlingen couple three months ago, saying a birth mother wanted to place another child with them, Perez said.

He said he sent ASA a check for $34,300 in February. A few weeks later, he learned that his counselor had been laid off because of what she told him was “financial hard times.”

“Then I get this email on Friday saying the agency has closed,” he said. “Then the birth mother called me, saying she was getting evicted from her hotel and didn't have any food. I almost cried. I want to know what they've done with my money.”

On Saturday, McMahon sent an email to adoptive parents who have already been matched with birth mothers through the agency, referring them to Methodist Mission Home, a 117-year-old nonprofit agency in San Antonio.

He blamed the abrupt closure on his wife's illness, which included her admission last week to a hospital emergency room in “near-death condition.”
“I'm praying that there will be no permanent brain damage,” he wrote. “She appears better today, but is a long way from her previous self.”

An official with Methodist Home said it planned to work with the six sets of “matched” adoptive parents to see about transferring their cases to Methodist. It is unclear what will happen to the 25 couples who were not matched with a birth mother, she said.

Adoption Covenant in Lubbock said in an email that it will reduce its typical $27,500 fee to $6,500.

“That will help finish out the adoptions that are already in place, do the parental terminations,” executive director Merinda Condra said.

Perez said he was told that Methodist Home would handle the adoption, but for $11,000.

“I don't know where I'm going to come up with the money,” he said, adding that the birth mother is due in July.

A client in Frankfurt, Germany, was frantic at the thought of losing thousands of dollars she and her spouse had given to the agency to find a baby to adopt.

“I am just in a state of shock,” said the woman, who'd heard about the agency from friends in Paris and who didn't want to give her name. The couple paid $30,000 to ASA, she said, only to have the birth mother back out in September. Before the agency closed, a social worker had recently told the couple they had more than $14,000 “on credit” and had referred them to an adoption attorney in Ohio.

None of the emails sent by ASA addressed how clients might get refunds. McMahon sent another email to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in which he voluntarily relinquished the agency's license.

Mary Walker, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services, said it was “uncommon” for an adoption agency to give up its permit for financial reasons.

Agencies have 30 days to transfer their adoption records to the Department of State Health Services, Bureau of Vital Statistics or to another child-placing agency.

A copy of ASA's most recent financial report sent to the state showed its annual expenses were $25,000 greater than income. In a separate filing to the Internal Revenue Service, ASA reported that for the year ending April 30, 2011, it took in $1.2 million but spent $20,000 more than that.

In 1989, ASA was placed under intensive regulatory monitoring by the state because of numerous violations of standards, though many were minor. Some substantiated violations included the failure to obtain complete information about biological parents or to use qualified staff.

State inspections in 2010 and 2011 found that some ASA staff had not been properly trained, some background checks were not done in time and random drug tests had not been conducted since 2008.

Last year, the agency was sued by a local birth father for failing to notify him that his baby was being placed for adoption. The baby was removed from the adoptive family on the East Coast and returned to the father before the lawsuit went to trial, said the attorney who represented the father.

The state has not received complaints about the agency and there have been no investigations of it in the past several years, according to a state official responding to a public information request by the San Antonio Express-News.

A client in Connecticut who didn't want to be named said he and his wife received an infant in December but that the custody of the child was signed over to ASA because of the birth mother's drug use. Technically, he and his wife are “just caregivers right now,” he said.

“We anticipate returning to San Antonio in June to go before a judge and finalize the adoption,” he said. “We hope it's not going to be a problem.”


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